Serena Williams’ Wimbledon exit opens door for Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova has warned her Wimbledon title rivals she is peaking just in time to take advantage of Serena Williams’ stunning exit.
Sharapova, who has yet to drop a set after routing Alison Riske 6-3, 6-0 in the third round, heads into the second week as the newly installed favourite following Alize Cornet’s shock 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over world number one Williams on Saturday.
Serena’s defeat is a huge boost for French Open champion Sharapova, who had been scheduled to meet the American top seed in the quarter-finals.
That would have been a major obstacle to Sharapova’s hopes of winning Wimbledon for the second time as she had lost her previous 15 meetings with Serena.
But with Williams vanquished by Cornet’s brilliant display on Court One, fifth seed Sharapova now has a golden opportunity to lift the Venus Rosewater dish for the first time since 2004, when she famously shocked Serena in the final as a 17-year-old.
The Russian will face German ninth seed Angelique Kerber on Monday for a place in the quarter-finals and she struck an ominous note for her rivals by admitting she is hitting top form at just the right moment.
“I’m pleased that I’ve gone three good matches in. I feel like I improved with every match,” Sharapova said.
“I started the first match a little nervous, which was expected. Once I got through that, I feel like I’ve elevated my game.
“I feel like I’m serving better. I didn’t face a break point after the first game. Like I said, it’s really the footwork, little things, imposing yourself out there.”
It is the first time since 2006 that neither Serena nor sister Venus, beaten by Petra Kvitova on Friday, will be in the Wimbledon fourth round and with the draw also blown wide open with second seed Li Na’s defeat on Friday, Sharapova could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu.
Just last month, Williams slumped to a surprise second-round defeat at the French Open and Sharapova took advantage to win the title in Paris for the second time.
Following victory in Roland Garros with more glory at Wimbledon has traditionally been tough to achieve, but Sharapova gave an upbeat reply when asked if she can become the first woman to do exactly that since Serena in 2002.
“This is only my second time trying to do that. Of course, the transition, it’s no secret, it’s very difficult. But I’m quite happy with the way I’ve gone about things so far,” said Sharapova, who was beaten in the Wimbledon second round by Michelle Larcher de Brito last year.
“That transition has always been quite tough for me. Every year I try to maybe find a better formula towards my body and what will get me enough rest and enough practice and matches and all that.
“You never know what to expect. Each match poses its different challenges.
“But I’m happy I’ve gone further than last year, erasing those memories and trying to form new ones.”
Williams insists her shock exit won’t herald the end of her reign as the dominant force in the women’s game.
Williams crashed to her earliest exit at Wimbledon for nine years as the world number one suffered a shock 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 loss against French 25th seed Alize Cornet in the third round on Saturday.
Top seed Williams, a five-time Wimbledon champion, had reached at least the last 16 in each of her previous seven visits to the All England Club, but Cornet fought back from a set down to end that sequence in two hours and four minutes of gripping drama on Court One on Saturday.
It was the shell-shocked 32-year-old’s earliest Wimbledon exit since her loss to Jill Craybas at the same stage in 2005.
Serena could have no complaints about an embarrassing defeat which continued a disappointing campaign for the 17-time grand slam champion, who has failed to get beyond the fourth round at any of the three majors so far this year.
Serena had arrived in south-west London desperate to make amends for her shock first round exit against Garbine Muguruza at the French Open last month, a chastening result which followed her Australian Open fourth round defeat against Ana Ivanovic. But she is convinced her poor form in 2014 isn’t a sign that she is finally on the way down after over a decade as the sport’s pre-eminent power.
“In Australia I just couldn’t play. And Paris I played really bad. Here I actually thought I played better. I came into the tournament in better form,” Serena said.
“I thought I was doing pretty decent. I’m going to have to watch this film and see what I can do better and what went wrong.
“It’s okay. Sometimes it happens. You work hard, maybe it’s not for today, maybe it’s for tomorrow. I just got to keep going.
“It’s happened to me a few times. But it’s fun. It kind of gives you a mission to work on, gives you goals to work towards to kind of see what you can do to do better.”