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Serena dominates Sharapova, moves into Australian Open semis

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26: Serena Williams of the United States celebrates a point in her quarter final match against Maria Sharapova of Russia during day nine of the 2016 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 26, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
January 26, 2016 09:33 AM

By Ashley Marshall, USTA.com

The debate over whether a series of one-sided matches should even be considered a rivalry continues Down Under, but one thing is not open for discussion: Serena Williams is back in the Australian Open semifinals.

The world No. 1 dismantled Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 6-1, on Day 9, overcoming a rare slow start to defeat her longtime foe for an incredible 18th consecutive time and 19th overall time in 21 attempts.

Sharapova – the 2008 Australian Open champion, a five-time Grand Slam women’s singles winner and former world No. 1 – is no slouch between the lines, but Serena’s decade-long refusal to lose to the Russian is fast becoming the stuff of legend.

Serena’s last defeat to Sharapova came more than 11 years ago, at the 2004 Tour Championships in Los Angeles. For perspective, George W. Bush was in his first term as President of the United States, "Million Dollar Baby" won an Oscar for Best Picture, and both Twitter and the iPhone were still more than two years away.

But while historical perspective illuminates the gap between Serena and one of her closest peers, the overwhelming impression is that Tuesday’s straight-sets scoreline could have been ripped directly from the headlines of almost any of their previous meetings.

Sharapova secured an early break in the 34-year-old American’s first service game and she consolidated the advantage to forge ahead, 2-0. It would be the only time she would win consecutive games in their quarterfinal, as Serena broke twice to seize momentum before wrapping up the 55-minute opening set on the fourth try.

Sharapova played the six-time Melbourne Park champion close for much of the first hour, but she had few answers to Serena’s powerful ground strokes and inimitable return game. The American recorded 31 winners to Sharapova's 11, and she sent down 13 aces compared with Sharapova's three. The fifth seed entered their quarterfinal with 52 aces, the most of any woman and more than twice as many as Serena's 25, but she was unable to dictate points as she had in earlier rounds.

Serena called for the trainer at the change of ends prior to the second set – she later revealed she was battling lingering effects of food poisoning over the weekend – but her level of play never dipped. She raced out to a commanding 5-0 lead, and even though Sharapova held in the sixth game to prevent a third bagel in their past 11 matches, Serena served out the match to book her place in the final four.

Serena's 19 wins against Sharapova are her most against any other player, and she has now won 80 percent of her matches against players who have been in the Top 10.

Waiting in the semifinals is No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who defeated 10th-seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-1, 6-3, in Rod Laver Arena earlier in the morning.

Like Sharapova, Radwanska has had few answers in her matches with Serena, who has gone on to win the Australian Open each of the six previous times she has made it past the quarterfinals.

Serena owns an 8-0 lifetime record against the 26-year-old Pole, winning 16 of 17 sets. Radwanska pushed her to three sets in the 2012 Wimbledon final, but most have their meetings have been one-sided. That includes their most recent match at the WTA Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, two years ago, when Serena won in straight sets in the first round.