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You're reading: Serena, Sharapova play for Olympic gold, and more

WIMBLEDON, England — Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are not just playing for Olympic gold at Wimbledon. There's a career Golden Slam on the line, too.

The winner of their final at Wimbledon on Saturday can claim
that accolade, which entails extra prestige rather than just prize money
or ranking points. Both champions have won all four Grand Slam titles
during their careers, but Olympic gold in singles has eluded them.

“Whether
I win or lose, that’s not the big deal,” said Williams, who defeated
world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-1, 6-2 on Friday. “The big
deal for me, USA is guaranteed another medal. I’m guaranteed to just go
out there tomorrow and have fun. That’s all I can do.”

Roger
Federer, who has won 17 majors, also has a chance at a career Golden
Slam when he plays for the gold against Andy Murray on Sunday. He beat
Juan Martin del Potro in the longest best-of-three set match of the Open
era, at 4 hours, 26 minutes, while Murray ousted Novak Djokovic.

“Roger,
me and Maria. The odds are good,” Williams said about the opportunities
to get a career Golden Slam. Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal, who
withdrew from the London Olympics because of a knee injury, won all four
Grand Slam titles as well as Olympic gold in different years.

In
1988, Steffi Graf won a Grand Slam — all four titles in the same
calendar year — as well as a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics, which
reinstated tennis as a sport in those games for the first time in 64
years.

Williams said she felt no pressure or sense that she had to
achieve anything else in an extraordinary career in which she first
rose to the top of the rankings a decade ago.

“I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I feel like if I were to retire last week, I would be fine,” she said.

Williams
and sister Venus already have two gold medals in doubles, winning in
Sydney in 2000 and Beijing in 2008, and are still in contention in the
doubles this year. Serena has won 14 Grand Slam singles titles, the most
of any active woman; Sharapova has won four majors, sinking to her
knees and raising her arms skyward when she won the French Open this
year.

The Olympic finalists have forged very different paths to
their showdown on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Williams tore through a
series of top players, including Azarenka, No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki and
No. 14 Vera Zvonareva. She lost only 16 games in five rounds and has won
12 consecutive matches this summer at the All England Club, including
her fifth Wimbledon title a month ago.

Sharapova has had tougher
matches, including a three-set win over Sabine Lisicki, a German who
beat her at Wimbledon. That loss cost her the top ranking, but Sharapova
is playing some of her best tennis this year since a shoulder injury
took her out of the game for an extended period several years ago and
deprived her of the chance to compete at the Beijing games.

Williams
is 8-2 in their head-to-head record, beating Sharapova most recently on
clay in Madrid this year. In 2004, 17-year-old Sharapova defeated
Williams at Wimbledon for her first Grand Slam title.

“Maria does
everything really well,” Williams said. “She’s improved so much from
week to week. I mean, the worst thing for her to do is lose because the
next time she comes out, she wins and improves, she never looks back.”

Sharapova
defeated Russian teammate Maria Kirilenko 6-2, 6-3 on Friday, hitting a
forehand drive volley past Kirilenko on match point. She’s approaching
the Williams match with grit.

“It doesn’t really matter who is across the net,” she said before learning she will play Williams.

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