Saturday, 19 January 2013

What You Were Once

Once upon a time, in an era of Coldplay anthems and Lord of the Rings films, Venus Williams was the best women's tennis player in the world.  Shortly after this time had passed, Maria Sharapova was also the best women's tennis player in the world.  Late last night on Rod Laver Arena, these two former world beaters met to compete for a fourth round place in the Australian Open.

In the previous two rounds, Sharapova had been on superlative form, blasting past Olga Puchkova and Misaki Doi with identical double bagel scorelines  Venus' progression, perhaps not as emphatic, but still solid, saw her lose just one game to the Kazakh Galina Voskoboeva in round one, before posting a 63 63 victory over Alice Cornet in R2.

With 11 slam titles between them, the match was billed as a blockbuster, however, it did little except highlight the chasm between the Venus Williams who ruled Wimbledon for large parts of the 00s, and the 32-year-old who struggled with her forehand consistency on Friday night.  Similarly it also revealed just how finely tuned Sharapova currently is as she blasted from both wings, moving Williams from side to side to force the error and bring up the winner.

Going into the match, Sharapova was 24 games unbeaten.  She swiftly made it 28, cruising out to a speedy 40 lead before Williams finally found a crosscourt forehand to snap the streak and post her first game on the scoreboard.  The reprieve was short-lived though, as the Russian broke for the third time two games later to take the set in under half an hour.

An early break for the #2 seed in the second set again saw Williams playing catch-up, and while she put up more of a fight, the outcome was just as inevitable, Sharapova a 79-minute winner 61 63.  Less of the top-billed slugfest that the pedigree of the players suggested and more of a predictably one-sided contest that their current form demands.

For Williams, it seems like she will never be able to recreate her singles successes of previous years on court again, when she comes up against this generation's top players.  She struggled with her forehand, and her movement in the face of some sublime form from Sharapova.  For the Russian, she will now, even more so, be the favourite to make it through from this half of the draw to the final next weekend, and have a shot of lifting the trophy for the second time in her career.

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