Maria Sharapova is closing in on a new Wimbeldon title. Still only 24, the Siberia-born six-footer has earned multi millions since becoming the golden girl of the sport by beating Serena Williams in the 2004 final but the grand slam titles she craves have been harder to come by.
She takes on German wildcard Sabine Lisicki on Centre Court on Thursday with world number five Victoria Azarenka or eighth seed Petra Kvitova awaiting the winner in Saturday’s showpiece.
While the other three will be hoping to be holding aloft the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday, the steely look in Sharapova’s eyes as she destroyed Dominika Cibulkova in the quarter-finals was that of a player who expects nothing less.
This time, however, after the “dead ends” she experienced while battling back from career-threatening shoulder surgery, it would mean even more than it did when she was a carefree teenager.
“Absolutely it would have more meaning,” she told reporters. “When you’re put into a situation where you don’t quite know if you’re ever going to play at a very high level where you’re beating and trying to beat players day in and day out, absolutely it would mean more to me.”
Once the Williams sisters departed in the fourth round along with world number one Caroline Wozniacki, the draw opened up invitingly for Sharapova and she may never have a better chance to claim a fourth grand slam title before the new generation take over.
Not that she will be taking anything for granted, especially against the dangerous Lisicki, the hardest server in the women’s draw this year, blocking her path.
“She’s really playing great grasscourt tennis and is always very dangerous,” Sharapova said.
“It’s a big stage of a grand slam and I’m playing against a tough opponent. She hits very hard. She has probably one of the hardest serves on the tour, and that’s very beneficial. She’s used that very well on the grass. So that will be challenging.”
Lisicki reached the quarter-finals two years ago as a 19-year-old before an ankle injury stalled her progress.
However, she has fully justified the organisers decision to hand her wildcard and a game which used both heavy artillery and stealthy drop shots has made her something of a crowd favourite at this year’s championships.
She hopes the underdog tag will work in her favour against the ice maiden Sharapova.
“They (the crowd) really have been amazing,” Lisicki, the first German woman to reach the semis since Steffi Graf in 1999, said.
“Here throughout the tournament it was just amazing, and they really helped me in the match against (French Open champion) Li Na when I was down two match points.
“I have absolutely nothing to lose.”
While Sharapova will start as clear favourite against Lisicki, the other semi-final is tougher to call.
Czech Kvitova, bidding to become the first left-hander to win the women’s singles since Martina Navratilova in 1990, has rocketed into the top-10 this year and will have the advantage of also contesting the semi-final last year when she lost to Serena Williams.
She also beat Azarenka at Wimbledon last year although the Belarussian is the highest-ranked player in the last four and looks in prime form to finally deliver on her grand slam winning potential after an impressive year.
“It’s going to be a different story. It’s a completely different game even from we played last year here,” Azarenka said.
“She’s in a great form and she’s playing well, so I really have to play my best game.”
Kvitova, 21, initially struggled to deal with the spotlight after last year’s Wimbledon run, losing in the first round of her next five tournaments, but she is now living up to the hype and is in confident mood.
“I know I can play on the grass and I can beat everybody who is playing against me and some top players also,”