French Open title within Serena's reach
PARIS -- Warning to Maria Sharapova: Do not prepare for your French Open final by studying video of Serena Williams' semifinal victory. You will not find any flaw in her game. You will not find any secrets to beating her. You will get no sleep. You will only spend the rest of the night lying awake in bed, eyes wide open, with images of utter destruction flashing through your mind.
Better to watch something more cheerful and uplifting, such as "No Country for Old Men," "The Exorcist" or old driver education videos of car wrecks.
The Roland Garros final is Saturday afternoon, but Williams already showed who should be the champion Thursday with a crushing 6-0, 6-1 victory over No. 5-ranked Sara Errani, whose remains may be forever mixed into the red clay on Philippe Chatrier. But at least Errani didn't suffer long. The entire match took just 46 minutes, a ridiculous 3.5 minutes per game. Williams hit an insane 40 winners out of the 52 points she won.
"It was the best clay-court match I've ever seen from a woman," tennis legend Chris Evert said. "I felt it was flawless. She was hitting winners from every angle of the court. Hitting winners from everywhere. Coming to the net. Drop-shotting. Volleying. She kept her concentration the whole game. I thought it was perfect and flawless."
That is high praise considering Evert is the only other woman to have so dominant a semifinal victory at the French Open. In 1973, she won 6-1, 6-0, and in 1984 she won 6-0, 6-0.
It should be noted, however, that Evert lost the final both those years.
So does that bode well for Sharapova successfully defending her French Open championship? Well, let's look at the numbers.
Williams and Sharapova have played 15 times in their careers, and Williams has won 13 of the matches, including the past 12, losing only two sets in those dozen. The last time Sharapova beat Williams was nine years ago.
"I would love to change that around," Sharapova said. "Obviously, whatever I did in the past hasn't worked, so I'll have to try to do something different, and hopefully it will work."
Yeah, good luck with that. Williams is on the longest winning streak of her life -- 30 consecutive matches -- and she has roared through this tournament, beating opponents and winning over the fans by speaking French after matches. The only blip on her record here so far was dropping the second set of her quarterfinal match against Svetlana Kuznetsova on Tuesday.
There was no repeat of that Thursday. Her semifinal beatdown was so thorough that when Errani finally won a game in the second set, the Italian raised her arms in victory.
"What she did today is unbelievable," Errani said. "She's very strong. She's an unbelievable player. She had a great day. I tried. This is sport. Sometimes you lose, but you try. The important thing is stay there and try."
Asked if at any point she felt sorry for Errani during the match, Williams said definitely not. "I really, really like her. I love her fighting spirit. I really like her as a person. But when you go out there, you just have to play and forget about who you're playing."
As Evert said, Williams showed her entire game Thursday, including aspects that surprised even her. "I'm not a player that runs to the net, so it feels really good to be able to hit some good volleys," Williams said. "Sometimes I'm surprised. I'm like, 'Is that me?' But, you know, I used to hit a lot of drop shots when I was younger. I'm just kind of going back to the young days, I guess."
Speaking of the young days, perhaps the lone optimistic number for Sharapova is this: Of Williams' 15 Grand Slam titles, only one was here, and that was 11 years ago in 2002.
"I don't think about it that way," Sharapova said when asked if she takes any confidence from that. "Those are just statistics, and it doesn't matter. Obviously, she's in form. She's playing some of the best tennis of her career, so it doesn't matter how she performed here 11 years ago or the ones before that."
For Sharapova to win Saturday, she will have to serve with just as much power but with far more accuracy than she did in her semifinal against Victoria Azarenka. Sharapova won 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, recording a dozen aces but also 11 double faults. Said Azarenka: "Her serve is definitely something that you never know what to expect."
After squandering three match points with a 5-2 lead in the second set and dropping two consecutive games, Sharapova finally won with a blistering ace past Azarenka for the right to defend her French Open title against Williams.
There must be better rewards for winning a match.