By Bill Simons
LONDON—Donald Trump was wrong.
The savvy businessman—and questionable tennis analyst—claimed Serena Williams lost the 2004 Wimbledon final to Maria Sharapova because she was intimidated by the Russian’s supermodel good looks.
But Sharapova was right.
After winning the the 2004 title, the beaming 17-year-old turned to Williams and said, “I’m sorry Serena, I guess I have to take this away from you for a year.”
Exactly, that was it!
Since then, the greatest rivalry in women’s tennis hasn’t been much of a rivalry. It’s had far more fizzle than sizzle.
Yes, Maria is fierce. She’s the second best battler in the game. She overcame a serious shoulder surgery in 2008 that has greatly impacted her serve. She’s become an adept clay court player. Since her Wimbledon triumph, she’s won four more Slams—impressive. She has a career Grand Slam.
But since 2004 Serena has won 14 Slams. She has the best shot in tennis history, her flowing serve. Her forehand punishes, as does her backhand. She returns well, and for a big woman who—can we note—is hardly young, she displays impressive, though not always graceful, speed.
Many claim the Serena vs. Sharapova rivalry is not really a rivalry.
Sharapova shrieks loud, but against Serena, it’s been the sound of silence. Maria has her sweet Sugarpova candy, but parts of her game are a bit sour. Too often, her serve is a curious misadventure. Her toss has a mind of its own. Her movement is inelegant and far from explosive, and these days, she just doesn’t seem to be hitting free and long. She’s mechanical, at times robotic. Even on grass, her shots too often fall short. She arrived into today’s semis without having to face a top 30 player, and after a mighty struggle against Coco Vandeweghe.
More to the point, Maria has to be baffled. Since that giddy year in 2004 when she prevailed on Centre Court (and once more later at the WTA finals), she has lost 16 straight matches to Serena.
But let’s not forget Maria will be No. 2 in the world next week. That’s hardly horrible.
What was horrible for Maria was her clumsy start. In the opening game, she double faulted three times, was promptly broken, and then was broken again when down 3-1. By the time the score reached 5-1, the deflated crowd sensed it was over for “ova.”
Sharapova was not a little-known German with a triple-digit ranking taking the mighty Serena by surprise in an early round at the French Open. She was no British darling with the crowd at her back, and she couldn’t muster the mighty athleticism of Victoria Azarenka.
Still, to Maria’s credit, after she again double faulted to suffer a break and fall behind 2-3 in the second set, she played some intense ball, blasting groundies to the lines, surviving a match point and displaying her intensity: Maria tough.
But every time Sharapova managed a slight counterattack, Serena stepped it up. She had 29 imposing winners. Maria had nine. And Serena’s serve—she hit 13 aces today—is like a ‘Get out of jail free’ card.
Ultimately, Sharapova—the woman who turns and talks to the wall—hit the wall. But, unlike in Maria’s last match against Serena on this court (a 6-0, 6-1 drubbing in the 2012 Olympic final), the Russian silver medalist could point to a modest silver lining: a respectable 6-2, 6-4 scoreline against perhaps the greatest player in history, who next will face a zoning youngster in the final.
Yes, Spain’s Garbine Muguruza scored notable wins over Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki and Timea Bacsinszky to reach the semis, and she had a hefty challenge in her scintillating match today. Her foe Aga Radwanska scampered, bent, poked, sliced, diced and displayed breathltaking Martina Hingis-like all-court skills: such touch.
But Muguruza, the first Spanish women’s semifinalist in 18 years, powered groundstrokes to the corners, served big and moved well. She overcame some hefty nerves and survived a six-game mid-match slump to score an impressive, star-in-the-making 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win.
The 21 year old, seeded No. 20, does have a win over Serena. She’s a broad-shouldered athlete who can hit with Williams, who is playing her 26th Slam final, fighting to collect her second “Serena Slam,” and striving to gain the calendar Grand Slam.
Saturday’s match will be Muguruza’s first Slam final. She has a chance, and is attracting a growing legion of fans. Still, most are saying that Serena will come out Saturday and say, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” and—as the Spaniard departs—the headlines will read “Garbine with the Wind.”