Serena still invincible against Sharapova

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MELBOURNE -- One of these days, Maria Sharapova might actually defeat Serena Williams. Probably not soon. But perhaps someday. Maybe. Such as when Serena is old and gray and sitting in a rocking chair on her front porch shouting at Maria to get off her grass. Of course, if that grass were at Wimbledon, Sharapova still would lose.

Or for that matter, Sharapova probably would lose if she were on hard courts or clay courts, or sand or ice. Because it doesn't matter the surface or where these two play: Serena always wins.

Is there a more lopsided rivalry in all of sports? Williams and Sharapova have played each other 21 times, and Serena has won 19 of the matches, including the past 18. She hasn't lost to Sharapova since 2004.

"I'm not sure why," Williams said when asked to explain the nearly 12-year winning streak. "It doesn't matter who I'm playing, I just try to go out there and play the best I can. It's not necessarily anyone in particular.

"I don't know. Something about her game. I like the way she hits the ball. Plus, when I play her, I know automatically I have to step up my game. I think that makes me play better."

The general view heading into this match was that for Sharapova to win, Serena would have to play less than her best, while Sharapova would have to serve better. And Sharapova did have two things going for her:

She had been serving well this tournament, leading all women in aces -- with more than twice as many as Williams (52-25). Meanwhile, Serena said she was feeling the effects of recent food poisoning and took the court feeling "a little lethargic."

Not that either of those mattered. Sharapova simply didn't have it on Tuesday at the Australian Open, committing seven double faults, including six in the first set. And Serena perked up enough to out-ace her 13-3.

Oh, Sharapova did win the first two games, mostly because Serena was sluggish and missed too many shots. That led to the possibility that this might finally be the day the streak ended. Then Serena must have suddenly remembered that despite her record against Sharapova, she still has to actually play well. So just as Sharapova might have been saying, "I think I can, I think I can," Serena lifted her game to its usual level. And then Sharapova's collapsed.

I know I can't, I know I can't.

Williams won six of the next eight games to take the first set 6-4, then followed up by winning the first five games in her 6-1 second-set victory. Sharapova walked off the court with the irritation of an 18th consecutive loss to her nemesis and the knowledge that she would have to sit in front of the press and account for it all.

"It's obviously always frustrating," Sharapova said. "I mean, it's motivating. It's tough to sit here 30 minutes after the match and talk about the match, but that's part of my job. It's motivating because she's at a different level. She makes you go back to the drawing board, not just for me, but for many other players. She makes you work. That's inspiring."

Apparently, not inspiring enough.

Speaking of other players, though, Serena will play Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals. Aside from an exhibition match at the Hopman Cup last year, Williams has never lost to Radwanska.

"It will be a good match," Williams said. "She's been playing really well towards the end of the year, and already this year she's been very consistent. She presents a completely different game, an extremely exciting game. So I think it will be a long match, and it will be a good match to see where I am."

If Serena's dominance over Radwanska continues -- and Williams has never lost in an Australian Open semifinal -- her most likely championship final would be against Victoria Azarenka, who is -- brace yourself! -- 3-17 against Williams.

In other words, Sharapova certainly is not the only player who struggles against Serena.

But will Sharapova ever end her skid against Williams? What does she have to do to halt it?

"Keep setting opportunities. Keep getting to the point where I have an opportunity to play against her. Keep finding a way to turn that around," Sharapova said. "If I don't have that chance, then I don't have the opportunity to try something different."

Is there something different that could work?

It's hard to imagine. Williams is simply a better player. Although perhaps it could happen if Sharapova waits long enough, when Serena is an actual golden girl, rather just a passionate fan of the old TV series "The Golden Girls." Although Williams also will probably need to be suffering from food poisoning. And knee inflammation. And a bad hip. And arthritis in her right hand. And ...