Serena Williams showed why she has won a record six Miami Masters titles over the course of her career on Thursday, defeating fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova for the 15th straight time to advance to the women's final at the 2014 Sony Open Tennis.
The 6-4, 6-3 triumph means that Williams is now just one match win away from repeating in South Beach and adding a seventh Miami Masters title to her trophy case, per ESPN Tennis on Twitter:
Serena tops Sharapova 64 63 to reach the Miami final. She’ll play Li or Cibulkova for the title. #ESPNTennis— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) March 27, 2014
The win moves Williams to 16-2 all time against Sharapova and is her fourth career victory over the Russian star at the Miami Masters.
Coming into the match, Williams attempted to butter up Sharapova and their one-sided rivalry, per Sports Illustrated's Courtney Nguyen.
"When you’re playing champions, you have to play your best," Williams said. "She plays her best and her heart out against me — we just have to bring the best because we’re both really good players."
For a few moments, it looked as if Sharapova would turn around her fortunes against the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
Determined to end her miserable losing streak to Williams, Sharapova came out fast on Thursday, firing away on the forehand and saving four break points in her first two service games to send a message early, as pointed out by tennis analyst Brad Gilbert on Twitter:
Shazza showing some good resolve early saving break points— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) March 27, 2014
After breaking serve and going ahead of Williams 3-1, Sharapova consolidated the break, holding serve to pull ahead 4-1. But just when it appeared that Sharapova was poised to secure the opening set against Williams for the first time since they met in Miami a year ago, Williams came alive, holding serve on the very next game before winning back the break in the all-important seventh game, per Gilbert:
SW says not so fast as she just got her wake up call— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) March 27, 2014
By then, the wheels had come off for Sharapova, who began pressing for winners. Williams held serve to even the count at 4-4, then break again to pull ahead. She closed out the set with an easy service hold that featured little resistance from Sharapova.
Williams won the final five games and six points of the set.
After Sharapova gifted the set away, The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg was quick to point out Williams' psychological advantage:
For me, I think individual matches are physical, but 14 straight is mental. The two Aussie Open matches changed everything in this rivalry.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 27, 2014
Heading into the second set, Williams was in total control, but, surprisingly, Sharapova shook off her dismal finish to the first set relatively quickly, taking the opening two games of the second set to jump out to an early 2-0 lead.
But much like the theme of this one-sided rivalry, Sharapova was never able to slam the door shut, dropping the next two games to fall back on serve. At 3-3, Williams put the pedal down, breaking Sharapova in the crucial seventh game to pull ahead and push her opponent to the brink of elimination.
Williams closed out the set and the match with another break of serve to solidify her favorite status heading into Saturday's women's final.
Up next, Williams will take on the winner of Thursday's second semifinal, which will pit 2014 Australian Open champion Li Na against Dominika Cibulkova. Regardless of who advances in the bracket, Williams will be a heavy favorite to win her seventh Miami Masters title this weekend.
Her ability to score cheap and easy points on the serve (nine aces against Sharapova) and minimize mistakes (22 unforced errors against Sharapova) will make beating her a tall task for anyone.
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