Photo: Eisele/Giubilo/ZimmerSerena Williams (USA)
LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN: Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will meet in the women’s singles final today with an Olympic gold medal at stake. Williams has won doubles gold before with her sister Venus, at Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008, but the singles title has so far eluded her, while Sharapova is making her debut at the Olympics, so this will her first shot at gold.
Williams, seeded No. 4, has been in blistering form to reach the final, dropping just 16 games and zero sets in her five matches so far. In the semifinal, she produced a staggering performance to hammer world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 61 62. In the early rounds, her scalps included former world No. 1 players Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki, and Beijing bronze medallist Vera Zvonareva.
The American’s serve has been the base of her dominant displays, as she has only dropped it once in the tournament so far, against Urszula Radwanska in the second round. Incredibly, Williams has offered just five break points to her opposition, which is a measly average of one per match. The last break point she faced was back in the third round. The 14-time Grand Slam champion has already struck 50 aces, a particularly impressive stat taken into consideration how little time she has spent on court.
Sharapova, seeded No. 3, has also been rediscovering her best form on The All England Club grass courts. With the exception of her third round clash with Sabine Lisicki, when she came from a set down to win, the Russian has advanced without too much difficulty. She defeated teammate Maria Kirilenko 62 63 in the semifinals, while the round before she ended the Wimbledon career of Kim Clijsters, who had announced this will be her last appearance at SW19.
The Russian completed her career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in June, and now she has the chance to turn that into a career Golden Grand Slam, all four majors and the Olympic singles gold medal. However, Williams also has the same goal in mind, trying to emulate Steffi Graf, who achieved the feat in 1988 when she won all five accolades in the same year.
Williams and Sharapova have met 10 times over the years, and the American leads the series 8-2, although the Russian has tasted success over Williams on Centre Court before and will be hoping to replicate that performance. In 2004, a 17-year-old Sharapova took Wimbledon by storm and tore through the draw to win her first major title, beating Williams 61 64 in the final.
The pair played two further matches in 2004, which were split, so Sharapova came out of the year with a 2-1 head-to-head lead. However, since then Williams has won seven straight matches to dominate their rivalry. Their last meeting on grass was at Wimbledon two years ago, when the American prevailed 76(9) 64. Their only clash this season was on clay in Madrid, with Williams again coming out on top 61 63.
The final is scheduled to get under way on Centre Court on Saturday afternoon, following a mixed doubles quarterfinal between Great Britain’s Laura Robson and Andy Murray and Australia’s Samantha Stosur and Lleyton Hewitt. Further mixed doubles matches are being played today so that two pairs remain for Sunday’s final.
The men’s doubles final concludes the Centre Court schedule today, as American twins Bob and Mike Bryan take on Frenchmen Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Bryan brothers are the world’s No. 1 ranked pair and will go into the final as favourites to pick up their first gold medal, but the French duo also know their way around a doubles court and will provide a stern test. Whatever happens, the Bryans will better the bronze they won in Beijing four years ago, and Llodra and Tsonga will win their first Olympic medal.
On No. 1 Court, Azarenka and Kirilenko will both need to bounce back quickly as they compete for the women’s singles bronze medal. This will be a strange phenomenon for these two players because normally at a tennis tournament you’re on the first plane home after a defeat. Not at the Olympics. The men’s doubles pairs competing for bronze will follow, with Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet of France taking on David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez of Spain.
Williams will also be back in action later today with her sister Venus in the women's doubles semifinals, as their gold medal defence conitnues against Russian pair Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova. The match was originally supposed to be played on Friday. The Czech partnership of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka await in Sunday's final.
If all today’s matches are completed, then the schedule on Sunday will centre around the men’s singles final between Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Great Britain’s Andy Murray, which will be a repeat of their Wimbledon showdown on the very same court four weeks ago to the day. The gold medals in the women’s doubles and mixed doubles will also be decided on Sunday, as will the bronze medals in all three events.
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