Roland Garros Women’s Final Preview: Will Serena Williams Sweep Maria Sharapova?

(June 7, 2013) It’s the dream final most were expecting: No. 1 seed Serena Williams taking on No. 2 seed and defending champion Maria Sharapova. The American is in her 20th final and holds the head-to-head edge against the Russian, 13-2. The two have met six times alone within the past year on three different surfaces, and it has been a clean sweep for Williams. However, this marks the first time Sharapova has successfully reached the final of a Slam as defending champion, and has reached quarterfinals or better of every tournament she has entered this year.

So, will Williams once again come out the victor, or can Sharapova finally step up to the plate and take out the American? Our panel of Tennis Grandstand writers Chris Skelton, David Kane and Victoria Chiesa tackle the match head on.

Serena Williams takes on Maria Sharapova for the French Open final

Chris Skelton (@ChrisSkelton87): Have we not seen this movie before? It’s like Titanic without the love story. Sharapova’s massive cruise liner of power and will invariably crumbles when it rams into the iceberg of Serena’s serve, first strikes, and natural athleticism. The iceberg never goes anywhere and has shown no sign of melting with time, while the cruise liner just keeps barreling straight into it without trying to steer around it.

Granted, Sharapova looked like she might have turned a corner in this non-rivalry when she won the first set from Serena in the Miami final this spring. She executed a game plan of serving into her opponent’s body and breaking down her forehand with impressive belief. When Serena asserted herself by erasing a small second-set deficit, though, Sharapova quickly collapsed. That match illustrated the fragility of her self-belief against Serena, which often has turned their matches into ugly affairs from the outset. (Think back to the 2007 Australian Open final or the Olympics gold-medal match last year.)

Most recently, the Madrid final showed that Sharapova’s recent dominance on clay does not translate into conquering her nemesis. Serena conceded only five games in that final and should concede no more here in a match without turning points.

Winner: Serena Williams, 6-2, 6-3

David Kane (@ovafanboy): Remember, I predicted Serena Williams would lose before the semifinals. Though Svetlana Kuznetsova was a handful of games from making me look like a genius, the Russian exposed a crack in the American No. 1’s otherwise chipless veneer. If that was a message that the winner of Rome (and Madrid) was vulnerable, her semifinal demolition of Sara Errani let everyone know that she had taken an industrial buffer to that quarterfinal wrinkle in form as she made last year’s finalist look like a journeywoman.

All of this rings like a bad omen to Maria Sharapova. While she took control of a topsy-turvy encounter with Victoria Azarenka in the other semifinal, that match-up, all can agree, was always in the tall Russian’s hands. The match-up against Williams is a different story. The American can match Sharapova for power, and still has miles on her in consistency and athleticism. On paper, this has “blowout” written all over it. Yet, this match may come down to a battle of nerves. Maria has a mental block when it comes to Serena, but Serena still has a block on Paris, if the quarters were any indication. Both come into this final with something to prove, and the winner, she who conquers her demons, will be a worthy champion.

Winner: Maria Sharapova 6-4 5-7 6-3

Victoria Chiesa (@unseededlooming): They say that statistics rarely tell the whole story. Well, sometimes, they do. There’s not much in the ‘tale of the tape’ that looks good for Maria Sharapova; her head-to-head against Serena Williams is 2-13 and she hasn’t beaten her since the WTA Championships in 2004. Before this year’s final in Miami, Sharapova had not even won a set in the pair’s meetings since the quarterfinals of Charleston in 2008. On the other side, this tournament has been all about redemption for Serena Williams; off of a first round loss a year ago, the World No. 1 came into Paris with one goal in mind.

If semifinal form is anything to go by, Williams could very well take the match out of Sharapova’s hands. Williams fired 40 winners in 46 minutes in a clinical victory over Sara Errani, while Sharapova littered the stat sheet in a three-set slog against Victoria Azarenka. As always, the serve will be key for Sharapova; she struck 12 aces against Azarenka, but paired them with 11 double faults. Both players will be feeling different kinds of pressure at the start of the match; Williams is in her first Roland Garros final in 11 years while Sharapova is looking to defend a slam for the first time. It might be close early, but Williams possesses a gear that no one else in women’s tennis has when she’s on a mission. That gear will see her through to a second Roland Garros title.

Winner: Serena Williams, 7-5 6-2