WIMBLEDON — The sovereignty of Serena: 17th in a series.
Because whatever Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have going on betwixt and between them, it ain’t no rivalry.
If Serena is Coke, Sharapova is definitely not Pepsi. She’s a tall glass of tap water.
That’s what the American does to the Russian (pseudo American) — takes all the fizz out of her game. There’s mutual antipathy, no doubt. There’s the occasional meow of malice. There’s clearly bad blood.
But little of that nose-to-nose friction translates onto the tennis court, where Williams is the dominatrix with a whip and Sharapova the abased opponent.
Previous to Thursday’s ladies semifinal on Centre Court, Williams had reeled off a 16-0 record against the pin-up glamazon whose face is emblazoned on sponsorship advertisements all along the road that leads to SW19.
Maria moves product. Nearly $22 million (U.S.) in endorsements last year, compared to $12 million for Serena.
That surely must bother Williams, who otherwise possesses all the superior numbers: 20 Grand Slam titles versus four; five Wimbledon championships versus one (1).
Since 2004 — when a 17-year-old Sharapova claimed her first and only Wimbledon tiara, defeating Williams in the final and later as well at the ATP finals — she’s taken only one set off her nemesis.
It’s getting ridiculous for two of the three best female players of their generation, Venus Williams the other member of that ultra-elite group.
Sharapova thought she’d learned the truth at 17, how to despoil the splendor of Serena, but it was a chimera. After the ATP match, she boasted on Facebook: “Here’s the great dinner I had at Spago to celebrate beating Serena Williams for the second time in a row (remember Wimbledon last summer?”
Eating humble pie now, again, the taste of ashes in her mouth once more, this time 6-2, 6-4.
It was a rout as Williams — world No. 1, in pursuit of The Thing That Must Not Be Spoken (a Serena Slam, all four majors in one year) — broke Sharapova in the first game on Thursday and never really let her combatant off the mat again. Not once did Sharapova bring Williams to break territory on her own serve. And on the infrequent occasions she countered with some mettle — because the 28-year-old is as ferociously competitive-minded as her foe — Williams un-holstered her go-to ace. In the last game of the second set, blasted three of them and Sharapova never touched the ball, the only stumble for Williams an over-eager double fault.
What can Sharapova possibly do to change the dynamics?
“A lot more than I’m doing,” she snapped.
Snippy during the Q&A with reporters, but that’s to be expected. Looked flushed and angry, or angrier than after debacles past.
“What makes you say that?” she challenged a reporter who committed the apparent cardinal sin of asking about that. “In five minutes you can see that I’m angry?”
It was as if Sharapova thought she hadn’t received enough plaudits due for getting to the semi. “Maybe if I was British, a semifinal would be incredible. I’d be on the front page of the paper, I know that.”
Haughty till the ignominious end.
The banishment of Sharapova tees up an intriguing dénouement Saturday between Williams, 33, and surprising finalist Garbine Muguruza, the 21-year-old Caracas native who’s flying Spanish colours here. Muguruza booked her inclusion by beating Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, overcoming six straight games lost in the middle of a match far more absorbing than the one which followed. It felt very much like a star-is-born ta-da.
Ranked world No. 20, the six-foot-one Muguruza is a bright-faced new-ish contender on the ladies circuit — who’s made the most at the All England Tennis club of her booming groundstrokes. After putting away Radwanska — becoming the first Spanish woman to reach the Wimbledon final since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1996 — she danced a joyful jig on the court.
But Muguruza has never been in a Grand Slam final before. She has, however, beaten Williams before — a stunning second-round 6-2, 6-2 ouster at the French Open 14 months ago which remains the American’s worst-ever loss at Grand Slams. Muguruza made it through the quarter-final and repeated that feat this year.
“It’s definitely not an easy match-up,” said Williams, looking 48 hours ahead. “We had a tough match the last time we played. She’s given me some problems in the past. She’s beaten me before. She knows how to win.”
Muguruza will derive considerable confidence from that outcome in Paris — when she comes down from the high of Thursday. “It’s like a dream, like a present after the hard work.
“If you want to win a Grand Slam, when you dream you say, ‘I was Serena in the final.’ She’s, like, one of the best players in all these years. So it’s the best challenge to have. It’s important to be strong, to be calm. Especially because, my first time here, I don’t have a lot of experience playing these kinds of matches. So I just say to myself ‘be calm, don’t be afraid.’ ”
Whether she’s put a fear into Williams remains to be seen. On Friday, the tennis demi-goddess was making precautionary sounds.
“I’ve so many Grand Slam titles. I’m in a position where I don’t need to win another Wimbledon. I could lose tomorrow. Sure, I won’t be happy, but I don’t need another Wimbledon title.”
When it was suggested her young opponent had nothing to lose, Serena shot back: “Uh, no. She has Wimbledon to lose.”