Sunday, September 11, 2011

US OPEN 2011: Women's Final Preview

Serena Williams USA (28) v. Samantha Stosur AUS (9). 

The 2011 US Open finalists are the two women in the draw with the two best serves in women's tennis. Serena demonstrated the importance of having an effective serve in her 6-2 6-4 drubbing of the now and future World #1 Caroline Wozniacki in a routine semifinal whose result was never in doubt. Serena served 11 aces and hit another 23 winners from all over the court--and she was probably playing at about 80% of her ability. Her "B" game. Wozniacki simply had (and has) no weapons with which to bother Serena and almost no offensive intent or capacity so Serena simply bided her time, broke the 21-year-old Dane at will and was content to serve out the match. When suddenly she played a loose match game at 6-2, 5-3 she calmly broke back easily to reach the final.

Stosur's route to the final was more complicated. She played the unheralded (some would say unknown) Angelique Kerber from Germany, at 6pm on the Grandstand court (capacity 6,000) when the second men's semifinal was still going on on the main stage at Ashe which holds 23,000+. Instead of winning easily, Stosur won a relatively tight 6-3 2-6 6-2 victory. Stosur has had a pretty dramatic tournament overall, playing the longest tiebreak in Grand Slam history in the 4th round (losing it 17-15) against Maria Kirilenko and playing the longest U.S. Open women's match (in terms of games played) against Nadia Petrova in the 3rd round, eventually winning7-6(5) 6-7(5) 7-5 in 3 hours, 16 minutes.

Stosur is the probably the only other player in the draw who is not overwhelmed by Serena's physicality. She has won 2 of the 8 matches the two have played on the tour, including one at Roland Garros where she saved a match point! The Australian 27-year-old has very broad shoulders herself and probably an even better kick-serve than Serena's. However, Stosur has one distinct weakness: her backhand. She can either slice it (not very effectively) or she can hit it with two hands, often not very cleanly or powerfully. Sitting in the stands, literally 15 feet from her in the now-famous tiebreak with Kirilenko I was very surprised how softly the ball came off her racquet on the backhand side. Serena can just pin her into the backhand corner with forehands down the line and it will be a very short day. However, Stosur does possess an excellent topspin inside-out forehand so if her footwork is good she may be able to run around her backhand and hit her powerful forehand but unless she hits a winner against a very fit and fast Serena, Stosur will be off the court and unable to reach the reply. Mentally, since Stosur has been in a major final before (losing badly to Francesa Schiavone in the 2010 French Open final) she should not be overwhelmed today, but she simply does not play finals well, having won only twice in 11 attempts. Serena is playing in her 5th U.S. Open final in 12 appearances, with wins in 1999, 2002 and 2008. We all know what Serena's mental toughness is like.

In the 2011 U.S. Open I have correctly predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinals. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 2 women's semifinals and 4 of 4 women's quarterfinalsThis year I have also correctly predicted 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals, and 1 of 2 men's semifinals. My prediction for the women's final is that Serena Williams will win her 14th major title, putting her a scan 4 titles away from the all-time greats: Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (but still behind Steffi Graf's 22).

MadProfessah's pick: Serena Williams.

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