Sports

Williams, Sharapova set to meet in Aussie Open final

Melbourne, Australia (SportsNetwork.com) - Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will meet in Saturday's women's Australian Open final after both women cruised to straight-set victories on Thursday.

Williams, looking to win her sixth Aussie Open title, took out fellow American Madison Keys 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 to reach the final.

With the first set all even at 5-5, Williams was on serve when Keys went up 30-15 in the 11th game, but Williams took the next three points before Keys smashed a backhand down the line to knot it up at 40-all. Williams ended up taking the next two points to win the game, then Keys kept the back-and- forth affair going with an ace to force a tiebreak.

Williams had set point, up 6-3, in the tiebreak when the 19-year-old Keys fired two aces to close within one, but Williams countered with an ace on her next serve to take the stanza.

Williams pressured her opponent from the onset of the second set, taking the first game and breaking Keys in the process. However, Keys maintained composure and went up 40-15 in the next game. But Williams ended up grinding her way back and taking the game. After the two maintained serve over the next two games, Williams broke the unseeded Keys again and eased her way to the finish line.

This was the first career meeting between Williams and Keys.

The 33-year-old Williams is seeking her 19th Grand Slam singles championship and 65th career title overall. She is a perfect 5-0 in Aussie Open finals.

Williams is tied with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for the second- most women's Grand Slam titles in the Open Era behind Steffi Graf's 22.

"I didn't expect to get to the finals of this tournament when I first got here because I wasn't playing great," Williams said after reaching her first Melbourne Park finale since 2010.

"I didn't play well at Hopman. I was so off. I felt like I wasn't moving well. I just wasn't feeling great on the court.

"It's been so long since I've even been in a final here. I was kind of like, 'oh, let me just try' (and) my theory now is to relax and play the match as best as I can.

"When I step on the court and hear the announcer, I don't have to win anymore. I can just relax and have fun."

Meanwhile, Sharapova reached her 10th career Grand Slam final by beating Russian countrymate Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets.

The former world No. 1 Sharapova, seeded No. 2 here behind Williams, rolled to a 6-3, 6-2 win over the left-handed 10th seed Makarova in 87 minutes.

The former Aussie Open champion double-faulted seven times, but tallied 23 winners, including three aces in the win.

Sharapova has won 22 of her last 23 matches against fellow Russians and improved to 6-0 lifetime against Makarova, including 3-0 at the Australian Open following quarterfinals wins in 2012 and 2013.

"It's been a strange road for me to get to the finals, but I'm happy," said Sharapova. "Came from behind in a few, really behind in one -- saving match points. I felt like I was given a second chance. I just wanted to take my chances."

The 26-year-old Makarova appeared in her second straight Grand Slam semifinal. She lost to Williams at last year's U.S. Open.

The 27-year-old Sharapova is chasing her sixth career Grand Slam championship and 35th overall WTA title.

She's 5-4 in Grand Slam finals, including 1-2 at the Australian Open. Sharapova titled here in 2008 and lost in Melbourne in 2007, to Serena, and 2012, to Victoria Azarenka.

Sharapova has yet to lose in 2015, going 10-0, including a title run in Brisbane a few weeks ago.

The powerful Williams is 16-2 lifetime against Sharapova, who has gone winless in their head-to-head series since 2004. The American is 4-1 in their Grand Slam matchups, including 2-0 in Melbourne. Sharapova beat Serena in the 2004 Wimbledon final.