Thursday, January 25, 2007

In-form Serena, Sharapova Meet in Finals

The rivalry of two well-storied WTA Tour stars gets rekindled Saturday afternoon in Melbourne, as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova meet for the 2007 Australian Open crown.
While this is Williams' first grand slam final in two years, it will be just the third championship match that Sharapova has competed in in her short career.

Yet history seems to be on Sharapova's side, the Russian teen is 2-0 in slam finals, including her 6-1 6-4 trouncing of Williams at Wimbledon in 2004.

Their rivalry has been anything short of dramatic, with the series tied at 2-2. Their matches have always been hotly contested, with Williams winning the first meeting at Miami '04 before Sharapova won Wimbledon a few months later.

To close out that year, Sharapova took advantage of an injured Serena in the Tour Championships when Williams fizzled her 4-1 third-set lead to give Maria the year-end title 4-6 6-2 6-4.

It was their last meeting, in the semifinals here two years ago that was all a grand slam match could be. Saving match points, an orange-haired Serena won 8-6 in the third to book a spot in the finals and deny Maria a chance at her first title in Australia.

When they meet on Saturday, it will clearly be a battle of two wills: the hungry-comeback-overweight(?)-champion-of-the-past and the eager-sometimes cheating-fiesty teen. Yuri will pump his chest between each point while Oracene will nod in approval and applause with an expression-less face while the two champions grind it out on the hot, sticky court in mid-day Southern hemisphere heat.

What I love about this match up is the hope it gives to 2007. '06 saw Hingis return and Amelie conquer what had haunted her for so long, but it was a relatively down year for the women's tour. This match will reignite a rivalry that the tour desperately needs - and wants - and with the return of Henin in a few weeks, we could see an all-out brawl for #1 if all involved can stay healthy.

So kick back on Saturday and enjoy some high-quality women's tennis. Have the remote nearby, the grunting is sure to get loud...but for the first time in a while, it might be a welcomed sound, one of a game finding its groove once again.

My call: Serena 3-6 6-1 6-4.

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