The first women’s semifinal of the 2005 Australian Open can be emphatically summed up with one word: piercing. Intense beams of energy from the sun radiated a metaphor for the loud spectacle that would soon unfold on court. Two women representing different backgrounds wore vibrant yellow outfits fit for the drama they were leading. Exchanges were blistering and concerted, ensuring there would be zero willingness to compromise in every scene played.
For 70 minutes or so, a 17-year-old Maria Sharapova was the prevailing voice, both with her shot-making and screams that ricocheted with every follow through. Across the net stood Serena Williams, a celebrated champion Sharapova toppled to win their last two meetings at Wimbledon and the WTA's season-ending championships the previous season. While Serena struggled to establish consistency with her forehand, the Russian was connecting with authority on Rod Laver Arena. As the late Dick Enberg put it, “locate and detonate” was the mantra of Maria.
After winning the first set 6-2, Sharapova wiped away three break points, one which was aided by a linesman’s missed call, to hold for 4-4 in the second. Shortly after, Sharapova had the match on her racquet. The fiery teenager clinched a lengthy game for a 5-4 lead when Serena’s decision to hit a short court backhand up the middle resulted in Sharapova curling a backhand past the lunging American, who fell into a split.
But despite not having lost serve, Sharapova tightened up with a double fault to get broken back, and soon saw her counterpart draw even with a dogged, yet discreet dialogue of her own.
As the deciding set played out, patches of Sharapova transforming into a silent baseliner curiously crept into the plot—most notably with Serena serving down 5-3. In with a chance of redemption at 5-4, this time Sharapova reached match point, thrice. It was here, where three forehands and four minutes of suspense, would forever define the narrative of this production and their future projects.
Sharapova’s first missed chance was her own doing: a cross-court forehand that could have set her up for a finishing touch instead sailed long. Sharapova set up the next two chances with a pair of well-placed out-wide serves in the deuce court. Both times, Williams answered with the conviction that propelled her to the Serena Slam two years earlier. The forehand that had abandoned Serena in the first set was suddenly her liberator.
“I remember a forehand inside out. That's all I remember. I was down match point and I hit this winner and I didn't even blink. I hit the winner and walked right to the other side and was ready for the next return as if it was just a 30‑15 point. It was pretty amazing,” Serena recalled nine years later in Brisbane.
At 6-6, Serena faced three break points. After more than two and a half hours of work, Serena reserved her most deafening remarks for the closing act. All three were erased by Serena taking it to the No. 5 seed. In the next game, leading 7-6, she crouched down with a resounding release of emotion after reaching match point. A minute later, a second successive backhand winner sealed a 2-6, 7-5, 8-6 victory.
“I love nothing more than walking out there, hearing my name being announced, ‘Serena Williams,’ the crowd goes wild. I love that feeling,” Serena said in her post-match press conference. “I love being able to perform and being able to play a sport that's so fun, you can travel the world. I think it's a great, great thing for me. I wouldn't give it up right now for anything.”
Sharapova, far more muted, said, “In the previous matches, I took my chances. In this match, she took her chances, and that's why she won.”
A jubilant Serena leapt three times, a symbolic end scene for the woman who saved three match points, erased three break points in her final service game and denied Sharapova a third straight head-to-head win. It was an instant classic, one that pierced through the hearts of tennis fans, and ultimately Sharapova. For Serena, who went on to defeat Lindsay Davenport for the trophy, it was the first of 19 successive matches won against her once rival.