Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2013 AUS OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview

The women's semifinals are now set at the 2013 Australian Open. Last year, I predicted 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. This year I  correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals.

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] vs Serena Williams (USA) [3] Sloane Stephens (USA) [29]. For only the second time since 2001, Serena Williams will not be playing in the finals of the Australian Open during an odd-numbered year. The 31-year-old 5-time Australian Open champion (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010) lost to the 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens playing in her very first major quarterfinal in a tight, dramatic 3-set match 3-6 7-5 6-4.

Serena was definitely nowhere near her best form during this encounter since she had rolled her ankle in the first round of the tournament and she had also played a lot of tennis the day before losing a long 3-set match in the women's doubles quarterfinals with her sister Venus. That being said, Stephens kept her cool for its entirety while playing the most important match of her young career, against one of her idols and heroes. (It helped that she had lost a tight 4-6 4-6 match against Serena at the Brisbane warm-up tournament just a few weeks before.) . On the other side of the net, Serena got a code violation for demolishing her racket after she lost the second set despite starting it with a comfortable early break and a 2-0 lead. According to her press conference afterwards, Serena mentioned that she had actually hurt her back a few days earlier and during a point in the 2nd set it went out completely. It was the first time in her career that Serena had ever lost to an American player younger than she is and Sloane became the first American teenager to reach a major semifinal since Serena did it in the semifinals of the 2001 US Open. Stephens will face Azarenka, the current world #1 for the very first time. That the two have never met before is another indication of just how rapid Stephens ascent has been. In her quarterfinal, Azarenka reached her 5th career major semifinal by eking out a tough first set against Svetlana Kuznetsova despite a handful of service breaks and then running away with the second set to win 7-5 6-1. Azarenka is the current defending champion at this tournament and should be able to use her confidence and experience to get past the fast-rising American star. If Sloane can match Serena's power she can definitely match Azarenka's, and she has even more power (is most definitely a better mover) than the young American Jamie Hampton who may have been on the way to beating Azarenka in the 3rd round before her body failed her. It is not within the possibility that Stephens could reach her first grand slam final by winning this match, although the odds are heavily stacked against that happening. But it looks like it is simply only a matter of when, not if, the 19-year-old will be competing for major titles. Mad Professah's Pick: Azarenka in 2 sets.
Na Li (CHN) [6] vs Maria Sharapova (RUS) [2].  Sharapova has been demolishing her competition. She has not lost a single set, in fact she hasn't even had a set point against her, since no one has even been closer than 3-all in any of the 10 sets the Russian has played this tournament. She has won half of these 10 sets with the score 6-0 and another two 6-1.
She has lost a record nine games in 10 sets. Then again, she has had an absolutely dream of a draw, with her only brief test coming in the third round against Venus Williams and the only other seeded player she faced was #19 seed Ekaterina Makarova whom she had never lost to before. Her opponent will be Li Na in the semifinals who ended the unbeaten run of Agnieska Radwanska in two close sets. Li and Sharapova met three times in 2012 and Sharapova won all 3 times. They played one of the best matches of the year in the finals of Rome but the other two matches were on hard court and were not even close. However, the two have not met on court since Li started being coached by 7-time major champion Justine Henin's former coach Carlos Rodrigues who is trying to make the hard-hitting Chinese player more aggressive and not so reliant on her superior movement. Li's main problem is her (lack of) consistency which leads to mental anguish on the court (sort of similar to Andy Murray). I think it's still too early to see the full results of the new coaching relationship but I believe Li will have a very good year, and will compete very well against Sharapova, but not enough to win, Mad Professah's pick: Sharapova in 3 sets.

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