It’s the day before Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams contest for the 2015 Australian Open. Their H2H has been discussed plenty of times, so instead of just focusing on the numbers, we’ll take a look at what has worked when facing the American in recent years…
…and what hasn’t.
1. If Serena Williams plays at her best,
Maria Sharapova will not win.
Stating the obvious much? Perhaps. But let’s get this out of the way first: if the 18-time Grand Slam champion is anywhere near her top-form, Sharapova does not stand a chance. And neither does the rest of the WTA Tour.
That’s just how much better Williams is.
The 33-year-old possesses the best serve in the women’s game; when that weapon clicks into gear, she loosens up on the return games and goes for her shots.
So from the jump, Sharapova must hope for a below-par Williams. This doesn’t say that anyone wishes for Williams to struggle to play at full capacity but it’s of utmost importance for the Russian to stand a chance.
2. Return and hit: hard and deep down the middle.
If you try to get Serena Williams on the run with standard rallying, you’ll likely set yourself up for failure. Even on auto-pilot, the American is too good an athlete to be impressed by a plethora of direction changes – and once a ball sits up, she’s going to take advantage of it.
Returning deep, flat and hard down the middle has proven to be more successful. It worked for Garbiñe Muguruza at Roland Garros and it worked for the Spaniard for much of her fourth round match Down Under. Williams was nowhere near her best in Paris, but it also took her a while to switch up the gears a couple of days ago. Either way, her opponent’s resolute approach bore fruit on both occasions.
If Sharapova manages to replicate some of Muguruza’s deep and centered hitting, she’ll take away the angles from the World No. 1. On her best day, the American is going to be able to deal with this as well, but if her performance fluctuates, it might yield some success for the No. 2 seed.
3. Serve out of her skin.
Sharapova’s serving performance has been up and down so far, but against Bouchard she has been at her most solid, posting only four double faults and landing 64% of her first serves. The Russian will need these figures at a minimum, but likely even better. And though she doesn’t take a lot off of her second serve, it often lacks the variation and reliability to impact the Williams return.
The serve has always been a catch-22 for last year’s French Open champion in this particular match-up. Go for too much and risk a myriad of double faults. Go for too little and receive a similar myriad of thunderous returns. As a result, the five-time Grand Slam champion is going to need an outstanding day when she steps up to the baseline, regardless of whether the American is at her best or not.
If Sharapova’s first serve percentage dips below 60%, she’ll have an incredibly difficult day at the office.
4. Let sleeping lions lie.
Serena Williams has occasionally stepped on court and taken a little longer to settle than may be advisable – see the finals against both Maria Sharapova in Miami 2013 and just a week Jelena Jankovic in Charleston 2013. The noted Bradenton BFFs both played great tennis in their respective first sets as Williams struggled bringing her best to the table.
In Miami, the Russian was up a set and a break and kept firing herself up throughout the encounter. The World No. 1 woke up from an on-court-lull after what seemed like one “come on” too many and took the final 10 games to capture the title in Crandon Park. And similar to Miami, this incident in Charleston seemed needed for Williams to wake up and dominate the remainder of the match.
So even if Sharapova is able to get out to an early lead, she’d be better off remaining relatively calm. Should Williams start the match in a semi-slumber, the Russian would do herself an immense favor not to interrupt.
5. Have a little bit of luck.
Let’s face it: based on the way Williams has performed in the last two matches, the aching gap in their head-to-head, and the American’s own ability to turn it on when the stakes are highest, Sharapova is going to need it.
Have we missed anything? What needs to happen for Sharapova to have a chance tomorrow? Sound off in the comments.
No, naming a natural disaster does not count as an answer.