Ser­ena, Shara­pova set to meet

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Sports -

PARIS — If the up­com­ing French Open show­down be­tween Ser­ena Wil­liams and Maria Shara­pova pro­vides any of the sort of an­i­mus and back-and-forth they man­age to stir up away from the court, look out.

Dur­ing a news con­fer­ence af­ter both won Satur­day to set up the long­time ri­vals’ fourth-round matchup at Roland Gar­ros, Wil­liams crit­i­cized Shara­pova’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy as “hearsay” and twice brought up the Rus­sian’s 15-month dop­ing ban.

Pro­duc­ing by far the best per­for­mance in her re­turn to Grand Slam ten­nis — 16 months af­ter her last ma­jor tour­na­ment and nine months af­ter hav­ing a baby — Wil­liams played cleanly and pow­er­fully in a 6-3, 6-4 tour de force against 11th-seeded Ju­lia Go­erges that lasted a mere 75 min­utes and lacked much in the way of the­atrics.

“There is still a ways to go, but it’s mov­ing in the right direction,” said Wil­liams, who made only three un­forced er­rors in the first set, 12 in all. “And I think that as long as it’s mov­ing in the right direction, I know I will get there.”

Shara­pova ad­vanced with a sim­i­larly lop­sided win, 6-2, 6-1 against 2016 U.S. Open run­ner-up Karolina Pliskova.

Now comes the drama: Wil­liams vs. Shara­pova on Mon­day with a quar­ter­fi­nal spot at stake.

They have ver­bally clashed in the past, such as a 2013 pub­lic spat about their pri­vate lives.

Wil­liams, 36, owns 23 ma­jor sin­gles ti­tles. Shara­pova, 31, has won five. Wil­liams has won the French Open three times, Shara­pova twice. They are the only ac­tive women with a ca­reer Grand Slam; they are two of six in his­tory to ac­com­plish that. Both have been ranked No. 1.

But the head-to-head his­tory is over­whelm­ingly in Wil­liams’ fa­vor: She has won 19 of 21 meet­ings, in­clud­ing 18 in a row.

The last time Shara­pova beat Wil­liams was in 2004.

The last time they played was in the 2016 Aus­tralian Open quar­ter­fi­nals, Shara­pova’s fi­nal ap­pear­ance be­fore her 15-month drug sus­pen­sion.

Clive Brun­skill / Getty Images

Ser­ena Wil­liams plays a fore­hand in her match against Ju­lia Ge­orges at the French Open on Satur­day.

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