Top seed Serena Williams said Thursday she was delighted to renew her one-sided rivalry with Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final after defeating fellow American Madison Keys to reach the decider.

The 18-time Grand Slam champion’s hard-fought 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 semi-final win over Keys will pit the world’s top two players against one another at Melbourne Park with a major on the line.

Williams, 33, responded enthusiastically when asked if the clash between the first and second seeds was similar to a boxing title fight to determine the champion of the world.

“It’s great for women’s tennis,” she said. “I think it’s good for me and Maria. I’m excited. I love playing her. I look forward to it.”

If the tournament final was a boxing bout, the tale of the tape would be all in Williams’ favour — she has a daunting 16-2 record over the world number two and Sharapova has not landed a glove on her in more than a decade.

The American, who will become the oldest woman to contest an Australian final in the Open Era, said she knew Sharapova would be desperate for a win but insisted she was relaxed and having fun at Melbourne Park.

“I think she really wants this. I can see that she wants to do well,” Williams said of Sharapova, who owns five-time Grand Slam titles.

“She wants to improve her game. She wants to take it to the next level. So, you know, I have to know that she wants to win probably a lot.  

“It’s going to be important for me to get off to a good start, I think. With that being said, if not, I’m going to be ready to fight.”

– Still number one –

Williams has made the Australian Open final five times previously and won every time, including a victory in 2007 over Sharapova.

By advancing to the decider, she ensures she will retain the world number one ranking that she has held for more than 100 weeks, regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s match.

Williams had to summon her renowned fighting qualities to quash a strong challenge from 19-year-old Keys, who was not intimidated appearing in her first Slam semi-final and pushed the veteran hard.

The teenager came out swinging in a match that featured 25 aces from two of the biggest hitters in the women’s game, taking the first set to a tie-break.

Williams struggled with the power of Keys’ groundstrokes but showed her guile to lob the teen on several occasions when she came to the net prematurely.

After taking the first set, Williams went up a break early in the second and Keys resistance appeared to finally be crumbling as she gave away another break with a double fault to make it 4-1.

But she made a stand serving at 5-1, saving seven match points to force Williams to serve it out.

Keys managed to save one more match point off Williams’ serve before the veteran ended it with an ace to advance to the final. – Agence France-Presse

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