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Maria Sharapova brings out the best in me: Serena Williams

On the eve of her semi-final clash against Sharapova, World No 1 indicates she saves her best performances for clashes with her fiercest rival

London: Serena Williams has flexed her Wimbledon authority by firing an early mind-games salvo ahead of her grudge semi-final with Maria Sharapova.

World No 1 tennis ace Serena Williams reacts during her quarter-final match against Victoria Azarenka at Wimbledon on Tuesday.
World No 1 tennis ace Serena Williams reacts during her quarter-final match against Victoria Azarenka at Wimbledon on Tuesday. Pics/AFP

Williams claimed: “I love playing Maria”, to preview today’s Last Four meeting with Sharapova, a re-run of Wimbledon’s 2004 final, despite the duo’s long-running frostiness. Top seed Williams outgunned Victoria Azarenka, then underlined her 16 consecutive triumphs over Sharapova by branding January’s Australian Open final victory over the Russian as “very entertaining”.

The 33-year-old damned Wimbledon’s fourth seed with feint praise to assert her 20-time major champion status, amid a reported feud that runs to 2013 and a fall-out over Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.

“I love playing Maria, I think she brings out the best in me,” said Williams.

“I think I bring out the best in her. I thought we had a wonderful final in Australia. It was very entertaining. She played really well.”

However “well” Sharapova performed in that Australian Open showpiece, Williams took the title 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).

Two years ago, Williams appeared to brand Dimitrov “the guy with the black heart” after their relationship broke down. Now the Bulgarian dates Wimbledon’s fourth seed Sharapova, and that axis keeps the relationship between the American and the Russian terse at best. Sharapova edged out Coco Vandeweghe in three sets, then admitted it would prove “an incredible moment” to meet Williams on Centre Court, some 11 years after toppling the American for the 2004 crown.

Nothing to prove
Sharapova has not beaten Williams since that year — the clear subtext of Williams’ back-handed compliment about the Australian Open final.

“I don’t have anything to prove,” said Williams, still on course for the calendar Grand Slam. “Now I’m just here to enjoy it. I think that’s actually making me play better, which is crazy.”

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