Serena Williams improved to 16-2 against Maria Sharapova. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
No. 1 Serena Williams defeated No. 7 Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday to advance to the Sony Open final for the ninth time. The six-time champion extended her winning streak over the Russian to 15 and now awaits No. 2 Li Na in Saturday’s championship match.
Sharapova showed she’s getting closer to solving her Serena problem, building a 4-1 lead in the first set and coming within a point of a 3-0 lead in the second set. But once again, Williams reeled her opponent back in with steady baseline play and clutch serving. Williams served nine aces — most came when she was behind in the score or on game point — and hit 21 winners to 22 unforced errors; Sharapova hit 15 winners to 29 unforced errors.
“I wasn’t playing my best,” Williams said. “I knew if I wanted to stay in the tournament and make another final, I just had to play better.”
Sharapova fell to 2-16 against Williams and remains winless since 2004. She will slip to No. 9 or No. 10 on Monday, her lowest ranking since 2011.
“Despite my results against her, I still look forward to playing against her because you learn so much from that type of level she produces,” Sharapova said. “You finish the match, and you know where you need to improve and the things that you need to work on.”
Game-by-game analysis below: