The last time Maria Sharapova defeated Serena Williams was nearly a decade ago. In the Wimbledon final of 2004, a 17-year-old Sharapova beat Williams to win her maiden Major. That same year, she won for the second time against the American at the Tour Championships in Los Angeles, in the process seemingly establishing an upper hand in their rivalry.
But that victory was Sharapova’s last success against Williams and their so-called rivalry, much touted back then, has been reduced to a one-sided domination by the American. And though the Russian has tried everything to stem Williams’s ruthless mastery over her – and has on a few occasions even come close to halting it – she has never been able to mount a significant impression on her opponent in the 15 matches the two have played since then.
1. Inconsistent serve
The biggest contributor to the lopsided result in Williams’ favour over Sharapova has been the serve. Specifically, the erratic serving of the Russian, which has often seen her struggle to win her own service games, no matter how easily she may be breaking her opponent’s serve. While it is relatively easier for Sharapova to get past her other opponents despite her topsy-turvy serving, the very same factors allow Williams the opportunity though to attack Sharapova at her most vulnerable.
Although both Williams and Sharapova are out-and-out baseline players who rarely come to the net to attack, Williams has the distinct advantage in terms of taking control over the rallies, with more force and power than Sharapova. For most parts during the course of a match – even in their Miami semi-final – Williams is able to dictate terms to her younger opponent, which helps her to gain more confidence as the match progresses.
3. Better control
Serena Williams’ game, more often than not, looks brutal to the discerning eye. But within this brutality lies camouflaged the sheer control of her shots that has managed to stymie Sharapova time and again. It has been a predictable trajectory in all the Maria Sharapova-Serena Williams match-ups till now. We’ve frequently watched Serena let out one perfectly controlled shot after another leaving Maria helpless at the other end, unable to do anything except watch the ball whiz by her.
4. Dealing with pressure
If at all Serena Williams does find herself trailing in a match, there’s every possibility of her making a turnaround for the better, many times all the way to her winning the match. Her shots take a more lethal turn when under pressure, which allows her to browbeat her opponent into submission. Against Sharapova too, Williams has been successful for precisely this reason: she has refused to give up whenever she has trailed Sharapova in terms of the score. But conversely, the same cannot be said about Sharapova who often fails to regroup, with her shot-making becoming even more wayward after suffering setbacks, be it after holding the initial advantage over Williams or with Williams dominating her from the outset.
Another hindering factor for Maria Sharapova against Serena Williams is her movement that the latter seems to invariably manipulate to her advantage. Even if Sharapova starts the match well against Williams, as it proceeds, her movement starts to regress which allows Williams to creep into the game and thereafter continue to exploit her advantage for the remainder of the duration of the match. Over the course of years, despite the extensive video analysis that Sharapova has used to understand the minutiae of Williams’ game and break it down, her inability to watch out for her surprisingly swift movement on court has been a major Achilles’ heel for Sharapova, substantiated by each of Williams’ victories over her.