Melbourne - Serena Williams battled past gallant Madison Keys on Thursday to set up a
dream Australian Open final between the top two seeds after arch-rival
Maria Sharapova demolished Ekaterina Makarova.
The best two
players in the world have a long history and the odds are stacked in
Williams' favour ahead of the Melbourne Park decider on Saturday with
the American holding a major psychological advantage.
She has a 16-2 record against Sharapova, with the Russian five-time Grand Slam champion losing their every encounter since 2004.
the ominous statistic, Sharapova has been in outstanding touch and blew
away fellow Russian Makarova 6-3, 6-2 on a blustery afternoon on Rod
She is now in her fourth Australian final, having won in 2008.
Williams was made to work harder by rising American teen Keys, who fought to the end, saving eight match points.
by former US great Lindsay Davenport, Keys forced Williams to a first
set tiebreak before her illustrious opponent took charge to win 7-6
"I was just happy to get through it today," said
Williams. "My theory now is to relax and just play the next match as
best I can."
In reaching the final at 33, she became the oldest
player to make the Australian Open decider in the Open Era, surpassing
It also ensured that she keeps the number one ranking
she has held for more than 100 weeks. Sharapova could have claimed the
accolade if she had won the title and Williams had failed to make the
In another warning sign for Sharapova, her rival has won
all five of the previous finals she has made in Melbourne. Williams is
now in her 23rd major final, and has claimed 18 of them.
The Russian is undaunted and said her confidence was high.
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,
to say the least, against someone," she said.
"It doesn't matter. I got there for a reason. I belong in that spot. I will do everything I can to get the title."
went into her match against Makarova with a 5-0 record and always
looked in control, despite initially struggling with her serve in the
But she soon found her groove and took charge to race home in 87 minutes.
The 27-year-old said it felt "special" to make a ninth career Slam final.
a fellow Russian and playing someone who maybe wasn't the favourite
going into the semi-final, I knew she would come out and play really
well," the reigning French Open champion said.
"I was ready for that and stood my ground and competed well."
into Saturday's showdown, Williams has the added incentive of needing
one more Grand Slam title to go clear second on the all-time Open Era
winners list and further cement her name in the history books.
She currently has 18 alongside Evert and Martina Navratilova and is four behind Steffi Graf's 22.
had beaten Williams' sister Venus to reach the last four and revenge
was on Serena's mind, but the plucky 19-year-old had other ideas.
Despite being in her first-ever Slam semi, she held her own and earned generous praise from Williams.
"She's obviously a great player, she's going to be winning this tournament very soon and lots of other Grand Slams," she said.
Keys said the experience of reaching a semi had been invaluable.
my first one. Just looking forward to having more. Hopefully I'll have a
couple where I'm with the trophy at the end of the week," she said.
first men's semi-final is played later Thursday with sixth seed Andy
Murray facing tenacious Czech Tomas Berdych. World number one Novak
Djokovic plays defending champion Stan Wawrinka in the other blockbuster
semi on Friday.