Sharapova, Serena to meet in final


WIMBLEDON, England -- Serena Williams' racket was cracked, but not her will.

After all she's been through the past 12 months -- the heartache, knee surgery and uneven play -- Williams wasn't about to let a
big deficit, a determined foe or broken equipment sidetrack her bid
for a third straight Wimbledon title.

Down a set and a break to No. 4 Amelie Mauresmo in a rollicking
semifinal Thursday, Williams spiked her racket to the turf after a miscue. Playing with damaged goods for three points,
Williams won them all, sparking her comeback for a 6-7 (4), 7-5,
6-4 victory.

"I thought, 'I could be on my way home if I don't change fast.'
But I kept fighting. That's all I really had, was fight," Williams
said. "I don't give up. I mean, things can't always go your way,
in general, not just on the court, but in life."

It was wonderful theater, filled with brilliant shotmaking,
momentum shifts, nerves, fist pumps, yells, laughs and

So, too, was the first semifinal. Maria Sharapova beat 1999
champion Lindsay Davenport 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1 to become, at 17, the
third-youngest Wimbledon women's finalist in history. Davenport,
28, said this is probably her last Wimbledon.

"I never expected it to happen so early in my life," No. 13
Sharapova said.

She began the day by working on a sociology essay toward her
high school degree. Now she has until Saturday to study Williams,
who won their only encounter in straight sets at Key Biscayne,
Fla., in March.

Fans witnessed two terrific women's semifinals, a
welcome change from the lackluster and lopsided French Open semis
and final. It would be a treat if there's similar drama Friday,
when No. 1 Roger Federer meets No. 10 Sebastien Grosjean, and No. 2 Andy Roddick faces 63rd-ranked Mario Ancic in the men's final four.

Federer has won 12 straight matches at Wimbledon; Williams is up
to 20, barely.

"We both were down to the nitty gritty. I mean, 2½ hours later,
we were still fighting," said Williams, who wasn't fazed when
Mauresmo took a medical timeout to have her back massaged. "I
don't think she broke mentally. I don't think I broke mentally."

Nor did Sharapova, who was born in Siberia, began playing tennis
at 4, and entered Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Florida at

Coincidentally, Sharapova (who righted her game after a
52-minute rain delay) and Williams each rallied after trailing by a
set and 3-1 in the second. While Sharapova reached her first
Grand Slam final in her seventh such tournament, Williams is in her
eighth major title match -- but only second against someone other
than older sister Venus, a second-round loser.

"It's going to be different," said Williams, who was 17 when
she won the first of her six majors by defeating Martina Hingis at
the U.S. Open.

The last came with a victory over Venus at Wimbledon a year ago.

That was also the last time the entire family gathered together: The Williams' half-sister Yetunde was shot to death 2½ months later.

Serena had knee surgery Aug. 1, missing eight months. At her
first major back, the French Open, she and Venus lost in the
quarterfinals, sending Serena's ranking out of the top 10 for the
time in five years.

"It hasn't been an easy road back," she said. "I really was
struggling a lot."

She could have been talking about Thursday's match. The women headed to a tiebreaker after 45 minutes, the total length of Williams'
quarterfinal victory over Jennifer Capriati. Williams had lost
17 games through five matches before dropping 16 against Mauresmo. Mauresmo took only the second set off Williams during the past three years at Wimbledon.

Twice, Williams served for a set only to be broken.
"A lot of ups and downs, backs and forths," said Mauresmo, the
1999 Australian Open runner-up, now 1-7 against Williams. "It was
a great match. The only bad thing for me is that I lost it."

The turning point came with Williams serving, behind 3-1 in the
second set. She slapped two backhands into the net and trailed
love-30, then smashed her racket, which nearly hit her as it
rebounded off the grass. Williams won three straight points to
make it 40-30, her racket buckling on the final shot. After
changing rackets, she hit a deep backhand approach to the corner
that forced Mauresmo's wide forehand.

That opened a four-game string for Williams.

After Williams held at love to lead 4-3 in the second set,
Mauresmo called for a trainer, who escorted her off court. At
first, Williams sat in her changeover chair, biting her nails. Then
she did jumping jacks and stretched, trying to stay loose.

At 5-3, Williams got broken. But with Mauresmo serving to send
it to another tiebreaker, Williams reached set point with a running
forehand winner that she accompanied with an "Uuuuhhh!" and
celebrated with a "Yes!" Mauresmo ceded the break with the
seventh of eight double-faults.

Into the third set they went, trading holds of serve and stellar
strokes, including when Williams took eight long strides from
behind the baseline to get to a drop shot and smack a forehand
winner. She let out a yell and swung an uppercut.

Williams also had the energy and resolve to pound three aces at
115, 117 and 118 mph to hold for 5-4.

In the next game, Williams drove Mauresmo's 77 mph second serve
for a winner to earn match point. Mauresmo shanked a forehand long
to end it, and Williams leaped in the air with arms aloft, the sort
of exuberance she normally saves for winning championships.

"I didn't have a game today," Williams said. "I just really
had heart, and that's all I had."