Serena Williams and Li Na swept past familiar foes at the Sony Open on Thursday, setting up an exciting showdown for the Miami hardcourt crown between the world’s top ranked players.
World No. 1 Williams continued her utter domination of Maria Sharapova with a 6-4, 6-3 win over the fourth-seeded Russian, while second-ranked Li won a rematch of her Australian Open final, beating Dominika Cibulkova 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 to maintain her perfect record against the Slovakian.
A six-time Miami champion, the American’s victory ran her winning streak against Sharapova to 15 matches, a stunning run that stretches back to 2004.
Li’s mastery over Cibulkova may not span as many years, but it is no less complete, the Chinese veteran sweeping all seven of their meetings over a decade-long span.
Three of those wins have come this year, with Asia’s first Grand Slam singles champion defeating the Slovakian in straight sets at Melbourne Park, in three sets at Indian Wells two weeks ago and now at Miami.
The 10th-seeded Cibulkova had looked ready to deny tennis fans a marquee final between the best two players in the world when she stormed back to take the second set and opened the third with a break to forge a 3-1 lead.
However, Li kept her composure and swept the next five games to cap an enthralling fightback and book her spot in the final.
Sharapova and Williams, who have achieved a career Grand Slam and held the No. 1 ranking, were expected to develop into one of the great rivalries in women’s tennis.
However, it has not quite worked out that way with Williams winning 16 of the 18 meetings between the pair.
In Sharapova’s 16 losses, the Russian has only managed to take two sets off the 17-times Grand Slam winner.
Proving there is no place like home, Williams, who lives an hour’s drive from the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, has won the Miami event more than any other tournament, her six titles beating the five US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon Grand Slam wins she has amassed over the years.
A five-time runner-up in Miami, Sharapova had her chances to end the drought by grabbing an early break in both sets, but could not turn the advantages into a win.
The fourth seed stepped onto a blustery center court looking focused and determined and was rewarded with the first break to go up 4-1.
Williams was soon back in control breaking Sharapova’s serve twice as she swept through the next five games to take the opening set.
Sharapova also opened the second set with an early break to go 2-0, but again the 32-year-old American was ready, answering right back with a break of her own.
The Russian held serve just once more before Williams moved into high gear, tearing through the last four games.
She put an exclamation point on the contest by closing out the match with another break when Sharapova slammed a forehand return into the net.