Maria Sharapova: Dominating Start Does Not Guarantee Aussie Open Title

Stephen FenechCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2013

Sharapova has been absolutely dominant thus far in Australia.
Sharapova has been absolutely dominant thus far in Australia.Julian Finney/Getty Images

Maria Sharapova has only dropped nine games in five matches at the 2013 Australian Open, which is by far the fewest amount of games dropped by any women in the draw.

While three of Sharapova's victories were over unranked players, her performance against Venus Williams in the third round and versus Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals were impressive wins posted over ranked competitors. 

Through five matches, Sharapova has only been on the court for a total of five hours and 15 minutes. That's an average of one hour and three minutes per match, which is nothing short of remarkable at a Grand Slam event.

Arguing against Sharapova's dominance thus far would be unintelligible, but even her most ardent supporters would find it difficult to call her the favorite to win the tournament. 

The reason why is simple.

Serena Williams is still in the draw. 

In their 12 matches, Sharapova has only beaten Serena twice, with her most recent victory coming way back in 2004 at the WTA Tour Championship Final.

Since then, Sharapova has only taken three sets against Williams. Part of the reason for Sharapova's lack of success is the determination in which Williams enters a match when facing off against Maria. 

Serena always makes sure to bring her A-game when Sharapova is across the net, which cannot be said for her mindset against every player. Of course, I'm sure Sharapova wouldn't mind getting a little less respect from Williams if it meant another win or two.

With her dominating serve, powerful groundstrokes and better overall mobility, Williams has been one problem that Sharapova has failed to solve.

Simply put, as long as Ms. Serena Williams is in the draw, Sharapova cannot be considered the preeminent favorite to win any tournament. That's not meant to be a knock on Sharapova, as the same could be said for any player on tour. 

Sharapova and Williams would meet in the final if they can avoid getting upset, although both women have too much on their plate to look past their upcoming match. 

Currently, Sharapova is into the semifinals where she will meet Li Na in what will be the next chapter of their interesting rivalry. Na has beaten Maria four times in the past and has the shot-making ability to take over the match if Sharapova is lethargic or off her game. 

Sure, Sharapova has looked near unstoppable thus far Down Under, but don't let the blowouts deter your focus from one key point. Sharapova has not played a legitimate title contender yet. 

That's about to change though, as both Li Na and Serena Williams have the weapons and mental toughness to hoist the women's trophy.  

Every facet of Sharapova's game has looked crisp, but her true challenge begins in the semifinals. 

Everything before means virtually nothing, as Maria's success is directly linked to the number of Grand Slam titles she can get her hands around before she decides to hang up the racket.