By Caroline Cheese
BBC Sport at Wimbledon
WILLIAMS (1) v SHARAPOVA (13)
Serena Williams will become the first woman since Steffi Graf to capture three straight Wimbledon titles if she collects the trophy on Saturday.
The top seed, and former world number one, will also be targeting her seventh Grand Slam title in her eighth final, while on the other side of the net 17-year-old Maria Sharapova will make her debut in a major final.
Williams has won their only previous meeting, beating the Russian 6-4 6-3 in the third round on her way to winning the title in Miami in March after eight months out of action with a knee injury.
The statistics point to a possible mismatch, but there is plenty of reason to get excited about this year's women's final.
For the first time since the Australian Open final between Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati in 2002, two nations will be represented in a Grand Slam women's showpiece.
Serena's encounters with sister Venus have proved to be awkward, unsatisfying affairs, as have those between Kim Clijsters and fellow Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne.
The less said about the all-Russian meeting between Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva at the French Open this year, the better.
Williams and Sharapova are not related, they are not friends and there is no national rivalry to consider - and there are more reasons to expect a compelling match.
ROUTES TO THE FINAL
Zheng 6-3 6-1
Foretz 6-0 6-4
Serna 6-4 6-0
Golovin 6-2 6-1
Capriati 6-1 6-1
Mauresmo 6-7 7-5 6-4
Beygelzimer 6-2 6-1
Keothavong 6-4 6-0
Hantuchova 6-3 6-1
Frazier 6-4 7-5
Sugiyama 5-7 7-5 6-1
Davenport 2-6 7-6 6-1
Most expect Serena to win, but as BBC summariser Tracy Austin said earlier in the tournament: "I am far less sure than I have been in the last few years."
The 22-year-old may have dropped only one set on her way to the final, but Williams is still searching for peak form after that eight-month lay-off and Amelie Mauresmo proved in the semi-finals just how vulnerable the defending champion could be.
The Frenchwoman deserves credit for a superb performance, but Williams' own form contributed to the drama.
Her forehand, in particular, was alarmingly inconsistent and some of her decision-making was baffling, but understandable given her lack of matches this year.
Sharapova, meanwhile, has been a revelation at this year's Wimbledon.
She combines big hitting from the baseline with a powerful serve and a clever use of angles, but by far the most impressive part of her game is her lack of fear.
The teenager battled back from a set and a break down against former champion Lindsay Davenport in the semi-finals and with a first Grand Slam final in sight, she did not flinch.
Regardless of the match situation, Sharapova is likely to stay true to her instincts and keep going for winners.
The key will be how she deals with Williams' serve, arguably the best the women's game has ever produced.
The top seed has delivered the fastest-ever serve at Wimbledon by a woman of 126mph and she has unleashed 45 aces, more than any of her rivals in the tournament.
Sharapova, meanwhile, has combined 34 aces with 24 double faults.
The Russian, though, has nothing to lose, while Williams has plenty to prove after losing her world number one status during her injury lay-off, all of which should make for a fascinating contest.