Serena, Sharapova living in the present
LONDON -- They arrived at Wimbledon this week in vastly different moods, coming off profoundly different years and with the same painful memory that might bond them if they weren't at expressly cross-purposes.
Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, easy winners in their first-round matches Tuesday, are expected to collide in the quarterfinals here next week if all goes according to plan. But plans and Wimbledon are propositions as slippery as the grass Williams was falling on in an otherwise steady outing.
"I try not to think about what happened [last year]. I have a great opportunity to do well here. I've had great memories."
Those were the words of Sharapova after she sailed to a 6-1, 6-0 victory over British wild card Samantha Murray in 58 minutes. But they could have just as easily come from the mouth of Williams, who dispatched 113th-ranked Anna Tatishvili 6-1, 6-2 in a match that took three minutes longer.
Neither Williams nor Sharapova is likely to take anything for granted after last year's Wimbledon in which Sharapova tumbled out in the second round, beaten by qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito, and Williams, a five-time champion here, was eliminated by eventual finalist Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round.
Asked Tuesday if she is motivated by setbacks, Williams agreed. "I think so, for sure," she said. "For me, absolutely."
Williams has been on the cranky side in her news conferences here, normally a good sign for a woman who has won 17 Grand Slam titles and does not suffer reporters who ask about the bad times gladly.
Wimbledon's top women's seed is coming off a second-round defeat in the French Open three weeks ago and a fourth-round loss at the Australian Open in the first major of the year, so Tuesday's victory over Tatishvili, who recently became an American citizen, was not something she took for granted.
Williams, who last won here in 2012, struggled with her footing on a few occasions but ended with 31 winners and 16 aces.
"I felt like as the tournament goes on, it usually gets better," she said. "So hopefully I'll get my bearings a little bit and get better."
The last time Sharapova won the championship here was her only Wimbledon title, when she defeated Williams as a 17-year-old in 2004. Since then, Sharapova has reached two semifinals (2005, '06) and one final (2011), with three fourth-round and three second-round exits.
"There's no reason why I can't turn those results around that I had in the last couple of years," she said.
After leaving Wimbledon last year, Sharapova played one match and then withdrew from the US Open with a shoulder injury that would keep her sidelined for the next three months. She lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open to No. 20 seed Dominika Cibulkova, lost to Williams in the semis in Miami in mid-March and then won two straight titles in Stuttgart and Madrid.
After losing to Ana Ivanovic in the round of 16 in Rome, Sharapova loudly announced her comeback was complete with a French Open title, beating No. 4 seed Simona Halep in the final.
Like Williams, Sharapova has not played since Roland Garros.
"Being such a quick turnaround, [I was] really trying to maintain such a good balance between being physically rested but then having enough time and preparation and matches, practice, going into your first round of Wimbledon," Sharapova said. "You can't take that lightly.
"Meanwhile, knowing how many matches I played in the last couple of months, there's such a thin line to know exactly what is the right thing to do. But I feel that I've recovered both mentally and physically. Although I want to reflect on such a great victory [at the French], I just want to start from the beginning here and be as hungry as I was if I didn't win a Grand Slam a couple weeks ago."
And like Williams, she wants only to look forward.
"I try not to dwell on what happened in the past, whether good or bad memories I had, whether it was last year, years before," Sharapova said. "This is a new day. It's not a new tournament, but it's a new opportunity. You start from scratch."