Friday's third-round encounter between Maria Sharapova, holder of four Grand-Slam titles, and Venus Williams, with seven, was the most anticipated of the early rounds, but with Venus well past her prime and Maria arguably better than ever, much of the buildup seemed unrealistic, and Maria's easy, 6-1, 6-3 win shouldn't have been a big surprise. In Venus's early years, her level of power was so rare, very few of her opponents knew how to deal with it, and her consistency, accuracy, and court coverage were considerably better than they are now. Maria has been facing opponents with Venus's power for years now, and on Friday, she treated Venus's first serve, once the biggest weapon in women's tennis, just as she treats almost every other ball that comes to her, as an opportunity to attack.
Maria's biggest advantage was her return of serve; she won 56% of her receiving points, while Venus won only 34% of hers. Venus landed a slightly higher percentage of her first serves than Maria did (58% vs. 56%), and at a slightly greater average speed (106 vs. 104 mph), while Maria had somewhat faster second serves (93 vs. 88 mph) and placed both of her serves better. Maria's success on the return resulted from an ideal balance of aggression and safety; she swung without restraint, but left fairly safe margins over the net and within the lines to minimize her errors. Venus's returns, especially on the forehand side, most often hit the net tape, but also flew wide and occasionally long; her margins were too small for the level of accuracy she could command.
Photo Stroke Studies: