By Randy Walker
Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are both one match away from the most epic women’s gold medal match in Olympic history.
Both globally famous icons advanced into the semifinals in women’s tennis with victories Thursday on Centre Court at Wimbledon – Williams defeating Caroline Wozniacki 6-0, 6-3 and Sharapova taking out Kim Clijsters 6-2, 7-5.
Williams will now face world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a player whom she owns a 8-1 series lead against, while Sharapova is a big favorite against No. 14 seed Maria Kirilenko, also of Russia, in the other semifinal.
With victories in their respective semifinal matches Friday, and Sharapova and Williams would advance to face off in the ultimate of Olympic tennis confrontations.
Consider the following ingredients to a Sharapova-Willliams Olympic final.
* The winner would earn the incredibly historic distinction of winning a “Career Golden Grand Slam” winning all four major singles titles and a singles gold medal in their career, Steffi Graf being the only woman to hold the distinction.
* The two are arguably the most recognizable, most famous women’s athletes on the planet.
* The match would be played on the most historic tennis court in the world – Centre Court at Wimbledon – at the grandest stage in sports, the Olympics.
* Russia (especially the old Soviet Union) and the United States are among the fiercest Olympic rivals as documented in fact (1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey and other confrontations) and in fiction (Rocky IV among other movies).
It would be the most hyped, anticipated, best advertisement for Olympic tennis that could be offered. Sharapova was recently named by Forbes magazine, for an eighth year in a row, as the highest-earning female athlete in the world with earnings of $27.1 million. Williams, with $16.3 million in earnings, is No. 3 in the Forbes list. The two, however, would be competing for one of the few prizes money can’t buy – Olympic gold.
Williams had no trouble with former world No. 1 Wozniacki of Denmark, winning her 14th match in a row and her 31st match in her last 32 matches.
Sharapova held off a second-set surge from Clijsters, the Belgian playing in her second-to-last tournament before retiring at the US Open later this month.
Kirilenko posted the biggest win of her career in upsetting the No. 6 seed and 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (3), 6-3 to advance into the medal round. She will play for either gold or bronze this weekend.
Azarenka, the world No. 1 from Belarus who won the Australian Open earlier this year, advanced to the women’s final four with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Angelique Kerber of Germany.