By Ros Satar, in Paris
- The fourth round will see Serena Williams face Maria Sharapova for the first time since the quarter-final of the Australian Open
PARIS, FRANCE – Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have been circling the wagons with their respective wins for their much-anticipated clash in the fourth round of the French Open.
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Maria Sharapova’s form has been building since the Madrid. She arrived in Spain on the back of a four-match losing streak going back to the Australian Open, reaching the quarter-finals in Madrid, the semi-finals in Rome, and was many people’s pick for a deep run at the French Open.
Meanwhile Serena Williams took care of the Kristyna Pliskova in only her third tournament back since the birth of her daughter. Williams had to come from a set down against Ashleigh Barty but looked a lot more like the Serena of old against Julia Goerges.
That Head to Head
The head to head, of course is pretty lop-sided with Sharapova’s only two wins against Williams in her breakout year of 2004 with the win in the Wimbledon final and at the WTA season-ending championships.
Since then though, Sharapova has gone on to suggest that the reason the head-to-head has been so strongly in Williams’ favour was fuelled by her apparent tears in the locker room after losing the Wimbledon final.
Williams said: “I think the book was 100% hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing.
“You know, I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that’s what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it’s normal. I think if anything, it shows the passion and the desire and, you know, the will that you have to want to go out there and do the best.
“It’s a Wimbledon final, you know. So it’s just, like, I think it would be more shocking if I wasn’t in tears.”
Whatever has gone before – two of the most high-profile returnees on the tour are back and competing in a Grand Slam fourth round. With Sharapova over a year into her comeback, and Williams starting, expectations are that for once Sharapova will have the upper hand – something that Williams does not deny.
She said: “Well, quite frankly, she’s probably a favourite in this match (smiling), for sure. You know, she’s been playing, like I said, for over a year now. I just started. So I’m just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go.
“But I think this will be another test. I think this is just one of her best surfaces, and she always does really, really well here. So this would be a good opportunity for me kind of to see where I am and just hopefully continue to go forward.”
For Sharapova’s part, having finished her match earlier in the day, she said, about the potential encounter:
“It’s been a while, and I think a lot has happened in our lives for the both of us in very different ways.
“I’m not someone, you know, I have spoken about that chapter for a long time now, and to be able to put myself back in these positions and to not shy away from these moments, to come out on centre court and want the challenge of moving forward and to be able to face Serena, I think that speaks for itself. I don’t think I need to elaborate any more on that.”
Sharapova continued: “I think there is a lot of things in her game that she’s done much better than I have. I mean, the records don’t certainly elaborate on that. Numbers don’t lie.
“But of course, I came into Europe and Stuttgart with not a great record, not playing great tennis with a lot of injuries, and have been able to turn that around a little bit. Been able to put myself in this position of playing better tennis. That’s what I continue to work for, of course. You don’t put those hours on the back courts in Bradenton-fricking-Florida to — you know what I mean — to just show up at events like this and not bring it.”
‘Bring it’ indeed
One could argue that certainly for Sharapova, she has come full circle. It is, as Williams notes, well over a year since she came back. She has had ups and downs and it has taken almost a year to be able to talk about forehands and backhands again.
Williams’ comeback has been more stilted – Indian Wells and Miami were predictably short, Madrid and Rome also predictably not forthcoming. But if we were to do a direct comparison with the seemingly cake-walk draw Sharapova navigated to the semi-finals of Stuttgart, and Williams making the fourth round of a Grand Slam off barely a sniff of clay – who is to say that it might actually be Williams that has the advantage?
Off the back of the run in Rome, Sharapova was finally playing some of her best tennis again. Her performance against Pliskova was one of her best since she returned. Yet Williams just has that visceral sense of battle – even if she comes into press with one eye on the clock to get back to her child.
This match-up is finely poised and should be one of the contests of the entire tournament – let’s hope it does not disappoint.
Sharapova and Williams will be scheduled on Monday.
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