In surely the blockbuster clash of the fourth round, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, the two most successful players at Roland Garros in the draw, face off for a place in the quarterfinals. Both have had time out of the game recently, though for very different reasons, and both are looking for a big run at the French Open to really announce their return to the tennis world. But only one can take their place in the last eight in Paris. Who will it be?
Sharapova and Williams have one of the most storied if not competitive rivalries in the women’s game. The pair have met 21 times, with Williams having dominated the head-to-head 19-2. Sharapova’s two victories came back-to-back in their second and third meetings, which saw victories for the Russian in the Wimbledon and WTA Championships finals in 2004. Since then, however, it has been all Williams, with the American winning three Slam finals and an Olympic gold against Sharapova during an eighteen match winning run.
Path to the fourth round
Sharapova began her French Open campaign with a three-set win against the Netherlands’ Richel Hogenkamp, winning through 6-1 4-6 6-3 despite a mid-match wobble. She backed that victory up with a 7-5 6-4 win against Croatian Donna Vekic, in a match of very high quality. That win set up a match with the 6th seeded Karolina Pliskova, who was last year a semifinalist in Paris. But Pliskova proved to be no match for Sharapova who delivered one of her best performances since returning to win 6-2 6-1.
Williams has also faced a Pliskova at Roland Garros, defeating Karolina’s twin Kristyna in a hard-fought straight sets win 7-6 6-4. She then recovered from dropping the first set to defeat Australian 17th seed Ashleigh Barty 3-6 6-3 6-4 in a win that surely gave her confidence about her readiness to compete with the game’s best. She showed that confidence to impressively dispatch the 11th seed from Germany Julia Goerges in straight sets, 6-3 6-4.
How do they match up?
This is almost certain to be a fiery affair. There has long been little love lost between Sharapova and Williams, and recent events will have done little to warm the pair to each other. The match will probably be contested mostly from the baseline, with Sharapova and Williams amongst the most powerfully equipped players on the WTA Tour. Whoever is most often able to seize control of the point with their groundstrokes will surely emerge the winner.
Their serves may also play a decisive role in the outcome of this match, particularly because it’s the one area that Williams has a notable advantage over Sharapova, whose serve has never entirely recovered from the shoulder injuries she suffered late in the last decade. Williams has been able to dominate opponents with her serve, raising the pressure to hold on opponents to her considerable advantage. If Sharapova is unable to get a handle on the Williams serve, it will be a difficult ask indeed for her to win.
Whilst history is clearly on the side of Williams, Sharapova has the advantage of having played a fairly full schedule so far this year, whilst for Williams this is just her third tournament, and first since March. How far her body is ready to go is not yet certain, and as talented a player as she is, to return midway through the season and win a Slam is a prospect so difficult as to be almost impossible. If anyone could it would be Serena, but this will be Sharapova’s day in three sets.
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