When both Maria Sharapova and Maria Kirilenko made it to the semi-finals, Russia knew it was guaranteed at least a silver but it was to be Sharapova’s day, convincingly beating Kirilenko 6-2, 6-3.
It was a fantastic result for Sharapova who maintained the fine form she’s been showing throughout the event. The two Russians have played each other five time before, with Sharapova winning three of those matches but only one of the past two, both of which went to three sets. It was therefore never a given that she would beat Kirilenko but she has certainly been playing well over the past week, beating the great Belgian Kim Clijsters to reach the semi-finals.
Sharapova dominated the first set, demonstrating the powerful serves and devastating forehands that would eventually win her the match. Kirilenko fought back in the second set, managing to break early on but Sharapova responded with an impressive service game before breaking Kirilenko back. With a win of four games in a row Sharapova served
for the match at 5-3. Despite losing the first two points, she came back with a barrage of stunning shots to take it to 30-30, at which point Kirilenko made an unforced error and suddenly we were at match point. Kirilenko wasn’t going to give up without a fight and after a long rally, pierced with shrieks from both players, she managed to save it. However, Sharapova only let it go to one deuce, ending the match with a beautiful forehand drive volley that whizzed past Kirilenko. Clearly thrilled, Sharapova screamed, threw her arms up in the air, and grinned from ear to ear.
She certainly deserved the win. With winners coming thick and fast, she applied consistent pressure and demonstrated a high quality of tennis throughout – her six aces and 35 winners is testament to that.
If Russian supporters had to choose who to go through to the final to play for either gold or silver, they probably would have picked Sharapova, a national hero and the Russian flag bearer in the opening ceremony. She now has to wait to discover whether she will be meet the thus far unstoppable Serena Williams, who is playing the tennis of her life, or the world number 1 Victoria Azarenka. Speaking after her defeat to Sharova in the quarter finals, Clijsters certainly seemed to think she had what it takes to go all the way: “Of all the matches I’ve ever played against her in my career, this is the best she has ever served,” she said. “On grass it’s going to be tough to beat her.”
One thing is for sure – having missed the Beijing Olympics due to a shoulder injury, Sharapova will fight to the bitter end to try and secure gold in her first ever Olympics.