(1) Serena Williams vs (2) Maria Sharapova
The world's top two players, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, will resume their lopsided rivalry on Saturday night in the final of the 2015 Australian Open.
Can Maria finally break a string of 15 consecutive losses to Serena Williams to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup? Or will Serena make it six from six in Finals at Melbourne Park?
Serena Williams advanced to the final with a hard fought 7-6 6-2 victory over Madison Keys. Serena was pushed to her limit in the opening set, prevailing in an extremely close tiebreaker. One point won against serve in the tiebreaker was all that separated the pair who both served exceptionally well throughout the opening set.
Serena took control of the match on the second set, racing away to a 5-1 lead. However the world number 1 struggled to close out the match as her fiery opponent refused to concede defeat. At 1-5, Keys saved seven match points to force Serena to serve out the match. Serena finally sealed the deal with a second serve ace on her ninth match point.
Maria Sharapova totally outplayed Ekaterina Makarova to advance to the final, prevailing 6-3 6-2. Maria stormed to an early 3-0 and had break points to extend that lead however a feisty Makarova fought back to 4-4 . Maria accepted the challenge, raising her level to close out the set before cruising through the second.
Maria's first serve was extremely effective throughout the match but particularly in the second set where she won over 90% of points behind her first serve. Sharapova dominated Makarova from the baseline, winning rally after rally.
Maria is now just one step away from emulating Li Na's 2014 title run in Melbourne where she saved a match point in an early round match. However Maria will need to overcome one of the most lopsided head to head records in tennis if she to do so.
Serena Williams has always made a concerted effort to dominate Maria Sharapova any time the two step on to court to do battle. Serena has an absolutely dominant 16-2 record over the world number two. Maria's last victory over Serena was over a decade ago. Despite all this there are reasons to believe Maria is a legitimate chance on Saturday night.
Maria's start to the season has been exceptional, winning 10 straight matches including a title in Brisbane. Apart from a scare against Panova in the second round, Maria has looked rock solid and comes into this match with nothing to lose and so much to gain. Maria is the ultimate competitor and will extremely desperate to reverse her horrendous record against Serena.
Serena's route to the final in Melbourne has been strange. A sluggish Serena fumbled her way through the Hopman Cup before looking less than convincing in her early round matches in Melbourne. Serena has improved over her last three matches, particularly her biggest weapon, her serve. However there have been a lot of signs over the past few weeks that perhaps Serena is not the almighty force she once was.
I have a feeling this will be an extremely close match and I believe Maria can finally break her incredible losing streak against Serena. Maria has simply been playing better tennis and is closer to her best. Yes Serena always seems to raise her level against Maria but I'm not sure it will be so simple for her on this occasion.
Prediction: Maria Sharapova to defeat Serena Williams in three sets