Sharapova manning barricades to halt Serena march

Wed Jul 8, 2015 11:18am EDT
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By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - Maria Sharapova would have done well not to have watched Serena Williams out-slug Victoria Azarenka in a Wimbledon quarter-final of extraordinary quality on Tuesday.

The Russian fourth seed is blocking Williams' path to an eighth Wimbledon final and judging by the way the American bludgeoned her way past Azarenka after losing the first set, she will need to reinforce the barricades with everything at her disposal, then hope the 33-year-old has an off day.

For all her pre-programmed on-court positivity, Sharapova has become a punchbag for Williams since 2004, the year she stunned the tennis world by beating the American to the Wimbledon title.

She beat her again that year but since then her 0-16 record is a depressing tale of woe.

No wonder Williams is looking forward to Thursday's Center Court date against a player with whom her relationship is, at best, professionally respectful.

"I love playing Maria. I think she brings out the best in me," the 33-year-old said, without a hint of irony, after a 3-6 6-2 6-3 defeat of former world number one Azarenka -- a match in which a supreme Williams produced 47 winners, including 17 aces, and only 12 unforced errors.

Williams avoids talking about the possibility of a calendar-year grand slam but with the Australian and French Opens already secured and just two more wins required to clinch the third leg of the sport's ultimate feat, she knows she will never have another opportunity like this.

And the last person she would want to deny her the chance, one imagines, is Sharapova.   Continued...

Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a shot during her match against Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, July 6, 2015.                   REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett