MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Serena Williams will bid to slow the charge of the next generation of American tennis when she faces teenager Madison Keys in the semi-finals of the Australian Open on Thursday.
The top seed was irrepressible in her quarter-final defeat of Dominika Cibulkova, needing only two sets and scarcely more than an hour to send the 11th seed and last year’s finalist crashing out of the tournament.
On her best run at Melbourne Park since her 2010 title, Williams has any number of reasons to be switched on against 19-year-old Keys in their first match.
The teenager defeated her older sister Venus despite carrying a thigh injury and may be one of the few women who can match the 18-times grand slam champion for raw power on her ground-strokes.
Another intriguing element sits in Keys’ player’s box.
Former world number one Lindsay Davenport has taken on the United States’ most promising young talent and is well versed in Williams’ game.
Davenport and Williams met 14 times on the women’s tour and clashed in the final of the 2005 Australian Open, Williams winning it in three sets.
Perhaps more definitive will be Williams’ hunger. The American has been queen of U.S. tennis for over a decade and will be in no mood to abdicate to a younger rival in the second match at Rod Laver Arena.
Whoever goes through will meet a Russian in the final, with second seed Maria Sharapova taking on the much-improved Ekaterina Makarova in the opener on center court.
Sharapova was in full flight as she destroyed Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard in straight sets in their quarter-final on Tuesday.
In Makarova, the statuesque 27-year-old will grapple with a different beast, a left-hander and grand slam doubles champion who has been content to fly under the radar even as she has been quietly accumulating impressive results.
Makarova broke through for her maiden grand slam semi-final at the U.S. Open last year and has been like a freight train at Melbourne Park.
She mowed through nervous third seed Simona Halep in two quickfire sets and has not lost a set all tournament.
On the men’s side, sixth seed Andy Murray and seventh seed Tomas Berdych play in the first semi-final in the evening session at Rod Laver Arena.
The big-serving Berdych overcame his long-time nemesis Rafa Nadal in their quarter-final, in doing so preventing a record 18-match losing streak in the professional era of the men’s game.
A three-times finalist at Melbourne Park, Murray dispatched another crowd favorite in the form of local teenager Nick Kyrgios and appears in better touch to bring down the rangy Berdych than Nadal, who was coming back from injury and illness.
Berdych credited Andy Murray’s former assistant coach Dani Vallverdu, now working in his camp, for helping him on the “perfect” plan to defeat Nadal.
Vallverdu will have unique insight into Murray’s game, having worked with the Briton for years.
His input could prove important for Berdych’s chances, as the Czech, rated one of the best players in the men’s game yet to clinch a grand slam title, seeks to break through to his first Melbourne Park title.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O'Brien