Maria Sharapova entered Monday’s quarterfinal match at the Australian Open against Serena Williams without a victory over the defending champion since 2004. That streak extended to 18 matches following Williams’ convincing 6-4, 6-1 win.
The first set of the rematch of last year’s championship match was a finals-caliber back-and-forth affair. But once Williams pulled away from a 4-4 tie to win 6-4, she didn’t look back, surging to a 5-0 lead in the second set that she rode to victory.
The world No. 1's performance impressed CBS Sports:
Serena Williams has beaten Maria Sharapova for the 18th (!!) straight time. pic.twitter.com/r1FVmooMEZ— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 26, 2016
Williams started uncharacteristically cold and Sharapova took a 2-0 lead, escaping a 30-30 tie in the second game with an ace. But Williams then found her groove and didn’t look back, breaking from a deuce with multiple aces to finally get on the board.
She won the next two games to take a 3-2 lead but missed a cross-court volley wide that left her frustrated, and the set was tied again.
Sharapova double-faulted for the fifth time to fall behind 40-0 in the first set’s eighth game yet went on to win after a resilient effort that she capped with a remarkable forehand to tie the set at 4-4.
Sharapova forced three deuces in the following game but couldn’t convert, as a Williams ace down the middle secured the ninth game. Sharapova fought back in the next go-round, forcing four set points before dropping the first set.
From there, the odds were greatly in Williams’ favor, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The winner of the first set between Serena Williams & Maria Sharapova has won 17 of their 20 head-to-head meetings (ESPN2)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 26, 2016
Williams briefly needed medical attention, but it didn’t show as she jumped to a 5-0 lead, marking a seven-game win streak.
Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star admired Sharapova’s resolve but acknowledged she had met her match—yet again—in Williams:
Maria Sharapova is a great, great fighter, and Serena Williams is that, but better.— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) January 26, 2016
Australian Open analyst Craig O’Shannessy took note of how much better Williams’ serves were once she got going in the second set:
Sharapova’s only win in the second set required an ace after a 30-30 tie. But it was too little, too late. Williams won two straight points in the final game to secure the match.
Monday’s match featured two of the world’s greatest players, yet the rivalry remains so lopsided that it’s hard to justify the hype.
Sharapova will head home, while Williams will advance to the semifinals against Agnieszka Radwanska, whom she is 8-0 against.
Despite the lopsided second set, Williams called the match “super intense,” per John Pye of the Associated Press, saying Sharapova is "an incredibly intense, focused player who was No. 1 and has won so many Grand Slams for a reason. You have to come out with a lot of fire and intensity.”
Sharapova spoke highly of her counterpart, saying Williams’ fast-paced play was the root of her success, and that each loss to the world No. 1 is "motivating," courtesy of the Australian Open:
Williams danced around the many questions about her mid-match meeting with the Australian Open medical staff, not confirming or denying speculation she played hurt to the ESPN2 telecasters.
The oldest world No. 1 in WTA history, who has a knack for slow starts, also elaborated on her most recent case of such.
"I've been playing all week aggressive but I didn't start out that way,” Williams said, per Chris Graham of the Telegraph.