Maria Sharapova Cannot Look Ahead to Potential Serena Williams Matchup

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJune 1, 2013

Maria Sharapova has a long ways to go before earning a French Open championship bid.
Maria Sharapova has a long ways to go before earning a French Open championship bid.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Many tennis fans are already envisioning a bout between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams to determine the French Open champion, but Sharapova cannot afford to overlook the road there.

Williams also should be weary of taking her upcoming opponents lightly, but the top-ranked star has obliterated her competition thus far, making her an overwhelming choice to cruise to the finals.

Sharapova is moving along smoothly, but she finally ran into some obstacles along the way.

The 26-year-old topped Zheng Jie on Saturday to advance past the third round. As the Women's Tennis Association's Twitter page pointed out, the defending champion is on a roll at Roland Garros.

Along the way to another victory, Sharapova notched eight faults, albeit one was met with much dispute, and nearly dropped the second set before winning 6-1, 7-5.

Although there are 14 other athletes vying for the crown, the fanfare typically swirls around Sharapova and Williams. The two biggest names squaring off for the first time in a Grand Slam championship since the 2007 Australian Open. SI.com's Joe Wertheim is already examining how Sharapova can beat Williams, so let's start previewing that matchup now.

Of course, that's not how any sport works. Sharapova must go through three more adversaries before playing for her second-straight title, and her next opponent is no walk in the park.

Next up on the bracket is up-and-comer Sloane Stephens, a 20-year-old who returns to the fourth round for the second-straight year. While Sharapova topped the young American before in Rome, Stephens could catch the veteran off-guard if Sharapova's reading that SI article and game-planning for Williams.

But Sharapova will surely enter this contest as the favorite, and there's a more than a good chance she escapes to the final eight. She then might be tasked to face another young American in Jamie Hampton, who upset No. 25 seed Lucie Safarova in the first round and knocked out seventh-seed Petra Kvitova in the third round.

Could the unseeded, unlikely giant slayer keep her unpredictable run flowing?

David beating Goliath is not the norm in tennis, but that doesn't mean it's out of the realm of possibility. Now that Sharapova has captured a title in every Grand Slam, the expectations are overflowing.

The hype machine has generated an awfully exciting matchup between Sharapova and Williams, the two favorites who appear to be headed on a collision course to the last battle at Roland Garros. It'd be a shame if it never happened, since both stars devoted their attention to each other too soon.

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