MELBOURNE • Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will add a 21st chapter to their rivalry after the American yesterday ensured a glamour Australian Open quarter-final between the sport's biggest female stars.
The world No. 1 and defending champion smacked down Margarita Gasparyan 6-2, 6-1 in just 55 minutes at the Rod Laver Arena to book her berth in the mouth-watering showdown.
The duo have not met as early as the last eight of any tournament since 2012. Of their 20 previous meetings, nine have been in finals.
Sharapova holds the dismal record of having never beaten her nemesis in 17 contests dating back 12 years. The last time she managed a win was at the WTA Tour Championships in 2004.
But she has another chance to end that sad sequence after coming through a 7-5, 7-5 thriller against fast-rising Swiss teen Belinda Bencic yesterday.
There is no reason I shouldn't be looking to improve and to getting my game in a better position than any other previous rounds. It's only going to be tougher, especially against Serena.
MARIA SHARAPOVA, on her dismal record against Serena Williams and how she uses the losses to the American to examine what she could do better.
The Russian world No. 5, who lost to Williams in the Melbourne Park final last year, said that she was always looking to improve and used the losses against the mighty American to examine what she could do better.
"Absolutely. It's not like I think about what I can do worse," the five-time Major champion said.
"You're always trying to - always trying to improve. I got myself into the quarter-final of a Grand Slam.
"There is no reason I shouldn't be looking to improve and to getting my game in a better position than any other previous rounds.
"It's only going to be tougher, especially against Serena."
A nonchalant Williams, who rarely looks beyond her next opponent in the draw, claimed she did not know Sharapova was now in the way of her bid to win a 22nd Grand Slam singles title and equal Steffi Graf's Open-era record.
CONFIDENCE IS KEY
I just feel like I'm really confident in my game right now, not against her (Sharapova) or against any other opponent. I feel if I can just continue to play well, then it could be good.
SERENA WILLIAMS, on facing Sharapova next.
"She had a really good match - I had no idea I was playing her (Sharapova) next," said the American, who stepped onto centre court after the Russian came off it.
Williams has been in ominous form this year at Melbourne Park.
Her victory over Gasparyan was the third successive straightforward win for the American, who has not been pushed in Melbourne since her first-round clash with Italy's Camila Giorgi.
She has spent a total of just 2hr 39min on court since beating Giorgi and sounded a coded warning to Sharapova ahead of their clash.
"I just feel like I'm really confident in my game right now, not against her or against any other opponent," said the 34-year-old top seed.
"I feel if I can just continue to play well, then it could be good."
She actually got off to a bad start yesterday and was broken in the first game by the 21-year-old Gasparyan on her tournament debut, to gasps of shock from the crowd.
But it was a minor blip as the veteran found her range.
Sharapova had a much harder task against Bencic, the WTA's highest ranked teenager, who has gone from rising star to the real deal over the past year, having already claimed 10 top-10 wins in her career.
But Sharapova - the last teen to win a Grand Slam title, aged 19 at the 2006 US Open - has also been in good touch in Melbourne, where she won in 2008, and ultimately her big-match experience proved decisive.
"These are the players that will ultimately take our spot," Sharapova said of Bencic after needing 2hr 5min to get past the world No. 13.
"But not just yet."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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