World number one 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 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
"Good challenge. The last time I played her (Williams) was in the
(WTA Tour) Championships so it has been four months and this time we
really can see how I have improved," Li told reporters as she looked
ahead to the final.
"I am really happy I can play her again. Everyone will be confident
if they come to the final. I think for sure it will be a tough
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 her spot in the final.
Sharapova and Williams, who have both achieved a career grand slam
and held the number one ranking, were expected to develop into one
of the great rivalries in women's tennis.
But 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.
"Despite my results against her, I still look forward to playing
against her because you learn so much from that type of level which
she produces," Sharapova said. "There is no reason for me to have
any pressure because of my results against her.
"She's an incredible champion. That's the reason she's at the top.
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"She's accomplished a lot, her tennis speaks for itself and I have
nothing to lose out there against her."
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 U.S. 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 advantage 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.
But Williams was soon back in control breaking Sharapova 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 and putting an
exclamation point on the contest by closing out the match with
another break when Sharapova slammed a forehand return into the net.
"I didn't think I would be sitting here the way I was playing in the
beginning of the week, so I'm excited to still be in the
tournament," Williams said.
"I definitely feel better than what I did in my first couple of
matches, but I also feel there is a big gap for me to play even
better and to be more consistent and get to the level that I was
playing at a little bit last year."
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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