French Open Showdown: Serena vs. Sharapova

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For the first time in 11 years, Williams is back in the French Open final.

“Obviously, she’s in form,” Sharapova said. “She’s playing some of the best tennis of her career.”

And, by the sounds of support from the stands these two weeks, Williams has earned some new fans along the way. In addition to her French abode, and her French coach, she’s been speaking the local language during her on-court interviews after matches, a surefire way to endear herself to French hearts.

“The fact that she feels the crowd is behind her makes a lot of difference,” Moratouglou said. “She feels a bit special now here, and I think in the past she never did. I mean, it was a Grand Slam, so for sure she had a lot of respect for Roland Garros, but it was not the same.”

Her play these two weeks has been mostly magnifique.

Putting aside a three-set struggle against 2009 champion Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals — which Moratouglou said made Williams “feel the danger for a moment” and Price said “shook her up a little bit” — the American has dropped a total of 11 games across her other five matches.

Williams won her 30th consecutive match, a personal best and the longest single-season streak by a woman since 2000, in Thursday’s semifinals, beating Sara Errani of Italy 6-0, 6-1. Williams produced a 40-2 edge in winners, hit serves topping 120 mph, pounded 10 return winners, and even mixed in some volleys and a perfect drop shot.

“Unbelievable,” Errani said.

Especially when you consider that Errani is ranked No. 5, was the runner-up to Sharapova a year ago, and has reached the semifinals at three of the past five major tournaments.

Now the No. 2-ranked Sharapova will see what she can do against Williams.

Back in 2004, Sharapova, still only 17 and relatively unknown at the time, stunned Williams — and the tennis world — by winning their Wimbledon final in straight sets. Four months later, Sharapova beat Williams again, this time in the final of the season-ending WTA Championships.

They’ve played each other 12 times since — on grass, hard and clay courts; indoors and outdoors; at tournaments large and small — and Williams is 12-0 in those matches, taking 24 of their 27 sets in that span.

“Whatever I did in the past hasn’t worked,” Sharapova said, “so I’ll have to try to do something different.”

For years, whatever Williams did in Paris didn’t work. So far, so good, this time.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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