Maria Sharapova says the domination of Serena Williams should not diminish the efforts of other women’s players, but adds they must step up and answer the challenge.

Sharapova, who has not played since losing to Williams in a Wimbledon semi-final due to a right knee injury, could meet the world number one in the semi-finals of the US Open, which begins on Monday.

Three-time defending champion Williams, who has won the past four Grand Slam titles, is trying to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam sweep since Steffi Graf in 1988 and capture her 22nd career major singles title, matching Graf’s Open Era record.

“She has been playing on an incredible level,” Sharapova said Saturday. “That doesn’t take anything away from other players. We have to step up, me and other players. We have to perform better.”

Sharapova has completed a career Grand Slam of her own and added a second French Open crown last year. This year, she lost to Williams in the Australian Open final but has won titles at Brisbane and Rome.

But in head-to-head matches against Williams, Sharapova is 2-18 with 17 losses in a row since last beating the 33-year-old American in the 2004 WTA Tour Championship final.

“If we didn’t feel we could (beat her), I wouldn’t personally be able to go on the court and play,” Sharapova said. “Everyone takes any match they are facing very seriously in a Grand Slam environment.”

Asked if she thought Williams had a good chance at winning the US Open to complete the calendar Slam, Sharapova said, “I think that’s safe to say.”

“It’s just a huge bonus for her to be in this position this way. Being back here where she has made so many great memories will make it a great story.”

Romanian second seed Simona Halep also addressed Williams’ domination and her own comment that she wanted to see Serena complete the Slam.

“If I’m not in the final, then I want her to win. If I’m in the final with her, then I want to win,” Halep said.

“There are two different things. I respect her already for what she has done and what she is doing. But I also have a desire to beat her.

“I believe she has a big chance to do it. I can’t say the tournament is Open. I’ll say now Serena has the chance.”

– Sharapova dims expectations –

Sharapova says she will try to limit her expectations for the Flushing Meadows fortnight given her lack of match toughness.

“You have to be realistic and limit your expectations but it’s never quite easy because when you step on the court you want to play your best,” she said. “Sometimes it’s your competitiveness that helps you adjust and get through.”

The 28-year-old Russian beauty is 1-1 against first-round Monday foe Daria Gavrilova, a 37th-ranked compatriot who beat Sharapova in the second round at Miami this year but lost to her in a Rome semi-final rematch.

“She’s a great player to face in the first round. Our matches have gone back and forth. It’s always tough in a Grand Slam, especially when you haven’t been playing for a while. You feel the nerves. I have managed it quite well.”

That’s in part because she loves the raucous atmosphere New York fans bring to matches.

“I love the energy,” she said. “I love how you feel realsports enthusiasts are watching. You feed off their passion. Their energy is priceless.” – Agence France-Presse

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