MELBOURNE: Frustrated Maria Sharapova admitted Tuesday she needs to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to break her 12-year jinx against Serena Williams after crashing to an 18th straight defeat.
In one of the most lopsided tennis rivalries, the two biggest names in women’s sport have been going head-to-head for years but the Russian hasn’t got past Williams since the 2004 Wimbledon finals.
It is a painful statistic which Sharapova, 28, acknowledged was frustrating, but she said it also motivated her to work hard to keep putting herself in the position to beat the intensely focused 34-year-old.
“Well, it’s obviously always frustrating,” she said, after Williams destroyed her 6-4, 6-1 in the Australian quarterfinals on Rod Laver Arena, finding it hard to talk about another defeat.
“It’s motivating because she’s at a different level. She makes you go back to the drawing board, not just for me but for many other players. She makes you work. That’s inspiring.”
Sharapova was undone Tuesday by Williams’ huge serve — some of them fired down at more than 200 kph (166 mph), with 13 aces. She was also returning well as the Russian’s own serve let her down, with seven double faults.
“She played quite explosive. I thought at times, you know, when I got in the rally I wasn’t moving forward, wasn’t cutting the angles off enough,” Sharapova said.
“She got herself back in the points. She was really explosive off the return.
“I think if you’re serving maybe 180 (kph) against somebody else compared to Serena, that’s an ace. Against Serena, as we all know, the return is one of her great strengths.
“She’s very explosive. She stays quite close to the baseline, she cuts the ball early, she doesn’t give you many angles. That’s the reason I can’t get so many free points against her.”
Asked for an explanation on why she keeps beating Sharapova, 21-time Grand Slam champion Williams credited her rival with pushing her to another level.
“Something about her game. I like the way she hits the ball. Plus, when I play her, I know automatically I have to step up my game,” she said.
“I think that makes me play better. When I play better, when I’m forced to play better, I don’t know, I do well.”
The world number one’s incredible record against Sharapova dates back to an epic semi-final at the 2005 Australian Open, when she scraped home in a 2-6, 7-5, 8-6 thriller. Since then Sharapova has not got a look-in.
Asked what she needed to fix in her game to challenge Williams, Sharapova replied: “Just keep setting opportunities, keep getting to the point where I have an opportunity to play against her, keep finding a way to turn that around.
“If I don’t have that chance then I don’t have the opportunity to try something different.”
The five-time major winner came into the opening Grand Slam of the year with a niggling forearm problem that forced her to pull out of the warm-up Brisbane International.
She refused to blame the injury for her exit in Melbourne, but said it was an issue she now wanted to get sorted out.
“I’m going to go and take care of my forearm first. I think this will be a time to just get myself ready for a long year. I don’t see myself playing anything before Indian Wells [in March].”