- Pam Shriver, Tennis host
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MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serena Williams vs. Maria Sharapova is starting to be THE rivalry. This will be their third big match in seven months: the Wimbledon final, the WTA Tour Championships final and now the Australian Open semifinals (ESPN2, Wed., 9:30 p.m. ET).
They're the two best competitors on tour. Even though Serena's struggled with injuries in the past year, she's still feisty and competitive. Expect lots of grunting and plenty of emotions in what should turn out to be a fun match to watch.
Compared to her performance against Nadia Petrova in the previous round, Serena improved greatly in her quarterfinal Tuesday against a subpar Amelie Mauresmo. By defeating Mauresmo 6-2, 6-2 Serena takes plenty of confidence into the semifinals against Sharapova.
One key part of the matchup for both players is the first serve percentage. Whoever is able to get their serve in and get some cheap points will have an advantage.
Both players are high-risk shot makers whose unforced errors can get the better of them if they don't play well. That's one of the things Sharapova has managed to do better in their previous meetings. When she's hitting big she's keeping her unforced errors under control more than Serena.
They aren't playing doubles and have a day off to rest, but if things haven't cooled off, the heat definitely will be a factor to watch out for.
At the Tour Championships final in November, Serena seemed set to get revenge for her Wimbledon upset, but her abdominal injury turned out to be a factor in that match. Serena's always been a pretty good closer, but she just wasn't able to do it physically.
Serena doesn't like to lose three matches in a row to anybody, so she'll likely end Sharapova's run against her here.
Davenport fit and ready
No. 1 Lindsay Davenport against No. 12 Alicia Molik vying for a place in the semifinals turned out to be the match of the women's draw -- by such a large margin.
It turned into a real fun day to get to watch Davenport, an American, come back from 9-7 in the third, and personally, to do it working in the broadcast booth for the first time alongside legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg.
Now, Davenport might say she feels she didn't play well. But Molik -- who will rise into the top 10 Monday when the rankings come out -- makes you feel that way because of a big serve and big hits off her forehand. Molik forced Davenport to respond to the threat to her second serve because of Molik's attacks.
Add in an Aussie crowd celebrating Australia Day, similar to our July 4th, cheering for the girl from Melbourne, and Davenport withstood a real aggressive storm to put herself into the semifinals of the Australian Open for the fourth time in her career.
They played this match in tough conditions: 91-degree heat with a strong wind gusting up to 30 mph. I talked to Davenport afterward. She seemed amazingly fit and ready to go play doubles after a 2 hour, 33 minute match. She said she's been working out hard to be ready for just this kind of situation.
Her semifinal opponent, Nathalie Dechy, had a match equally long against Patty Schnyder 5-7, 6-1, 7-5. The difference is Dechy doesn't have to go out and play doubles this evening.
Dechy has come back from brink a couple of times in this tournament -- in the second round against Mashona Washington and in this quarterfinal under tough conditions.
Davenport should be able to come out against her and get into a rhythm. Dechy doesn't have an overpowering serve, and Davenport should feel comfortable out there.
As tough as this quarterfinal was for Davenport, you can't ask for better than to play Dechy in the semifinals. Davenport is the heavy favorite.
ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.
14hEric D. Williams
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