By Fernie Ruano Jr.
Maybe 20 years from now when six-time Key Biscayne champion Serena Williams, the top-seeded player at the 2014 Sony Open Tennis, is sitting on the patio of her Palm Beach Gardens home and long retired from tennis, the all-time great might take time to reflect on her place in the history of the sport, if not domination over her fiercest rivals. But for now, she's too busy taking them out one by one.
Williams continued to add to her historic accomplishments on Thursday afternoon at the Tennis Center of Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, this time at the expense of No.4 seed Maria Sharapova with a 6-4, 6-3 victory. The win secures Williams a spot in Saturday’s championship match, her ninth appearance in the final of the Sony Open, where she will be gunning to add a seventh title to her already record number of wins at the tournament.
The World No. 1 credited her counterpart for coming out of the gates ready to play. "I think she started out strong. I made some errors. I had a lot of chances to be up (a break) and then had some chances to hold serve and chances to break again," Williams said. "So I definitely let myself down in the first three games, and then she started playing better."
Down 4-1 in the first set after a Sharapova break and hold, Williams broke back and held serve to knot the score at 4-4. “The score line looked bigger than what it was. I felt if I could just break back, then I would be back in the match," Williams said. She would go on to force three consecutive errors from Sharapova to go up 5-4. Four points later, Williams had a one set lead after 49 minutes.
For her part, Sharapova lamented not taking advantage of more chances in the first set. "You know, the first set started off really well and I had more break points. She served her way out of trouble," Sharapova said. "(But) yeah, I was in it and then I was not."
Sharapova didn’t let Williams’ first set comeback deter her early in the second set; jumping out 2-0 on the strength of a break point which came after Serena left a forehand from the baseline at the net. But the tide turned in the third game as Sharapova let a 40-15 lead slip away with Williams forcing deuce with one of her trademark forehands from the baseline before securing the break.
After trading holds, Williams went to work; breaking Sharapova on the strength of four straight points and taking a commanding 5-3 lead behind a 122 mph serve that proved a bit too much for her opponent. Sharapova could not hold serve despite taking 3 of 4 points to begin the ninth game as Williams rallied to force deuce twice before closing out the match.
Williams has yet to lose before the fourth round in 14 Key Biscayne appearances and is 14-2 for the year. As for her dominance over the game’s best, Serena owns a 44-4 record against Top 10 opponents since the start of the 2012 season, the most wins by any player during that stretch and 15 more than Victoria Azarenka.