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Wimbledon: Sharapova is eager to break her 11-year Williams jinx

By John Skilbeck

Maria Sharapova will step out on Centre Court aiming to block out over a decade of terrible punishment at the hands of Serena Williams when the pair clash in the Wimbledon semi-finals this afternoon.

The last time the Russian beat her greatest foe, she was too young to buy a drink to toast the achievement.

Now, at the age of 28, Sharapova can reminisce about how she twice got the better of the American 20-time Grand Slam winner in 2004, when she took the scalp of Williams in the finals of Wimbledon and the WTA Tour Championships.

But she knows those matches will be an irrelevance once she and 33-year-old Williams hit the first balls in anger today.

"There are definitely no secrets between each other's games," Sharapova said.

"But I haven't played Serena here in 11 years. It will be an incredible moment for me to step out on Centre Court against her again."

Curiously, Sharapova appears to have blanked from her memory two matches the pair have since played at the All England Club.

A tight match went the way of Williams at the last-16 stage of Wimbledon in 2010 and then Sharapova was second best by a shattering 6-0 6-1 scoreline in the London 2012 Olympic Games final.

Their 2004 contest is the match that first springs to mind though.

At the age of 17, Sharapova caused a Wimbledon sensation when she crushed Williams 6-1 6-4 in the final, and she followed that up with a second victory in Los Angeles at the end of the season.

But prospects of their rivalry becoming closely matched have been dashed by results ever since, with Williams dropping just three sets in winning 16 consecutive contests.

"I think it's always a new match," Sharapova said. "I haven't had great success against her. I would love to change that around. That's how I look at it."

Asked about the Wimbledon final 11 years ago, and its relevance to today's encounter, Sharapova said: "I think if I would be replaying it in my mind I wouldn't be focused on trying to win my match or trying to beat my opponent that's in front of me.

"When I walk out on the court, I look around, I see the spectators, I see the new roof which wasn't there when I won, you really feel that special feeling. I'll have it for the rest of my life."

Sharapova remains a one-time Wimbledon winner, while Williams (pictured) has taken the trophy five times.

"Obviously being a small part of its history is an incredible feeling," Sharapova said.

"It's something that I'll be able to cherish for the rest of my life. I'll be able to tell my future children that their mother won Wimbledon. I have proof. It's on the trophy."

Williams is determined to block Sharapova from reaching Saturday's final and starts as a strong favourite.

There is no love lost between the pair, with Sharapova currently dating Grigor Dimitrov, who was previously romantically linked with Williams.

A hard-fought and richly deserved three-set win over Victoria Azarenka on Tuesday has ignited Williams' challenge, after victories over Heather Watson and sister Venus Williams tested her resolve.

Williams fired 17 aces against Azarenka and warned her best could be still to come.

"I like to believe and hope I can serve better," she said. "I always try to serve big on grass. That's my game on grass, just aces."

Her focus at this stage of Grand Slam tournaments is intense, with Williams unwilling to say she takes inspiration from previous greats of women's tennis. The drive comes from within rather than from the history books.

"I can't really draw much inspiration because I'm in the moment," Williams said. "I feel like they have opened so many doors for me and all women in sports. It's something I have to reflect on later."

Her short-term goal is to own all four Grand Slam titles at the same time, which victory on Saturday would achieve.

After that, Williams would target the US Open and aim to defend that title to complete a calendar Grand Slam.

Competing to take on Williams or Sharapova in the final will be Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska and Spain's first-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Garbine Muguruza.

Williams defeated Radwanska in the 2012 Wimbledon final and has won all eight of their previous matches, but lost to Muguruza at the French Open last year.

"She's super young," said Williams. "I see her as someone to watch and be careful for because she knows how to play. I think this is probably a good surface for her."

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