Williams routs Sharapova to head to Wimbledon final


Howard Fendrich

AP Tennis Writer

LONDON — Her game in high gear, history in the offing, Serena Williams is perfectly content to let everyone else talk about what a victory in the Wimbledon final would mean.

A “Serena Slam” of four consecutive major titles. The third leg of a calendar-year Grand Slam. A 21st major singles trophy, one short of the Open-era record.

For now, the No. 1-seeded Williams is keeping her thoughts to herself, declaring she won’t entertain questions about those topics, even after easily dismissing No. 4 Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals at the All England Club on Thursday to close in on the milestones.

“I don’t want the pressure of that, and I’m not thinking of that. When you talk about it every time, you can’t help but think about it,” Williams said. “It’s been OK just to free my brain from that.”

Whatever works. Clearly, Williams is doing plenty right at the moment. Particularly against Sharapova, whom she’s beaten 17 times in a row.

Williams hit 13 aces, reaching 123 mph. Fewer than half her serves were put in play. She never faced a break point, and was pushed to deuce just once on her serve. She had a 29-9 edge in winners.

In sum, Williams made Sharapova look like some sort of middle-of-the-pack wannabe, rather than the five-time major champion, career Grand Slam owner and former No. 1 that she is.

“Nothing to do with Sharapova,” said Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. “She does this to most of the top 10 players. It’s true. She’s dominating the game for a long time.”

Williams beat her sister Venus in the fourth round and another past No. 1 and multiple major winner, Victoria Azarenka, in the quarterfinals.

On Saturday, with so much at stake, Williams will face No. 20 Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who advanced to her first Grand Slam final by eliminating No. 13 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

“If you want to win a Grand Slam, when you dream, you say, ‘I want Serena in the final,’” the 21-year-old Muguruza said. “She’s like one of the best players in all these years.”

One of?

Five women have won four consecutive Grand Slam tournaments — and Williams already is among that group, having done it from 2002-03. Only three have pulled off a true Grand Slam, winning all four majors in a single season; Steffi Graf was the last, in 1988.

If Williams can beat Muguruza, the 33-year-old American would head to the U.S. Open in August with a shot at that feat.

Under a cloudless sky at Centre Court on Thursday, it was quickly clear Williams’ semifinal wouldn’t last long. At age 17, Sharapova beat Williams twice in 2004, including in the Wimbledon final — and hasn’t defeated her since.

In the opening game, Sharapova double-faulted three times and got broken. More ominously, the first four points that lasted at least six strokes ended with errors by Sharapova. If she couldn’t serve well, and couldn’t stay with Williams once the ball was in play, Sharapova was in trouble.

Asked what she needs to do to be competitive against Williams, Sharapova responded: “A lot more than I’m doing.”

Radwanska, the runner-up to five-time Wimbledon champion Williams in 2012, used a six-game run to make things close against the hard-hitting Muguruza.

But a pivotal moment came with Muguruza two points from victory, serving at 5-3, deuce. A backhand from Muguruza landed near the baseline, and after Radwanska hit the ball, she stopped playing and lifted her racket to indicate she wanted to challenge the call — at the same time that Muguruza was missing a forehand.

“Wasn’t really a good decision,” Radwanska acknowledged.

Muguruza’s miscue would have given Radwanska a break point. Instead, the replay review showed Muguruza’s backhand caught the edge of the baseline — giving her a match point, which she converted. When it ended, Muguruza dropped her racket and fell onto the court on her stomach.

As big a deal as this win was — “a present after the hard work,” Muguruza called it — she wants the title, of course.

Here’s the one element that might give Muguruza a hint of hope: In the French Open’s second round last year, she stunned Williams 6-2, 6-2, the most lopsided loss in Williams’ 318-match Grand Slam career.

“She made me improve,” said Williams, who beat Muguruza at this year’s Australian Open, “so she has me on my toes.”

That’s generally bad news for Williams’ foes.

Just ask Sharapova.

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