Serena Williams was to discover comfort in the familiar yesterday. She also found a place in the final of the Sony Open, a 15th consecutive victory over Maria Sharapova leaving the American awaiting one of either Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova or China's Li Na in Miami.
The form that Williams has shown against Sharapova was such that her place in the final was almost taken for granted. She would be made to work hard for it, though, with her Russian opponent making a bright start to their semi-final match to take a 4-1 lead in the first set.
Williams rallied to win the next five games to clinch the set and then battled through a tense second to win 6-3 and progress to the final. It was a victory delivered by a hardy resolve but also a series of thundering ground strokes which would overpower Sharapova belatedly on the Miami courts.
"It wasn't easy," said Williams, who is now through to her ninth career final at the Sony Open. "Maria plays really well and she's done really well here, so I just decided I had to do a little better, stay focused and make more shots."
Such a simple formula would evade Roger Federer, though, as the 17-time grand slam winner fell to a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 defeat in a quarter-final with Kei Nishikori. The Japanese, who is ranked No.21 at the tournament, had created an upset against fourth-seed David Ferrer during a three-hour long match and showed impressive energy on centre court on Wednesday to blunt Federer.
Nishikori had managed the feat before and has now beaten the Swiss in two of their three meetings. "To beat Roger, and it's second time to beat him . . . I thought I really played well, especially in the third set," said Nishikori. "I was hitting both deep and striking well. Everything was going well. There was couple of tough moments, but I was fighting through and happy to win today."
Federer had arrived in Florida after a relatively successful campaign at Indian Wells, carrying on his momentum by cruising into the last eight without dropping a set. He was able to stave off two match points on Wednesday too, only to fall to a third as Nishikori got his scalp.
"I just couldn't find my rhythm on the serve," said Federer. "It was surprising, especially after how well I have served this week. It is a little frustrating. He was more consistent in the second and third so all credit to him."