Just how traumatic will it be for Maria Sharapova when – and if – she finally loses a game at the 2013 Australian Open?
Following those double-bagel wins over Olga Puchkova and Misaki Doi in her first two outings, it would still be a Mayan ‘end of the world’ prediction to even think Venus Williams could fail to get on the scoreboard against the No. 2 seed in their Rod Laver Arena blockbuster Friday night.
Williams’ struggles with the autoimmune condition Sjogren’s Syndrome have affected her performance the past couple of years but she seems to have it under control and ended the 2012 season at No. 24 after starting out at No. 134.
Williams, her sister Serena and Sharapova are by far the three most globally recognized superstars of women’s tennis, and any meeting involving them is a seismic happening.
Venus and Maria have only played once since 2009, Sharapova winning 6-4, 6-3 in Rome last year in the clay-court run-up to her triumphant Roland Garros.
She leads 4-3 overall but Williams won their last two meetings on hard courts – Miami in 2007 and Stanford in 2005.
Both players are downplaying the showdown. “I don’t think I’m going to go into it with a different mentality,” Williams said.
From Sharapova, she described playing a great opponent like Williams as, “two athletes competing in front of thousands of people like we do all the time.”
The sidebar contest, for two fashion conscious females, is who is the best dressed. Sharapova is her customary glamorous self in a strappy, lemon sundress while Williams has been more daring with a self-designed frock that makes a powerful statement with a potpourri of colours and shapes.
“I get a lot of compliments,” Williams said about people’s reaction to her dress. “They love the colour. Women’s players, men’s players, people working around. That’s been very satisfying because I work hard on the designs.”
The first day of third-round action features several ‘connoisseur’ match-ups. American Madision Keys, 17 and a seemingly can’t miss future star, should challenge fifth seed Angelique Kerber.
On the men’s side, that ‘good-looking rooster’ Fernando Verdasco has trained hard with Andre Agassi’s fitness guru Gil Reyes and should be ready for an in-form Kevin Anderson, runner-up in Sydney. In other matches, spitfire Spaniard Nicolas Almagro faces temperamental Pole Jerzy Janowicz and Marcos Baghdatis has a date with the ‘executioner’ – David Ferrer.
The undercard – so to speak – of the Sharapova–Williams main event on Friday night is the all-Serbian clash of Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic in the afternoon in Hisense Arena.
Ivanovic, 25, and Jankovic, 27, have only played once before at a Grand Slam – in the Roland Garros semi-finals in 2008 with the No. 1 ranking at stake – and Ivanovic won 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Over the years, there has been an iciness between the two but now both claim there has been a thaw. Playing Fed Cup together has helped.
“Each of us has matured,” says Ivanovic. “It’s normal,” was Jankovic’s comment on the relationship.
No longer normal in Jankovic’s repertoire are the “splits” she used to do when dashing after shots. “I’m too old now,” she said. “I don’t need any more injuries.”
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS
Williams def. Sharapova in three: Venus’ three Hopman Cup wins and tougher matches so far help against Maria whose preparation was limited by a collar bone concern.
Goerges def. Zheng in two: The German gets Zheng on the rebound after the Stosur match and records her first win in three tries against the Chinese.
Keys def. Kerber in two: Swinging from the hip with youthful insouciance, the American teenager rocks the No. 5 seed’s world.
Verdasco def. Anderson in four: The Spaniard, 29, seems to have a renewed commitment about him and should outlast the 6-foot-8 South African.
Almagro def. Janowicz in four: The droll Pole blew up on Court 8 on Wednesday and will likely blow out of the tournament Friday on Showcourt 3.