Paris, Jun 7: Maria Sharapova was not even an adult the last time she beat Serena Williams, it was that long ago.
It was at the WTA Championships and Sharapova was 17. Nearly nine years later, she now finds herself playing to deny Williams her 16th Grand Slam title in the French Open final on Saturday, where the Russian has to overcome overwhelming odds to defend her title.
Williams has won 13 of her 15 matches against Sharapova and has won their last 12 matches on all surfaces.
“Well, I'd be lying if it doesn't bother me,” Sharapova said. “I don't think that it would be a pretty competitive statement if I said (it) didn't. I would love to change that around.”
Comparing Thursday's semifinals, the odds of that happening look extremely thin.
Williams crushed last year's finalist Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1, spending nearly a third of the time on court than Sharapova did in her gritty 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 win against Victoria Azarenka.
“I have never played Maria here,” said Williams, who won her only Roland Garros title 11 years ago when she beat sister Venus in the final. “We're both really excited to be this far.”
Sharapova beat Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final, but in their past 11 matches has won a measly total of two sets. One of those was in the final at Key Biscayne, Florida, in March. But you have to go back to April 2008 for the one before.
“Whatever I did in the past hasn't worked, so I'll have to try to do something different and hopefully it will,” the 26-year-old Sharapova said. “I don't feel like I have taken my chances and opportunities.”
The pair dominate the current WTA rankings and seedings, No. 1 Williams and No. 2 Sharapova.
But before their showdown, the men's semifinals will be decided Friday, with the tournament champion largely expected to be the winner of the highly anticipated clash between seven-time champion Rafael Nadal of Spain and top-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia.
It will be the 35th meeting between Nadal and Djokovic, last year's beaten finalist, with Nadal up 19-15, but with Djokovic winning eight out of the past 11 encounters.
After that, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga takes on fourth-seeded David Ferrer, with the Spaniard leading 2-1. The sixth-seeded Tsonga is trying to become the first Frenchman since Yannick Noah in 1983 to win a Grand Slam.
Williams' winning streak stands at 30 matches—the longest single-season streak on tour since 2000 -- and is 20-3 in major semifinals.
“She's playing some of the best tennis of her career,” Sharapova said.
The 31-year-old Williams has other factors working in her favor too.
She has been doing everything in her power to get the fans on her side for the final. After her victory, the American once again answered questions in French, and even said “J'aime le public”—I love the crowd.
She also reminded them how long it has been since she won at Roland Garros. In somewhat muddled French, but with a good accent, she said: “Je reste encore apres 11 ans, c'est tres magnifique pour moi.”
But the point was made, because it roughly translated as “I'm still around after 11 years, it's quite magnificent for me.”
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario will present the women's winner with her trophy, and six-time Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt will present the men's trophy on Sunday. But judging by the speed of Williams' win, perhaps it should be the other way around.
She won her semifinal in 46 minutes—roughly enough time to watch one half of a football match at the nearby Parc des Princes, home to Paris Saint-Germain.
“I love her fighting spirit. I really like her as a person,” Williams said sympathetically of Errani. “But when you go out there, you just have to play and forget about who you're playing.”
For Errani, now winless in six matches against Williams, even winning a game was cause for celebration—almost like scoring a goal, in fact. She threw her arms in the air when she took the fourth game of the second set, and the crowd greeted it with a sympathetic roar.
“She played unbelievable,” Errani said of Williams. “That's it.”
Sharapova took 2 hours, 10 minutes and five match points to beat Azarenka.
They shrieked on every piercingly loud exchange, prompting one spectator to yell “Come on, Monica” at Sharapova, referring to one of the game's great grunters, Monica Seles.