Maria Sharapova in semifinal match against Victoria Azarenka at 2013 French Open.
Maria Sharapova wants to defend her title at the 2013 French Open. To do so, she must avoid a 13th straight loss to Serena Williams.
Their meeting in the final could be her best chance.
Sharapova admitted that it "bothered" her that she hasn't beaten Williams since 2004.
She told the Associated Press that "whatever I did in the past hasn't worked, so I'll have to try something different.”
Trying something different is difficult in tennis. It's not like in basketball where a team can practice a zone defense and then implement it in the playoffs.
Something different in tennis may mean changing shots and grips. It means the player is forced to do something uncomfortable.
In tennis, discomfort leads to hesitation. Hesitation and second-guessing leads to errors.
Sharapova's best chance against Williams is to play her game as close to flawless as possible and hope her opponent gets tight.
Because the chance that Williams gets tight is better than the odds of Sharapova beating her.
Sharapova has no weapon that can blow Williams off the court. The problem for Sharapova has been that her greatest strength—power—is neutralized by Williams.
If conditions are slow, that means Sharapova's devastating forehand returns will be easier for Williams to run down.
Williams hits with more topspin, can create better angles and her serve is much more consistent.
So how does Sharapova even stand a chance against Williams?
The intangibles: pressure, focus and fans.
Sharapova maintains her focus more consistently than Williams. This time, just like when they met in the 2004 Wimbledon final, most of the pressure is on Williams. The French fans will be behind Sharapova, the underdog.
As the heavy favorite, Williams wants this title more than anything. The butterflies and nerves could get to her. We've seen it before. When wound tight, Williams can unravel.
Williams should have breezed to an easy win in the 2012 Wimbledon final against Agnieszka Radwanska. She got off to a roaring starting, winning the first set, 6-1.
But she let down in the second set and allowed Radwanska to slip back into the match.
Against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals, Williams raced out to a 6-1 lead. But then came the lull. Williams lost the second set and found herself down 0-2 in the third.
What are Maria Sharapova's Chances Against Serena Williams?
If it is purely about game, Williams will win handily. Sharapova, 6'2" with a booming forehand, can smack most players off the court. However, against Williams, it doesn't work.
Remember, Williams grew up battling a super-tall heavy hitter. Her name is Venus Williams and she has three more Grand Slam titles than Sharapova.
If Sharapova can shake off a dozen beat downs and play her game, she stands a chance. That chance increases if we see a Serena Williams melt down.
But if the in-the-zone Williams that hit 40 winners in 46 minutes against Sara Errani shows up Saturday, there's nothing Sharapova can do.
In that case, she should just take in the final few points and concentrate on giving a gracious runner-up speech.