Australian Open: Serena to battle Sharapova in final

Australian Open: Serena to battle Sharapova in final

Thursday, January 29, 2015 7:31 am

Serena Williams: overpowers her American    opponent , Madison Keys

Serena Williams: overpowers her American opponent , Madison Keys

Serena Williams will meet in-form Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final on Saturday night.

Both top two players in the world won their respective semi-finals, with five time Grand slam winner Sharapova thrashing her fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova and Serena having to use experience and her powerful serves to overwhelm fellow American Madison Keys, an emerging teenage sensation, in two sets.

The 18-time Grand Slam champion downed the unseeded Keys 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 after the gallant 19-year-old saved eight match points to advance to her 23rd Slam final.

Williams, 33, has made the Australian Open five times previously and won every time, including a victory in 2007 over Sharapova, herself a five-time Grand Slam winner who is seeded second at this year’s tournament.

By advancing to the final, Williams ensures she will retain the world number one ranking she has held for more than 100 weeks, regardless of the outcome in the decider.

She also became the oldest women to ever make the Australian final in the Open era.

She has a 16-2 record over Sharapova, who has not beaten the American in more than a decade.

But Williams, who can move to clear second in the list of all-time Open Era Slam winners if she takes the title, was more concerned with praising her 19-year-old compatriot Keys after a ding-dong battle.

“She’s obviously a great player, she’s going to be winning this tournament very soon and lots of other Grand Slams,” said Williams, who hugged Keys after the match.

The teenager came out swinging in a match that featured 25 aces from two of the biggest hitters in the women’s game, taking the first set to a tie-break.

Williams struggled with the power of Keys’ groundstrokes but showed her guile to lob the teen on several occasions when she came to the net prematurely.

After taking the first set, Williams went up a break early in the second and Keys resistance appeared to finally be crumbling as she gave away another break with a double fault to make it 4-1.

But she made a stand serving at 5-1, saving eight match points to force Williams to serve it out.

Serena Williams embraces Madison Keys

Serena Williams embraces Madison Keys

Keys managed to save one more match point off Williams’ serve before the veteran ended it with an ace to advance to the final.

The 27 year old Maria had an easier task demolishing 10th seeded Ekaterina 6-3, 6-2.

“Playing a fellow Russian and playing someone who maybe wasn’t the favourite going into the semi-final, I knew she would come out and play really well,” the reigning French Open champion said.

“I was ready for that and stood my ground and competed well.”

Sharapova went into the match with a 5-0 record over Makarova and always looked in control, despite initially struggling with her serve in blustery conditions on Rod Laver Arena.

She was forced to defend two break points as she double faulted twice in an opening game that stretched for 10 minutes, finally holding after winning a 17-shot baseline rally.

She then broke Makarova with a blistering forehand down the line off a tame serve, going on to hold her compatriot to love in the next game and make it 3-0.

Maria Sharapova: through to the final

Maria Sharapova: through to the final

Makarova, appearing in only her second Grand Slam semi compared to 18 for her opponent, yelled at her coaching box during the changeover.

She held on to get on the board but was again pressured by Sharapova, who appeared untroubled by the left-hander’s serve.

But the Muscovite regrouped and switched tactics against her high-profile compatriot, attacking the net more and earning a break to go back on serve.

It was a temporary reprieve, with Sharapova rising to the challenge by breaking back immediately then serving out the set after 48 minutes.

She continued to dominate with an early break in the second, the stunned Makarova looking close to tears at times between points.

She desperately tried to stave off a second break with an wild arcing lob in the third game but Sharapova was waiting at the net to smash it home and go up 3-0.

Makarova salvaged some pride by holding serve twice before Sharapova completed the rout after one hour 27 minutes.

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