Australian Open 2013 Issue 11: Men’s and Women’s semifinal previews

January 23, 2013 · Print This Article

by: Tom Cochrane

Rising star Sloane Stephens stunned 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the quarter-finals on Day 10, the young American taking advantage of a back injury to Williams and some generally erratic play from the veteran to claim the biggest win of her career to date.

Day 10 Recap

All appeared to be going according to the script for Williams as she took the honours in a hard-fought opening set and looked set to close out her compatriot in straight sets. But Williams, who has suffered from ankle and back problems so far this fortnight, aggravated her lower back lunging for a drop shot late in the second set and that allowed Stephens to push the match to a deciding third set.

Williams refused to retire, playing through the pain and attempting to will herself to victory. Unfortunately for the 5-time Australian Open champion, she was unable to hold serve in the tenth game of the deciding set, handing 19 year old Stephens a most unlikely victory and delivering Williams her first ever loss to a younger countrywoman.

Stephens will play world number one Victoria Azarenka for a place in Saturday night’s final, the Belarusian booking her semi-final berth with a straight sets win over Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova. The dual major champion Kuznetsova looked good early on in the match, going for her shots and establishing a 4-1 lead. Azarenka finally found her rhythm and rallied to claim the opening set 7-5.

Kuznetsova appeared to hyperextend her knee late in the first set, and with her movement impaired the Russian was unable to have much of an impact in the second set, Azarenka taking the set for the loss of just one game to return to the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.

In the men’s tournament, third seed and two-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray booked a spot in the semi-finals for the fourth consecutive year, the Scot claiming revenge for his defeat by Jeremy Chardy at last year’s event in Cincinnati.

Chardy has upset the likes of Andreas Seppi and Juan Martin Del Potro in this year’s Australian Open courtesy of his big serve and powerful forehand, but Murray returned well against the Frenchman and allowed Chardy little opportunity to tee off on his forehand wing. Overall, Murray will be well satisfied with his straight sets win and will now set himself for his massive semi-final clash with Roger Federer.

Federer moved through to the semi-finals courtesy of an electrifying 5 set win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the night session on Day 10. Each of the sets was hard-fought and could have gone either way, although Federer always had the upper hand, claiming the first and third sets.

Tsonga never went away though, the seventh seed alternating booming serves and forehands with some deft touch at the net in a display that must have encouraged his coach Roger Rasheed. In the end, a slightly more consistent Federer prevailed, but it remains to be seen how much the match against Tsonga has taken out of the tank of the Swiss maestro.

Matches of the Day – Day 11

1. Li Na vs. Maria Sharapova

Working with a new coach in Carlos Rodriguez (who by all accounts put her through a rigorous off-season training regime), Li Na has bounced back to some of her best form at Melbourne Park this year. The sixth seed was at her uncompromising best against the in-form Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals, and the Chinese star will need to replicate such form against second seed Maria Sharapova, who has been the player of the tournament to date.

Incredibly, Sharapova has dropped just 9 games in total across her 5 games in the tournament so far – a record in the Open era. There’s no doubt that the Russian is in sublime form, but I have to wonder whether she has peaked too early in the tournament. Li Na is a formidable opponent and has beaten Sharapova in the past, but the Russian holds an 8-4 career record against the sixth seed and has won the past 3 matches between the pair. In her current form, I’ll back Sharapova to return to the Australian Open final. Sharapova in 2.

2. Victoria Azarenka vs. Sloane Stephens

After capturing the biggest win of her life over her idol Serena Williams, how can Sloane Stephens possibly compose herself and refocus sufficiently in order to beat world number one Victoria Azarenka just 24 hours later? To be sure, it’s a very tall order, and I suspect Stephens will suffer something of a come-down against the defending champion.

On the other hand, Stephens enters this match having absolutely nothing to lose, as was the case against Williams. The young American has a most promising future, and is assured of entering the world’s top 20 regardless of the outcome of this match, but I think Azarenka will record a fairly comfortable victory in this clash. Azarenka in 2.

3. Novak Djokovic vs. David Ferrer

David Ferrer is one of the fittest guys on the ATP Tour but even so I predict the fourth seed will struggle to back up his heroic comeback victory over Nicolas Almagro. Djokovic has had a similarly titanic tussle in the tournament to date, pushed to the limit by Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round before snatching a 12-10 win in the fifth set.

Djokovic bounced back from that marathon reasonably well, holding off a dangerous opponent in the quarter-finals in Tomas Berdych. Having said that, Djokovic wasn’t at his sharpest against Berdych, with the Czech left lamenting a lost opportunity after that match. The biggest bright spot for the top seed is that Ferrer doesn’t cause him a whole heap of trouble, with the diminutive fourth seed unable to hurt Djokovic either off the serve or from the back of the court. Djokovic annihilated Ferrer in Abu Dhabi last month, and I think the top seed will progress to Sunday’s final without dropping a set. Djokovic in 3.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow.

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