Monday, January 22, 2007

Serena Sizzling

There's something very 2005 about Serena Williams' 2007 Australian Open campaign. Ten days into the tournament, the 81st-ranked American finds herself in the semifinals against a European teen, much like her path from two years ago.

A week ago, Serena had set up a third-round encounter with Russian Nadia Petrova, the same player she beat here in '05 in the fourth round. Her 6-3 in-the-third victory last week was, well, almost identical to her 6-3 in-the-third over Petrova last time they met here. Just wait, it gets weirder.

In '05, Williams won her semifinal against Maria Sharapova, an up-and-coming teen with big groundstrokes in '05 8-6 in the third. Yesterday, Williams beat Shahar Peer, an up-and-coming teen with big groundstrokes 8-6 in the third to set up yet another encounter with, you guessed it, an up-and-coming teen with big groundstrokes, Nicole Vaidasova.

And while it was Williams who took out Camille Pin in the opening round of the '05 AO, Sharapova did that dirty work this year, winning 9-7 in the third. Speaking of number one seed - a potential Williams-Sharapova final still looms - she has the chance to beat a fellow Russian in the quarterfinals (Chakvetadze) as she successfully did in '05 (when she beat Svetlana Kuznetsova) to take on a former grand slam champion (Hingis or Clijsters) just like two years ago when she lost to Williams in the semis.

While the similarities run rampant, the play of Williams has been superb over her five won mathces in Melbourne this year. Her needle-and-thread second set against Petrova in the third round was the catalyst that pushed her into champion gear, one she hasn't come out of since. Her drubbing of Jankovic in the fourth round shows her confidence and the 2-6 6-3 8-6 nail-biter over Peer reveals what we all knew about Williams in the first place: she has guts.

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