Serena-Sharapova rivalry comes again to Australian Open

AP Photo

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams says she doesn’t remember much about the first time she played Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open.

It was 11 years ago, after all, way back in 2005. But she does remember the outcome.

“I was down a match point. I remember hitting it as hard as I could,” recalled Williams, who ultimately saved three match points in that semifinal. “I remember, obviously, winning and that was really great.”

Sharapova remembers it, too. Mainly because her 17-match losing streak against Williams started that day.

Both players advanced Sunday to the Australian Open quarterfinals where they will meet in a high-profile rematch of last year’s final and the latest installment in their long running rivalry.

“I look forward to playing the best in the world, and that’s what she’s proven in the last year – the last many years,” Sharapova said about Williams after beating Belinda Bencic 7-5, 7-5 in the fourth-round Sunday.

Williams’ dominance of the women’s game has created a gulf that is enormous between her spot at No. 1 and everyone else.

She has won 21 Grand Slam titles, including last year’s Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. She’s won the Australian title a record six times in the Open era.

She came agonizingly close to winning all four majors last year, which would have made her the first person to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam in 27 years.

But losing, Williams said Sunday, just makes her want to win more.

“For my whole career, I have been motivated by losses,” Williams said after beating Margarita Gasparyan 6-2, 6-1, in just 55 minutes. “That’s just been my thing. When I lose, I just get better.”

Williams has powered through the first week at the Australian Open without dropping a set. Asked if her record against Sharapova gives her extra confidence, she said it doesn’t matter to her who she plays.

“I just feel like I’m really confident in my game right now, not against her or against any other opponent” in particular, William said. “I’m just really looking at me right now, and I feel like if I can just continue to play well, then it could be good.”

Put another way, when Williams is at the top of her game it is incredibly hard to beat her.

At 34, she is the oldest woman to hold the No. 1 ranking – but age does not appear to matter. Every tournament she plays in, it seems, holds another chance for Williams to make history.

With another championship in Melbourne, Williams would equal Steffi Graf’s 22 major singles titles.

Margaret Court, the Australian great who won 24 Grand Slam singles titles and has a stadium named in her honor at Melbourne Park, was in the crowd watching Williams – and waved to her after the match.

“Obviously 24 is close, but, yet it’s so far away,” Williams said, adding that it was an honor to play in front of Court and she wasn’t consciously trying to overtake her. “Honestly, I just focus on each game at a time. I never play thinking I want to be with the great Margaret Court. I just play just want to win a Grand Slam and that’s it.”

Before her match, Williams was keeping an eye on Sharapova’s match and noted that she “had a really good win today.”

Sharapova hit a career-high 21 aces and hit 58 winners, converting her second match point when she challenged a line call after her forehand was initially called long.

The five-time Grand Slam winner last won the Australian Open in 2008 and has been a finalist four times.

When her rivalry with Williams started out, she had the lead. Sharapova won consecutive matches against Williams in 2004, at Wimbledon and the season-ending championships, but hasn’t won since.

It’s a statistic she tries to block from her mind, particularly right before they play.

“It’s not like I think about, `What can I do worse?”‘ Sharapova said. “I got myself into the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam. There is no reason I shouldn’t be looking to improve and to getting my game in a better position than any previous round. It’s only going to be tougher, especially against Serena.”

Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula reach Miami Open 3rd round

coco gauff
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Sixth-seeded Coco Gauff opened her 2023 Miami Open with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Rebecca Marino and advanced to the third round where she will face 27th-seeded Anastasia Potapova.

After her victory, Gauff, coming off a quarterfinals appearance at Indian Wells, said in a television interview that it wasn’t her best outing, despite converting five of her nine break points.

“It was a shaky performances honestly,” Gauff said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a straight forward match, even if I was up a break sometimes.”

Gauff came back from a break down twice in the second set to claim her second career win versus Marino. Gauff defeated Marino in the first round at Roland Garros in 2022.

