|Victoria Azarenka (BLR)  vs. Serena Williams (USA) |
How They Got Here: Women's Semifinals Preview
Serena Williams (USA)  d. Na Li (CHN) , 6-0 6-3. This was expected to be one of the best matches of the tournament, or at least the toughest test that Serena would face before reaching the final. Li Na has been one of the Top 4 hard court players on tour for the last 3 years, reaching 2 Australian Open finals in that period (losing in 3 sets in 2011 to Kim Clijsters and in 2013 to Azarenka). She would not be intimidated by Serena's powerful groundstrokes and could match her firepower. However, what Li Na was not prepared for was the intense focus and crisp footwork displayed by Serena and instead of a repeat of the two close sets they played in Cincinnati, the result was two blowout sets. The second set was actually closer than it looks from the score. Serena had multiple match points at 2-5 but was unable to finish off her opponent. She also had a slight scare while serving for the match at 5-3 but she was able to do it, despite getting emotional at the end.
Victoria Azarenka (BLR)  d. Flavia Pennetta (ITA), 6-4 6-2. This was one of the ugliest grand slam semifinals in recent history. There were 13 service breaks in the 18 games played. The serving was atrocious by both players, with Azarenka having her serve broken a shocking five times only to be outdone by Pennetta losing her serve eight times (she held serve once). Both players' groundstrokes were fine and they had some excellent rallies but ultimately both players won more points due to errors than winners. Regardless, Azarenka displayed her mental toughness and was able to outlast Pennetta through the rocky first set when neither player was playing well. Then in the second set she was able to raise her game (slightly) while Pennetta's lowered as she started to realize she was not going to win and began to panic.
Who Will Win?: Women's Final Preview
Unsurprisingly, this year's final is a repeat of last year's final, which was won by Serena. Azarenka and Williams are clearly two of the best hard court players on the WTA tour. Azarenka has the best record on hard courts this year (31-1 to ) and has defeated Williams on two important occasions this year, in the finals of Doha and Cincinnati , respectively: 7-6(6), 2-6, 6-3 and 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(6). Despite the fact that Serena has won 12 of 15 meetings overall, Azarenka is clearly getting closer and closer to Serena and even though she lost last year's final (despite serving for the match 5-3 in the third set!) she now knows that she does have the game to beat her. In fact, some experienced tennis experts think that Azarenka will win this match, despite the fact that Serena is 16-4 in major finals and 6-0 in 3-set major finals.
I think that Serena really wants this title and is playing well enough to win it. If the match does remain close, I think that Azarenka will pull it out. (For example, if the match goes to a third set tiebreaker the world #2 will win). However, I find it very unlikely the match is going to be that close. Azarenka is simply not serving well enough to stay with the way that Serena is playing now and I believe that at least one of the sets will be a blow out (one break or two-break lead) while the other will be much closer. Azarenka has 31 double faults this tournaments (compared to Serena's 10) and only 10 aces compared to Serena's 25 aces. Serena's serve has been broken twice in her last three matches while Azarenka has been broken 15 times during the same number of rounds. It is possible that Serena might lose a set, but as long as she stays ahead or even on serve I think she will win her 17th major title.