Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are set to renew their long and not-so-friendly rivalry after advancing to a semifinal match at the Brisbane International, a key warm up tournament for the Australian Open.
The pair played back-to-back quarterfinals on centre court on Thursday, with third-seeded Sharapova needing two hours to beat 2012 Brisbane champion Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. She dropped three service games in the first set and another to open the second before finding her range and staging her comeback against the No. 30-ranked Kanepi.
Top-ranked Williams, the defending champion, was next on court and didn’t lose a point on serve in the first set en route to a 6-3, 6-3 win over ninth-seeded Diminika Cibulkova of Slovakia.
Williams has a 14-2 record and 13-match win streak against Sharapova dating back to the 2005 Australian Open semifinals, beating the Russian most recently in last year’s French Open final.
Any friendship the pair had soured when they traded personal barbs relating to their romantic relationships ahead of last year’s Wimbledon, where Sharapova made an early exit. She only played one match after that in 2013 and spent the latter months of the year recovering from a right shoulder problem.
Sharapova has only played two matches since August, both this week.
Williams had a spectacular year, meanwhile, winning 78 of her 82 matches and capturing 11 titles, including two majors to increase her career total to 17.
As far as any grudges go, Williams told a news conference Thursday, “It’s very difficult I think for anyone to be best buddies when you’re so competitive.”
“But I don’t have a problem with anyone,” she added. “I don’t take jabs or anything. I am who I am and I don’t hide anything.”
Sharapova didn’t back away from her comments about Williams at Wimbledon in a New York Times profile last month, giving the impression that her relationship between the pair was still cold. On Thursday, she said she’d used the newspaper interview to “clear the air.”
Asked how she’d describe their rivalry now, Sharapova replied, “Well, I think I got to win a few times in order to call it rivalry.”
“I haven’t had a lot of success against her in the past,” she added. “It’s the first tournament of the year. I came here wanting to play as many matches as I could and obviously wanting to play the best.
“There is no substitute for getting ready for a Grand Slam than competing against the best.”
In men’s matches in Brisbane, Romanian qualifier Marius Copil had a 7-5, 6-3 upset win over third-seeded Gilles Simon and No. 8-seeded Jeremy Chardy beat fellow Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-3.
In other Australasian tournaments, Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard combined to give Canada a 3—0 win over Italy at the Hopman Cup in Perth, and Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic progressed to the semifinals at the WTA Tour’s ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand.
Canada (2-1) maintained a chance of qualifying for Saturday’s Hopman Cup final from Group A when Raonic beat Andreas Seppi 6-2, 6-4 and Bouchard clinched it when Flavia Pennetta retired with a right wrist injury while trailing 4-0 in the first set.
At Auckland, Venus Williams beat Garbine Muguruza of Spain 6-3, 6-3 and the second-seeded Ivanovic beat Kurumi Nara of Japan 6-2, 6-3.
Ivanovic will play her doubles partner, third-seeded Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, in Friday’s semifinals while Williams will play fellow American Jamie Hampton.
Flipkens beat Japanese qualifier Sachie Ishizu 6-4, 7-5 and fifth-seeded Hampton beat U.S. compatriot Lauren Davis 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.