Can Venus Williams beat Maria Sharapova?

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Tonight, Venus Williams faces the biggest test of her comeback to tennis when she faces a red-hot World No. 2 Maria Sharapova in the third round of the Australian Open.

Venus Williams endured a wretched 2012, dropping to a low of World No. 134 in the rankings and failing to get past the second round of any of the Grand Slams. This included a first round loss at Wimbledon to Elena Vesnina.

This was all put down to a mystery disease, later diagnosed as Sjogren’s Syndrome, which she has suffered since the 2011 US Open.

But winning a title in Luxembourg and climbing back into the World’s Top 25 has given hope to fans of the elder Williams sister. Perhaps she can draw inspiration from Serena Williams, who suffered her own misfortune 12 months before Venus’ illness led to her slide down the rankings.

Serena Williams dropped to World No. 175 after Wimbledon in 2011, when she lost in the fourth round to Marion Bartoli. But she enjoyed a very strong US Open series which culminated in reaching the final of the US Open, which she lost to Samantha Stosur.

She had defeated top four players Victoria Azarenka and then-World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki en route.

Now, Venus Williams is in a similar position to emulate that run, though she has the No. 2 seed Sharapova to deal with.

Venus has won three of their seven matches, but two of them were at the Grand Slams – at Wimbledon in 2005 and 2007. Maria Sharapova, however, won their most recent meeting in Rome last year.

Her start to 2013 has been very impressive, currently undefeated in five matches this year. She showed good form at the Hopman Cup but we couldn’t get to see her in the final of that tournament after John Isner’s injury gave way.

Then she won her first match at the Australian Open very easily, winning 6-1, 6-0 without having to raise a sweat.

I believe Venus Williams can win tonight. She can draw inspiration from Serena Williams’ comeback and cause an upset by knocking off the 2008 champion and two-time runner-up Maria Sharapova. If she can do that, she can go a long way towards reaching the final in Melbourne, something she hasn’t done in a decade.

Interestingly, if she were to reach the final, it could be against her younger sister, Serena, and it would come on the 10-year anniversary of the completion of the first “Serena Slam” – when the current World No. 3 completed a Career Grand Slam at just 20 years of age.

Can Venus Williams beat Maria Sharapova tonight, let alone win a game against her, something both of Sharapova’s first two opponents couldn’t do?

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