Sharapova thrilled, Venus a diminished force

JOHN SALVADO
Last updated 13:18 19/01/2013

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Maria Sharapova was making no apologies for the effusive nature of her post-match celebrations after ending Venus Williams' interest in the women's singles at the Australian Open.

The way Sharapova saw it, this was a comprehensive victory over a big-time rival and a winner of seven grand slam titles - rather than a regulation dismissal of the world No.26.

"I was just really pumped," said the Russian, who gave several loud shrieks of delight after completing the 6-1 6-3 victory.

"Why shouldn't I be?"

Fair question.

But the reality is that the 32-year-old Williams is nowhere near the force she once was.

The last of those seven majors came when she lifted the Wimbledon trophy for the fifth time in 2008.

Not since 2001 has she won a grand slam tournament away from the All-England Club.

And her ranking slipped into triple figures last year as she fought an auto-immune illness.

A solid finish to 2012, highlighted by Williams' first tournament victory in two years in Luxembourg, saw her arrive at Melbourne Park seeded 25th.

The American's best moments of the third-round loss came when she won two straight games after Sharapova had raced to a 5-1 lead in the second set.

If nothing else, it ensured Williams would not equal the worst loss of her 264-match grand slam career, a 6-1 6-1 belting by Martina Hingis in the 2001 Australian Open semi-finals.

"Definitely not my best today, but there's always other days to play better," Williams said.

"I just had a lot of errors ... that never helps."

Sharapova was more complimentary.

"When we both looked at the draw, it was certainly the match-up both of us were looking forward to. I was really excited to play her," the Russian No.2 seed said.

"She's a great champion and won many more grand slams than I have.

"No matter what her ranking, she is so hard to play."

With her singles campaign over, Venus can now focus on her other roles in Team Williams.

She will be a key member of Serena's support crew as little sister chases a 16th grand slam singles crown.

The siblings also have a remarkable record as a doubles pairing, having been unbeaten in 13 major finals.

Despite only being seeded 12th at the Open because they rarely play doubles outside the majors, the Williams are the red-hot favourites to win a 14th grand slam title together.

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