LONDON (AFP) –
Serena Williams has warned old rival Maria Sharapova she will go for broke when the two giants of the women’s game renew hostilities in the Olympic final at Wimbledon on Saturday.
Serena, who won Wimbledon less than a month ago, and Sharapova, the reigning French Open champion, have 18 Grand Slam titles between them and their showdown at the Games promises to showcase the best of women’s tennis.
For American fourth seed Serena and Russian world number three Sharapova, both playing in their first Olympic singles final, the match represents an opportunity to complete the career Golden Slam of all four major titles and singles gold.
The chance to emulate German legend Steffi Graf — the only other woman to have achieved the Golden Slam — is motivation enough, but Sharapova also knows victory will return her to the top of the world rankings just weeks after she lost pole position to Victoria Azarenka.
Williams booked her place in the final with the latest in a series of imperious displays at the All England Club this week as she crushed Azarenka 6-1, 6-2 in 63 minutes on Centre Court.
Serena hasn’t lost a set and has dropped just 16 games en route to the final.
After 18 months recovering from injury and illness, the 14-time Grand Slam champion is back to her best and she is convinced her all-guns-blazing policy remains the best way to deal with the threat of Sharapova.
“I really look forward to playing Maria. I haven’t played her in a while. We always have good matches,” Serena said.
“She has improved so much. It will be interesting. She’s ranked higher than I am so, again, I feel like I have nothing to lose. It will be a good battle.”
While Williams is rightfully confident after beating Sharapova in eight of their 10 meetings, the Russian has been in dominant form at the Games as well.
She wasted little time disposing of compatriot Maria Kirilenko in a 6-2, 6-3 semi-final rout on Court One and, like Serena, has enjoyed a renaissance in recent months after several barren years.
The sight of Serena on the other side of the Centre Court net will rekindle fond memories for Sharapova, who was just 17 when she shocked the American in the 2004 Wimbledon final. But she is well aware it will be a dogfight for the gold medal.
“It’s going to be a tough final. I’ve had my fair share of difficult matches against Serena. It will be a fight to win the gold,” Sharapova said.
After carrying her country’s flag at the opening ceremony and guaranteeing at least a silver medal, this has been a memorable first experience of the Games for Sharapova.
She believes pride in representing Russia has given an extra edge to her game this week.
“I think that when you are at the Olympics there is so much more pride,” she said. “You’re playing for your country and especially in Russia, it is such a huge part of our culture.
“I grew up watching the Olympics and it really brought the nation together.
“As athletes, it is one of our goals to make it there to try and win a medal, in particular the gold.
It’s just the passion that we have when we play for our country.”