Serena Williams of the United States returns a shot to Maria Sharapova of Russia, during the women’s singles semifinal match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Thursday July 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
LONDON (AP) — Serena Williams is just one win away from another Grand Slam milestone.
The top-ranked Williams maintained her 11-year dominance over Maria Sharapova, beating the Russian 6-2, 6-4 on Thursday to reach her eighth Wimbledon championship match and 25th career Grand Slam final.
In beating Sharapova for the 17th straight time, the five-time Wimbledon champion won her 26th consecutive Grand Slam match and is now going for a fourth straight major title — a “Serena Slam” — and the third-leg of a calendar-year Grand Slam.
“At least I made it to a final of four,” Williams said. “That’s pretty good. That’s pretty good.”
Williams served 13 aces, including three in the final game, had 29 winners and never faced a break point in overpowering the fourth-seeded Sharapova, who hit six double-faults and couldn’t find a way to cope with her rival’s relentless pace.
“When she stepped up her game, I was able to step up mine as well,” Williams said.
It will be Williams’ first appearance in the Wimbledon final since 2012, when she won the last of her titles.
“I think it definitely gets better,” she said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the final here. I just feel really good just to be in another final, so it’s really cool.”
Williams’ opponent will be 21-year-old Garbine Muguruza, who beat Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the first semifinal. She’s the first Spanish woman to advance to the Wimbledon final since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1996.
Williams has won two out her three matches against Muguruza, but the Spaniard beat her 6-2, 6-2 in the second round of the French Open last year. That was Williams’ most lopsided loss in a Grand Slam.
“It’s great for her. It’s great for me,” Williams said. “She actually beat me before. She made me improve, so she has me on my toes. It’s not going to be an easy match, so I’ll be fighting a lot.”
Williams is unbeaten in majors since winning last year’s U.S. Open and this year’s Australian and French Opens. A win here would match the “Serena Slam” she achieved in 2002-03. Williams would then need to win the U.S. Open to complete a true Grand Slam, a sweep of all four majors in the same year, something which hasn’t been accomplished since Steffi Graf did it in 1988.
Williams is also one win away from a 21st Grand Slam title, one short of the Open era record held by Graf.
Williams extended her career record against Sharapova to 18-2. Sharapova beat Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final for her first Grand Slam title, but the rivalry has been one-sided for more than a decade.
The tone in Saturday’s match was set early when Sharapova double-faulted three times in the opening game, giving Williams the break. Williams needed just over 30 minutes to take the first set.
Sharapova made things tighter in the second set but double-faulted again on break point to give Williams a 3-2 lead. Williams served out the match at love with the three aces and a service winner that Sharapova barely got her racket on.
Earlier, Muguruza lost six games in a row in one stretch but regrouped against Radwanska. The Spaniard, who saved two break points in the final game, dropped face-first onto the grass on Centre Court after hitting a swinging forehand volley for a winner on her first match point.
“I don’t have words to explain it,” she said. “Just happy. I worked all my life to achieve this moment, so no words.”
At deuce in the final game, Radwanska held up her racket in the middle of the point to challenge a backhand from Muguruza that landed near the baseline. Radwanska had already hit a forehand return, and only challenged after her ball had bounced on the other side of the net and Muguruza lined up her next shot.
The video replay showed the ball had caught the back of the line, giving the point to the Spaniard. Radwanska looked in the direction of where her coach was sitting and gestured as if they had made a mistake in challenging the call.
“It was 50-50 call. I decided to challenge,” Radwanska said. “Wasn’t really good decision.”
Muguruza will bid to become the first Spaniard to win the Wimbledon women’s title since Conchita Martinez in 1994. Sanchez Vicario lost in the ’95 and ’96 finals.
In Friday’s men’s semifinals, seven-time champion Roger Federer will play 2013 winner Andy Murray, and defending champion Novak Djokovic will face Richard Gasquet.