MELBOURNE -- Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are set to clash in the Australian Open final on Saturday, in a one-sided match-up that continues to punch above its weight class in marquee value. With Serena leading the head-to-head 16-2 and riding a 15-match win streak dating back to 2004, the question going into every match featuring the two biggest names in women's tennis is a simple one: Is this the day Maria finally wins one?
"I take a lot of pride in it," Serena said of her 10-year dominance over her Russian rival. "But it's not one thing I'm thinking about. I just go out there and play. I think my game matches up well against her. I love playing her. I think it's fun. I love her intensity. For whatever reason, I love playing [her]. I just have the time of my life."
Sharapova has lost the last nine sets to Serena, with their last match coming last year in the Miami Open semifinals, which Serena won 6-4, 6-3. The puzzle for Sharapova remains the same. Faced with Serena's big serve, powerful hitting and superb speed, how can the Russian impose her power game?
"I think her power and her aggressiveness, I think that's always made me a little bit too aggressive, maybe going for a little bit more than I had to," Sharapova said after her semifinal win over Ekaterina Makarova. "She's great at making players hit that shot that you don't necessarily have to go for, maybe going for a little too much, going on the line."
Martina Navratilova agrees. At the end of the day, this is a massive match-up problem for Sharapova. "Serena is a better tennis player, I don't think there's any doubt about that," Navratilova said. "The record speaks for itself. I think Maria doesn't really have the quickness to bother Serena. She can match up with her pretty well when the ball is in play, but it's about getting into the points. Serena has the bigger serve. It's a bad match-up for Maria because where she gets in trouble with her second serve and Serena attacks it really well. And Maria's return of serve is great against most players but Serena can overpower her with pace. Still, she shouldn't have lost that many matches in a row. She's a better player than that."
Australian Open Fashion Hits and Misses
HIT: Maria Sharapova
In a sea of neon, Sharapova's classy pink number hits all the right notes.
MISS: Victoria Azarenka's long sleeve
Rule No. 1 in tennis fashion: Don't dress like the tennis ball.
HIT: Grigor Dimitrov
Black, white, clean -- the best men's kit of 2015.
HIT: Andy Murray
Murray wears the black and bright green combo well, and it's a bit more subdued than some of the other neon colors.
MISS: Venus Williams
2014 was a great year for Venus' EleVen, but their first offering this year is an ill-fitting 70's inspired mess.
HIT: Roger Federer
It's a rare sight to see Federer in fluorescent colors. And rarer still, after his third round loss.
HIT: Roger Federer
HIT: Petra Kvitova
Looking as fit as ever, Kvitova has been wearing this pink Nike kit well.
HIT: Eugenie Bouchard
Youthful and fresh in pink.
HIT: Madison Keys
Just like Bouchard, Nike made the right choice with this hot pink number.
HIT: Ana Ivanovic
Blink and you missed it.
MISS: Kei Nishikori
The lime green color somehow looks old and dirty. Uniqlo would have been better off with something clean and bright.
HIT: Elina Svitolina
A classic tennis look from a classic tennis brand in Ellesse.
HIT: Elina Svitolina
HIT: Agnieszka Radwanska
Clean and fresh in Lotto.
MISS: Caroline Wozniacki
The fit is perfect, but the color and pattern are reminiscent of an old tea towel.
MISS: Caroline Wozniacki
HIT: Rafael Nadal's shorts
Nadal called them his "party pants."
HIT: Milos Raonic
The neon stripe on the socks makes it work.
HIT: Serena Williams
The dream of the 80s is alive in Melbourne. If only she had some leg warmers.
We loved the back detail on the dress as well.
HIT: Simona Halep
A no-nonsense athletic look for a no-nonsense athletic star.
HIT: Thanasi Kokkinakis
It's the most memorable kit of the tournament and a look Kokkinakis worked to perfection in his five set win over Gulbis. Winning makes (almost) everything look good.
HIT: Victoria Azarenka's sleeveless
It's the women's version of Kyrgios' kit. And we like it.
MISS: Novak Djokovic
Djokovic has been alternating between a white shirt and a blue shirt. A boring and disappointing offer from Uniqlo.
MISS: Stan Wawrinka
A boring striped blue shirt? The defending champion deserves better from Yonex.
MISS: Andrea Petkovic
The grey top is great. The skirt is cute too. But put them together and it's a mess.
MISS: Simone Bolelli
Military camo? Really?
The kit doesn't work on Muguruza, either.
MISS: Gael Monfils
Let's put the pumpkin orange away, Asics.
MISS: Michael Russell
Worst kit of the tournament.
MISS: Fernando Verdasco
Is his head rising from the smoke and ashes?
MISS: Tomas Berdych
In the sea of blue that is the Australian Open, let's not add more blue.
HIT: Camila Giorgi
Shorts! A belt! A collar! This is pretty old school and great.
HIT: Nick Kyrgios
It's the fluorescent version of Dimitrov's kit and the 19-year-old has lit it up.
But how much of their lopsided rivalry comes down to belief? Fifteen consecutive losses have to take their toll, even for one of the game's best competitors. "The intensity is not a problem but the belief, there's gotta be doubt," Navratilova said. "You cannot be human without having doubts after you've been beaten so many times in a row."
"I know Maria believes that she can beat Serena but Serena just really digs in. You can just see it. She would hate nothing more than to lose to Maria,” Navratilova said.
Based on her tournament so far, Sharapova arrives into the final with confidence. She has lost just one set -- Serena has dropped two -- and she's cruised ever since she saved match points in the second round to beat No. 150 Alexandra Panova. "I think my confidence should be pretty high going into a final of a Grand Slam no matter who I'm facing against and whether I've had a terrible record, to say the least, against someone," Sharapova said. "It doesn't matter. I got there for a reason. I belong in that spot. I will do everything I can to get the title."
Said Sharapova: "It's been a really difficult matchup for me, but I am a competitor. If I do play her, I will go out and I will do everything I can to try to change that result around."
All the numbers point to Serena capturing her 19th major title. Aside from her decade-long dominance over Sharapova, she's a five-time champion and has never lost a final in Melbourne. This is her first final here since 2010, but with the prospect of making a charge towards the Open Era record for Slam titles in the back of her mind -- the record currently belongs to Steffi Graf with 22 majors -- Serena is already downplaying any pressure to win. "It's a new match," Serena said. "She has nothing to lose, once again. She has only things to gain."
"I've won this tournament several times. I don't have to go out there and have another title. I want it, but it's not life or death for me. I think that helps me relax. So, yeah, she absolutely has nothing to lose, and I have nothing to lose, so it will be fun."