They are two of the grand dames of tennis, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams.
Sharapova is only 25 but her maiden and most memorable Grand Slam triumph was at Wimbledon way back in 2004.
Williams, at 32, is almost a pensioner in tennis terms. Her first pro match was in October, 1994, which means this is her 20th season on tour.
On Monday, madams Sharapova and Williams advanced to the second round of the Australian Open with a combined loss of a single game, the first in Williams’ 6-1, 6-0 banishing of Galina Voskoboeva. So, Venus won 12 games in a row as did Maria in her 6-0, 6-0 scolding of Olga Puchkova.
The two are now in today’s second round, a match away from a blockbuster third-round clash.
Their careers have parallels because both have overcome career-threatening adversity – Sharapova had surgery on a seriously damaged shoulder joint in 2008 while Williams dealt with the autoimmune condition Sjogren’s Syndrome, diagnosed during the 2011 US Open.
Both had re-affirming victories in 2012. Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open while Williams got her first singles title in two and a half years in Luxembourg in October.
It took a while but Williams seems to have the Sjogren’s Syndrome under control. “I don’t really have bouts of fatigue or joint pain anymore,” she said recently. That has given her a new lease on tennis, a renewed enthusiasm. “To finish up (2012) with the Luxembourg win,” she said Monday, “it was a whirlwind and a bananas year (including a doubles gold with Serena at the Olympics). But for me it was fantastic.”
Standing in the way of a Williams–Sharapova Friday showdown are Alizé Cornet and Misaki Doi respectively. Williams is 2-0 against the No. 41-ranked Cornet while Sharapova has never played the No. 92-ranked Doi, who has just three main-draw wins to show for 12 participations at Grand Slams.
While Williams–Sharapova could take place in round three, Samantha Stosur’s reality check comes a round earlier on Wednesday in an Day session on Rod Laver Arena when she faces the crafty, combative Jie Zheng. The Chinese, 29, is no stranger to the world’s greatest stages. Last year at Wimbledon, she pushed the redoubtable Serena Williams to 9-7 in the third set with her hustling, bustling, low centre-of-gravity gamestyle.
Stosur leads their head-to-head 3-2 but their most recent meeting was just last week in Sydney and the No. 40-ranked Zheng squeaked out a 6-3, 6-7(9), 6-4 win.
It’s a fascinating match-up with Stosur hoping to use her serve and forehand to boss Zheng around the court before her diminutive opponent – 5-foot-4 1Ž2 - gets a chance to work the angles.
Top men’s seed Novak Djokovic returns to Rod Laver in the evening to play feisty 20-year-old Ryan Harrison. Djokovic won their two previous encounters in straight sets. On Monday, he fumbled with trying to write “Aussie Aussie” on the camera lens after this match. If he wins, maybe this time he can just try “oi, oi.”
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS
Djokovic def. Harrison in three: The consensus is the top seed has a favourable draw. Reaching his cruising altitude, he prevails against the world No. 62.
F. Lopez def. Stepanek in four: Radek, 34, leads Feliciano, 31, in this old guy’s rivalry 7-2. But ‘Feli’ has won two of three since 2008 and only went three sets on Monday to five for ‘Steps.’
Sharapova def. Doi in three: The 6-foot-2 Russian towers over the 5-foot-3 Japanese but might lose a set with the rust of her limited pre-tournament preparation.
Williams def. Cornet in two: Venus has handled the 24-year-old Frenchwoman in straight sets in two previous meetings and shouldn’t let things get complicated here.
Zheng def. Stosur in three: Monday’s win over Kai-Chen Chang was reassuring for the Aussie, but Zheng has the type of game to expose any nerves that may surface.