Like Pete Sampras against Andre Agassi, Roger Federer facing Rafael Nadal and Jimmy Connors vs. John McEnroe, sometimes the great rivalries are set out in stone well before the height of their popularity.
Such is the case with Sharapova and Williams, who have played each other 12 times since that fateful matchup in 2004.
After the opening round, the two appear headed for a matchup at the 2013 Australian Open—presumably in the finals of the Grand Slam event.
Both women got off to a great start in the opening round of the tournament, cruising to 6-0, 6-0 wins. Sharapova took care of business in 55 minutes, coasting to an easy victory and getting ready for her second-round match in the process.
Serena had an early scare, re-aggravating her right ankle injury during the first-round match. Despite that delay of checking out the injury and getting treated, she still managed to best Sharapova's first-round time, according to Sports Illustrated's Beyond the Baseline on Twitter:
Bum ankle or not, Serena posts 60 60 win in 53 min. That's two mins faster than Sharapova's, and that's including a 7 min stoppage. #ausopen— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) January 15, 2013
Sharapova boasts the No. 2 seed in the tournament, all the way down at the bottom of the bracket. As she prepares for her second-rounder against Misaki Doi, the 25-year-old Russian will likely have to knock off Venus Williams before she ever gets a shot at Serena.
As is always the case with Venus, the 25th-seed in the tournament this year will have the chance to play spoiler at a Grand Slam without much pressure to succeed.
She already holds the women's singles record for highest-seeded player to ever win a major, so don't discount a third-round match between the two as anything but something to keep an eye on.
For Serena, it's business as usual. Although not seeded No. 1 (that belongs to Victoria Azarenka), Serena is as dangerous as ever and coming off a strong close to the 2012 season that included a U.S. Open victory and a statement that she was back to elite status.
She entered the tournament as a 6/5 favorite to win the whole thing—a number that will continue to climb as she continues onward in this draw.
For reference point, Williams and Sharapova are two of four women in the tournament to win multiple majors—and experience can't be discounted down the stretch of a Grand Slam (tweet courtesy New York Times' Ben Rothenberg):
#AusOpen Stat No4: The four multi-slam winners in the women's draw (Serena, Venus, Sharapova, Kuznetsova) lost four total games in Round 1.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 15, 2013
The duo both have extensive experience in the event, with Williams winning four of the the last 10 Aussie Opens, while Sharapova has won once and finished second twice—including a finals loss to Williams in 2007.
To put icing on the cake between these two, Sharapova has reportedly grabbed Serena's old boy toy, further pouring fuel on the fire that Williams currently leads by a 10-2 mark.
As the tournament plays out and these two continue down the draw towards the finals, it will be interesting to see how their games pick up in anticipation of each other. Serena will have to get past Azarenka before the finals, and Sharapova potentially still has Angelique Kerber on her docket, as well.
We don't know that these two champions will meet in the finals. But great rivalries have a way of finding their way to the national stage, and based on early indications—the women's final will be one featuring participants from Russia and the United States.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.
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