First let me just say how nice it is to be watching tennis on ESPN again. Not because of the snarky, gossipy, silly and Maria-worshipping commentary by Pam Shriver, Cliff Drysdale, and Mary Jo Fernandez. But because if tennis is to ever regain any popularity in the United States, superstar rivalries such as the one between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova need to be broadcast widely.
It was a hard-fought match. Ultimately, the better and stronger player won, but it wasn't easy. These two had never played on clay before and you could tell. Maria won her first event on the slippery sutff last week; Serena was playing her first event of the season.
After giving away the first game of the match, Serena got down to business. She recovered the break, but then lost it and found Maria serving for the fest set at 5-4. Three games and two breaks later, Serena clenched the first set 7-5.
The second set was more of the same back-and-forth. Serena had early opportunities to break, but when Maria saved them, Serena became erratic, dropping serve in the next game. Maria served for the second set after securing another break at 5-2 and gagged. Serena held easily, but Maria served it out on her second try.
Between the second and third sets, just as it was between the first two, Michael Joyce came courtside to coach Maria. Forgetting for a moment that he was miked, he said, "You know you can beat that bi... girl." After a pause, he said, "I almost slipped up there." Maria smiled and nodded.
It was a priceless moment. We all know many players refer to each other as bitches when no one is watching, and sometimes even when they are, and it was hilarious to see a coach almost get caught.
In the final set, order was restored. Serena raced out to a 5-0 lead behind precise, powerful, and angled ground strokes, and closed out the match two games later.
Oh yeah. And she tied her sister's serve speed record with a 129 mph serve out wide in the deuce court.
Her semifinal foe will be Alize Cornet, who's making her debut in a Tier 1 semifinal after defeating Agnes Szavay in straight sets.