Australian Open: Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova to meet in final

Story highlights

  • Serena Williams to meet Maria Sharapova in women's final
  • Both players advanced in straight sets Thursday
  • Williams leads Sharapova 16-2 in their rivalry
  • Andy Murray beats Tomas Berdych to reach men's final

(CNN)Now comes the hard part for Maria Sharapova. Having reached the Australian Open final, she'll have to overcome longtime nemesis Serena Williams.

To utter that Sharapova is the underdog Saturday is like saying Roger Federer is a decent player. World No. 1 Williams leads the second-ranked Sharapova 16-2 in their rivalry -- but has won 15 matches in a row.
During that streak, she has conceded three sets to the Russian.
    If that's not enough, Williams has never lost a semifinal or final in Melbourne, her record improving to 11-0 after topping fellow American Madison Keys 7-6 (5) 6-2 Thursday in the semifinals.
    Sharapova, meanwhile, has failed to win a major outside Roland Garros in seven years.
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    But all the imposing statistics don't appear to be fazing the ever steely Sharapova, who last downed Williams at the year-end championships in 2004.
    "I think my confidence should be pretty high going into a final of a grand slam no matter who I'm facing, and whether I've had a terrible record against someone, it doesn't matter," Sharapova, a 6-3 6-2 winner over compatriot Ekaterina Makarova Thursday, told reporters.
    "I got there for a reason. I belong in that spot. I will do everything I can to get the title."
    Some would say, too, that Sharapova has fate on her side.
    She was almost knocked out in the second round, needing to save a pair of match points against qualifier Alexandra Panova. And only last year Li Na took advantage of her second chance in Melbourne, fending off a match point in the third round before going on to capture a second grand slam title a week later.
    Since the second round, Sharapova hasn't come close to dropping a set.
    "Everyone's going to expect me to win, but Maria is playing unbelievable," Williams was quoted as saying by the WTA's website. "She was almost out of the tournament and came back, and she's playing better in every single match.
    "She has nothing to lose, once again," Williams later told reporters. "She has only things to gain. And I feel that way, too.
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    "I've won this tournament several times. I don't have to go out there and have another title. I want it, but it's not life or death for me. I think that helps me relax. So, yeah, she absolutely has nothing to lose, and I have nothing to lose, so it will be fun."
    Williams is chasing a 19th grand slam title, which would separate the 33-year-old from retired legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
    She ultimately had too much game -- and experience -- for the 19-year-old Keys, who made her debut in a grand slam semifinal after eliminating Williams' older sister, Venus, in her maiden grand slam quarterfinal Wednesday.
    The big-hitting Keys, continuing to play with tape on her injured left thigh, broke for an early lead in the first set.
    Once Williams settled, though, she was rarely troubled on serve.
    It took a little longer than anticipated for Williams to finally oust Keys, with the teenager saving eight match points.
    "I was a little frustrated at the end," Williams said. "I had so many match points and just couldn't close it out and that doesn't usually happen.
    "But in retrospect, she was playing very well. She served so well. I'm a really big fan of hers. She's so awesome, so positive, just a great player."
    Not only did Williams defeat Keys, but she later got a chance to meet one of her favorite singers, Kenny Rogers.
    Sharapova's win over Makarova, who was appearing in a second straight grand slam semifinal, wasn't as dramatic although the five-time grand slam champion did let a 3-0 first-set advantage fade.
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    The turning point came when Makarova was broken at 3-4 in the opening set.
    The night match on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday saw two-time grand slam winner Andy Murray beat 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych 6-7 (6) 6-0 6-3 7-5 to reach the men's final.
    On Friday, top-seed Novak Djokovic battles defending champion Stan Wawrinka in the other semifinal.