Gauff said she was a bit nervous playing in her hometown – she’s a native of Delray Beach, Florida, a small city about 40 miles north of Hard Rock Stadium, where the tournament is played. Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat was among those in attendance Thursday.

“Jimmy Butler is here so I was a little bit nervous when I saw him,” Gauff said with a laugh in her post-match interview. “Playing home is something I look forward to, but it’s also a little bit of extra pressure because everyone wants you to do well here.”

Gauff’s doubles teammate, world No. 3 Jessica Pegula beat Katherine Sebov 6-3, 6-1 and advanced to the third round. She will face fellow American and No. 30 Danielle Collins next. Collins defeated Viktoriya Tomova on Thursday.

Pegula made the Miami Open semifinals in 2022 and is among the favorites to win the tournament this year after No. 1-ranked and defending champion Iga Swiatek pulled out of the tournament because of a rib injury.

No. 21 Paula Badosa won 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-2 against Laura Siegemund in a match that lasted two hours and 51 minutes. Badosa will face either Elena Rybakina, who defeated Badosa en route to the Indian Wells title, or Anna Kalinskaya.

Badosa hit with a ball kid during the match to stay warm after Siegemund called for a medical timeout and left the court for treatment, which took nearly 15 minutes.

In other action, Elise Mertens eliminated No. 8 seed Daria Kasatkina 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 to advance and face No. 29 Petra Martic next; No. 23 Qinwen Zheng picked up a 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 win over Irina-Camelia Begu; and No. 13 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia defeated Tereza Martincová 7-6 (4), 0-6, 6-0.

Raducanu, Stephens, Murray lose in first round at Miami Open

Getty Images

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champions Emma Raducanu and Sloane Stephens were knocked out of the Miami Open hours after No. 1-ranked and defending champion Iga Swiatek pulled out of the tournament because of a rib injury.

Bianca Andreescu – the 2019 U.S. Open champ – defeated Raducanu 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Andreescu improved to 2-0 lifetime against Raducanu, the 2021 winner at Flushing Meadows.

“Miami has a special place in my heart,” Andreescu said. “I’ve been coming here since I was I think 12 years old, whether it’s for vacation or training or, yeah, Orange Bowl. I love that tournament very much. Yeah, coming back here, I think it’s just good vibes overall.”

Andreescu moves on to face 10th-ranked Maria Sakkari, who had a first-round bye.

Shelby Rogers beat Stephens 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. Stephens has six hard-court titles, including the U.S. Open in 2017 and Miami in 2018.

Rogers will face Australian Open champion and world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who beat Rogers in the second round at Melbourne Park. Sabalenka is coming off a loss in the final at Indian Wells, California, last week.

On the men’s side, Dusan Lajovic beat three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray 6-4, 7-5.

“I served pretty well, but the rest of the game was a bit of a problem today,” the 35-year-old Murray said. “Made a number of errors that obviously I wouldn’t expect to be making. I didn’t really feel like I moved particularly well, which is really important for me.”

Lajovic, a 32-year-old Serbian, will face Maxime Cressy, who had a first-round bye.

Swiatek withdrew because of a rib injury that she is hoping will heal during a break from competition. The 21-year-old from Poland also will sit out her country’s Billie Jean King Cup qualifier matches against Kazakhstan on April 13-14.

“I wanted to wait ’til the last minute” to decide whether to play in Miami, Swiatek said at a news conference at the site of the hard-court tournament that began Tuesday. “We were kind of checking if this is the kind of injury you can still play with or this is kind when you can get things worse. So I think the smart move for me is to pull out of this tournament because I want to rest and take care of it properly.”

In other action, 24-year-old American J.J. Wolf defeated Alexander Bublik 7-5, 6-3. He’ll face No. 7-ranked Andrey Rublev, who had a first-round bye.

Gael Monfils retired from his match against Ugo Humbert due to a persistent wrist injury.