Four women, one prize!

Semi-final day is upon us!  Three of the top four seeds have advanced through for a chance to play off in a Grand Slam final and maybe even etch their name in tennis history.

For the top three seeds in the draw, (1) Victoria Azarenka, (3) Maria Sharapova and (4) Serena Williams, they have all tasted Grand Slam success this year.  Azarenka won her first Grand Slam in Australia, Maria Sharapova completed her Career ‘Slam’ at Roland Garros, and Williams added a fifth Wimbledon to her list of astonishing accomplishments.  Sara Errani, the number ten seed, has become the first Italian women to make a US Open semi-final in the Open era.  The 2012 French Open finalist has had a breakout season, also making the quarter-finals at the Australian Open.

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2011 US Open Champion, Sam Stosur (Image courtesy of ABC Australia)

World number one Victoria Azarenka will take on Maria Sharapova in a replay of this year’s Australian Open final.  Patrons will need to ensure that they have their ear plugs readily available as this ‘Clash of the Divas’ might actually enforce the implementation of a decibel reader.  These two very talented athletes have contested some memorable battles with the Belarusian leading their head to head 5 – 4.  The first encounter came in the form of a second round match at the 2007 Kremlin Cup, with Azarenka defeating Sharapova in straight sets.

Sharapova has used her experience to wrestle back some control however, Azarenka has been able to tidy up her game plan to become a damaging player.  Sharapova has recently completed her Career Slam by claiming the French Open title in impressive fashion.  The 25 year old Russian has been able to develop a rare quality of ensuring every point is played with intensity and consistency.  From the first to the last, Sharapova performs a ritual between every point of heading towards the back of the court, staring intently at her racquet, adjusting her strings and giving a subtle fist pump.  It might seem like a tedious and unnecessary practice, but if you are able to treat every point in the same manner then it attempts to eradicate the anxiety developed during challenging situations.

Azarenka has made it very clear to punish short balls and move her opponent around the court by any means necessary.  Strong hitting and pin point accuracy have proven in the past to trouble the world number one.  However, if players are unable to keep it up for an extended period of time then they will find themselves in serious trouble.  The placement of Azarenka’s shot making is quite extraordinary, especially the defensive half volley, in which she has been able produce some outstanding angles in previous matches.

This match has all the makings of an incredible encounter between two glamour girls of the women’s circuit.  If there are windy conditions on the day then the Sharapova high ball toss will provide an unfortunate disadvantage which may unsettle the 2006 former champion.  Azarenka seems more at home on the hard court where the unpredictability of the ball bounce is not usually apparent, unlike clay and grass surfaces.  Both women have come from tight matches in the previous round which discount any physical advantage that may have been evident.  Organisers and supporters will be hoping for a three setter and it will give the victor the chance to play off for a second Grand Slam for 2012.

Serena Williams is in devastating form.  Coming off a fifth Wimbledon victory and an Olympic Gold medal in singles, Williams has shown just how much of a champion she is.  She clearly has the best serve in the women’s game at the moment and it has given her the opportunity to shorten points and limit the amount of moving she needs to do.  With the impeccable arrangement her service game provides, Williams has destroyed her opponents and embarrassed the world’s best in numerous matches this year.  Williams will need her serving on display as it is vital to her game plan.  On return games she is able to use her groundstrokes to overpower the opposition and move forward to the net.  Her doubles experience allows for her to use effective volleys and showcase her net play.

Sara Errani appears to be much like the Spanish ‘road-runner’ David Ferrer.  She is seriously athletic and will be chasing down every ball.  This strategy has the potential to unnerve the opposition as it would force them to play an extra point, and in pressure situations that can prove to be a difficult prospect.  Errani does not have an imposing weapon like the Williams serve, but her defensive aspect has the potential to be the fundamental solution to defeating Williams.  The slice could be used to force Williams to bend lower than she would prefer to adequately connect with the ball.  By denying the American pace and predictable ball movement this may allow Errani to stay in the match longer than expected and construct points to negate Williams’ dominance.  However, before that can happen Errani must get the Williams serve into play and guarantee her own serve will be effective enough.

Who will advance?

Victoria Azarenka, because of the previous meeting earlier this year in Australia.  If Azarenka can take her opportunities and not give away cheap points then the Belarusian looks set to advance to her first US Open final.

Serena Williams, because Errani might be overwhelmed by the home ground advantage that Williams commands.  Williams’ serve is the key.  If she serves well then Errani will already start points on the back foot which is obviously not ideal.

Regardless, the semi-finals look set to produce great tennis that all tennis lovers are excited about.  Let’s hope the American weather will be kind.

Sean  Munaweera

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