Saturday, June 04, 2016

2016 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Serena Williams (USA) [1] vs. Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [4]
This is my prediction post for the women's final at the 2016 French Open. Last year I correctly predicted Serena Williams would defeat Lucie Safarova  to win her 20th major title. This year I have correctly predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals3 of 4 women's quarterfinals, 2 of 2 men's semifinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinals.

Below is my review of the women's semifinals and my preview of the women's final.

Serena Williams (USA) [1] d. Kiki Bertens (NED) 7-6(7) 6-4.  It wasn't pretty but Serena Williams was able to end Kiki Bertens match win streak at 12. Despite starting off the match disastrously by serving a double fault on break point in the very first game. Bertens was able to nurse her 1-break lead for most of the first set but Serena finally got serious and was able to break back to level everything at 5-all when not doing so would have resulted in losing the set. They then both held serve to reach the tiebreak. Serena was very tough on breakpoints, saving 6 of 7 breakpoints in the first set, including a set point. After jumping to a 5-2 lead in the tiebreak, Serena appeared to relax a bit and Bertens won five of the next six points to earn a second set point at 6-7. However, Bertens ended up losing the last three points of the tiebreaker to lose the first set. The Dutch player's movement was clearly hampered by a left thigh injury, which Serena exploited by deploying drop shots which Bertens several times refused to even try for. However, Serena was clearly not playing at 100% either, with her movement hampered by a hip adductor injury. The second set was pretty straight forward with Serena breaking in the 7th game to go up 4-3 and then held serve to go up 5-3. Despite having three breakpoints that were match points, Serena was unable to finish the match, but was able to serve it out relatively easily in the 10th game, winning the second set 6-4.

Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [4] d. Samantha Stosur (AUS) [21] 6-2 6-4. As I predicted, despite Stosur having won their one previous meeting (which was on clay),  Muguruza was able to come through in this match. However, even I did not expect her to blast past the 2010 French Open finalist to a 6-2 5-2 lead. It's true that she got nervous when she served for the match the first time but as a 22-year-old this is not surprising. The main point is that she  was able to serve out the match on her second try and reach her 2nd major final out of the last four she competed in. That's a pretty impressive record.

Serena Williams (USA) [1] vs.  Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [4]. This is a mouth-watering match up for the French Open final. These are clearly the two best players at this year's clay court major. For the first time, Serena is appearing in the French Open final in two consecutive years, and she has a chance to repeat as champion and win her 22nd major title. With most opponents it is irrelevant what  they do, the match is on Serena's racquet. If she plays her best (or even 75% of her best) it is usually enough to allow her to win most matches. This is not the case against Muguruza. It was just two years ago that the young Spaniard embarrassed Serena by handing her worst loss in a major of her career: a 6-2 6-2 drubbing. Serena addressed that loss in her post-match interview after her win over Bertens, saying that that loss made her a better player, because it pointed out some gaps in her game that needed to be addressed.

It's unfortunate that Serena is not at 100%, but I think that will make her mentally tougher to beat, and since she is so physically gifted, that playing at 80% she should still be able to beat Muguruza. However, unlike the last time they met (in the 2015 Wimbledon final), I don't think Serena can count on her opponent getting nervous and blowing a lead this time. The fact that Muguruza has beaten Serena on this court before means that Serena will give her the proper amount of respect that she deserves. There's no question in my mind if Serena plays her best tennis and Muguruza plays her best tennis, Serena will win. However, it is unlikely that BOTH players will be playing their best tennis at the same time.

I expect Serena to win this match up, primarily because she doesn't want to lose two  consecutive major finals (l. 2016 Australian Open to Angelique Kerber) but I am a fan of Muguruza's and will be happy to see her win a major as well. That being said, I would prefer to see Serena silence all disputes about whether she is the greatest of all time by tying Steffi Graf's record of 22 major singles titles.

MadProfessah's pick: Serena.

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