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Last Updated: Friday, 1 July, 2005, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Venus and Maria set new standard
By Caroline Cheese
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

Venus Williams
Venus emphatically dispelled doubts about her commitment with an awesome display of power tennis
Once in a while, women's tennis provides a match of such eye-popping quality that the rest of the tournament becomes merely a footnote.

Whatever happens in Saturday's final, Venus Williams' defeat of Maria Sharapova on Thursday will be one of those matches.

The Williams sisters insist they do not deal in revenge, but as Venus stood toe to toe with Sharapova on Thursday, it was difficult not to recall last year's gripping final, another such seminal encounter.

Twelve months ago, a 17-year-old Sharapova had gone into the final as underdog against Serena, going for a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles.

However, the teenager dethroned the champion with a display of phenomenal power and poise, leaving Williams visibly stunned.

On Thursday, Venus, inspired by an email from her younger sister, turned the tables on Sharapova.

In doing so, former world number one Tracy Austin believes Williams recaptured the form of two years ago.

It could even be argued that the former world number one has never played this well, surpassing the standard she set when she ruled Wimbledon with victories in 2000 and 2001.

The 25-year-old was simply better than Sharapova in every area.

Her serve and forehand, which have a tendency to break down, were impeccable and her athleticism restricted her opponent to just 13 winners.

Sharapova sent her raking groundstrokes deep into the corners, but steely-eyed Williams responded by hitting deeper and harder - returning balls the Russian is simply not used to seeing come back at her.

Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova
4 of 9--Break pts won--1 of 7
108-----Fastest serve----110

Sharapova, used to a role as the aggressor, was on the back foot throughout and only her remarkable fighting qualities kept her in the match.

The intensity from both players never wavered, as the accompanying guttural screams indicated.

Many, including Wimbledon referee Alan Mills, believe the grunting should be outlawed, but in this case, it only added to the drama.

When Sharapova went wide at match point down, she looked shocked to the core, and even Williams seemed to take several seconds to absorb the enormity of her victory and her performance.

Williams has long insisted she remains one of the world's best, but her statements sounded empty against the backdrop of her slide out of the world's top 10 and a failure to win a Grand Slam title since 2001.

But the 25-year-old proved she was right all along with a performance that has been building since the fourth round, when she crushed Jill Craybas, conqueror of Serena in the previous round.

Maria Sharapova
Sharapova: "Wimbledon means a lot to me - but I guess there's many more years to come."

Against the less mobile and older top seed Lindsay Davenport, she will start favourite, despite the gulf of thirteen places in the seedings.

For a distraught Sharapova and her legions of fans, it was a reality check.

The 18-year-old may be vying with the Williams sisters to be the most famous tennis player in the world but she remains a relatively raw talent.

This was only her 11th Grand Slam tournament, compared to Williams' 32, and her third major semi-final.

As she herself has been at pains to point out since her awesome win at Wimbledon last year, she is still learning, and still developing physically.

She may have sponsorship offers flooding in, but her team have ensured that the ones she has accepted will not stop her ironing out the weaknesses in her game.

She said on Thursday: "At 18, it's not easy to have a huge consistent serve. I realise that and I accept it.

"I know with hard work, practice and repetition, it will get bigger, stronger and more accurate."

With time, Sharapova may also conclude that approaching the net more than seven times in an entire match, as she did against Williams, may pay dividends behind her destructive groundstrokes.

For now, though, her brief reign at Wimbledon is over, and Williams is poised to reclaim her throne.

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