Sharapova faces nemesis Williams as stakes rise at Open

Mon Jan 25, 2016 7:54am EST
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(Reuters) - The business end of the Australian Open begins in earnest on Tuesday when top seed Serena Williams faces old rival Maria Sharapova for a place in the semi-finals in a repeat of last year's title match.

In the men's draw defending champion Novak Djokovic, taken to five sets in the fourth round, will have to improve as he faces Japanese seventh seed Kei Nishikori while Roger Federer aims to continue his smooth progress against Tomas Berdych.

Sharapova will be desperate to avenge last year's final loss to Williams, although the omens are not good for the Russian.

She has lost her last 17 matches against the 34-year-old Williams and the American 21-times grand slam champion has been in dominant form so far in Melbourne after some pre-tournament injury concerns.

Williams remains wary though, saying such a one-sided statistic can work both ways.

"I think the person who's winning could definitely feel the pressure because there is a lot of expectations," she said. "The person who is losing X amount in a row could think 'I don't have anything to lose.'"

Djokovic's bid for a sixth Australian Open title was nearly sabotaged by Gilles Simon in round four and the in-form Nishikori will pose a serious threat as he attempts to prevent Djokovic reaching a 29th grand slam semi-final.

Nishikori beat Djokovic the last time they met in a grand slam, at the 2014 U.S. Open semi-final, and will need to reproduce that form on Tuesday.

"I think the biggest thing is he doesn't miss," he said. "He doesn't give you easy points, any free points."   Continued...

Russia's Maria Sharapova celebrates after winning her fourth round match against Switzerland's Belinda Bencic at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 24, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter