LONDON (Reuters) - When all Serena Williams had to do was stand and watch poker-faced while Maria Sharapova banged down two double faults in a row to surrender the first game of their Wimbledon semi-final a sense of inevitability descended over Centre Court.
So what if the duo went on to contest another 17 games, or that Sharapova burst some eardrums with her ear-splitting shrieks — the result was never in doubt as Williams brokered a 17th successive win over the clueless Russian to set up a final with fresh-faced Spaniard Garbine Muguruza.
So commanding was Williams’s performance that not a single strand of her cascading black hair, spilling out of a high ponytail, looked out of place as the top seed twirled around in triumph following the brisk 6-2 6-4 workout.
The result propelled her into a 25th grand slam final but more importantly for the American, she now stands one win away from completing what she calls a “Serena Slam” by winning all four majors concurrently.
If Williams pulls off the feat for the second time in her career, no one can accuse her of taking the easy route to glory as Sharapova became the third former world number one, after sister Venus and Victoria Azarenka, she has beaten this week.
“Whenever I have to play Maria, I know I have to be focused because she wasn’t the best in the world for no reason,” said the 33-year-old, who will be gunning for her 21st grand slam title on Saturday.
While seeing Williams on the world’s most famous tennis stages come finals day has become a familiar sight in the past 15 years, standing on the opposite side of the net will be a little-known Venezuelan-born Spaniard who once hated playing on grass.
The 20th-seeded Muguruza became the first Spanish woman in 19 years to reach the title showdown after Agnieszka Radwanska discovered the perils of on-court coaching that led to a botched Hawk-Eye challenge in the last game of her 6-2 3-6 6-3 defeat.
With the Spaniard serving for the match at 5-3, 40-40 up in the third, Radwanska stopped the next point mid-rally after hearing cries of “out, out” from people in her players’ box who were convinced Muguruza’s backhand landed behind the baseline.
Radwanska hit the ball back over the net before calling out to the umpire for a late Hawk-Eye challenge as the Spaniard hit her next shot out, leaving Muguruza and the Centre Court crowd bewildered and wondering what was going on.
When Hawk-Eye showed its verdict there was no mistaking that the gamble had backfired — the ball had clipped the threadbare baseline.
Radwanska glared at her box, Muguruza punched the air in relief and seconds later she was flat on her face celebrating victory.
“I did it because I’m the one to decide if I challenge or not. Nobody can do that for me,” Poland’s 2012 Wimbledon runner-up said. “It was 50/50 call. I decided to challenge. It wasn’t a really good decision.”
Muguruza was mightily relieved the decision had gone her way.
“I heard some people were saying ‘out, out’ but I was just praying the ball was on the line,” 21-year-old Muguruza said as she looked forward to renewing hostilities with Williams having beaten the American in the French Open second round last year.
No amount of praying or divine intervention could save Sharapova on Thursday.
On the eve of her 20th meeting with her American nemesis, the 2004 champion had declared she “would love to check out the trophy again to make sure my name is still there.”
Williams shattered that dream in 79 brutal minutes and Sharapova once again had to settle for a consolation handshake from an opponent she has not defeated in 11 years.
So what does the Russian have to do to beat a woman who is on the verge of hoisting the Rosewater Dish for a sixth time?
“A lot more than I’m doing,” snapped Sharapova, who did not even get within touching distance of earning a break point.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris