Tuesday 25 October 2016

Serena Williams sets up frosty Wimbledon semi-final with Maria Sharapova

Published 07/07/2015 | 19:41

Serena Williams celebrates victory over Victoria Azarenka
Serena Williams celebrates victory over Victoria Azarenka

Serena Williams out-slugged Victoria Azarenka to set up a frosty Wimbledon semi-final with Maria Sharapova and keep her calendar grand slam bid firmly on track.

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The reigning Australian and French Open champion is now the overwhelming favourite to complete the third leg of that calendar slam, with no other true big-hitters left in the Wimbledon draw.

Only former world number one Azarenka had the power to match Williams, and even she could not cope, the 20-time major champion triumphing 3-6 6-2 6-3.

Sharapova beat Williams twice in 2004, edging out the American in that year's Wimbledon final - but has since suffered 16 consecutive defeats to SW19's top seed.

Two years ago Williams appeared to brand Grigor Dimitrov "the guy with the black heart", following a relationship with the Bulgarian, who is now dating Sharapova.

Russian star Sharapova responded in kind, and the pair's relationship has been terse ever since.

Cold stares and icy glances could be the order of Thursday's semi-final then, but for now Williams was left reflecting on keeping her bid for a sixth Wimbledon crown on course.

The 33-year-old has banned all talk of the calendar slam bid, and jokingly played down the significance of seeing off Azarenka by again branding herself lucky to have survived scares against Heather Watson and big sister Venus.

Serena Williams of the U.S.A. shakes hands with Victoria Azarenka of Belarus
Serena Williams of the U.S.A. shakes hands with Victoria Azarenka of Belarus

"It was such a great atmosphere to be out here playing and doing the best we can, I think we both enjoyed it," said Williams of her quarter-final with Azarenka.

"It's been up and down, up and down but somehow I'm still alive: I don't know how.

"It's been a while (since Williams has lost to Sharapova) but she's been playing really well.

"She's such a fighter and it's always good to seeing her playing well.

"I really don't have anything to lose."

Light-heartedly reiterating the off-limits nature of the grand slam conjecture, Serena laughed: "No I told you guys don't mention it, no slam!"

A happy personal life equals a dangerous junior Williams sister, and if her 2015 performances are anything to go by, all is rosy off court.

Rumoured love interest, American rapper Drake was sat neatly behind the players' box as Williams produced her now-customary comeback victory.

Coach Patrick Mouratoglou - the man to lead Williams to seven out of the last 12 available grand slam titles - was in the Centre Court stands, as was her mother and elder sister Venus.

All that moral support dissolved from the off as Azarenka powered into control, breaking early on and holding both nerve and serve to steal the first set.

Williams is making a real habit of turnaround victories this season, so dropping a set behind was never true cause for concern.

The world number one rallied from a set down four times to win the French Open, was forced the distance against Watson and prevailed - and once more needed a deciding set to progress.

Azarenka is battling back from two injury-hit years, and had hit real form at Wimbledon, belying her world number 24 ranking.

In the end Williams' extra power told however, the match's pivotal moment coming in the second set when Azarenka failed to bury a line drive that would have sealed a break.

Williams recovered her poise, took control and then coasted home - at this rate she could now cruise to the title in third gear.

Press Association

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