Australian Open 2013: Women’s final preview

January 25, 2013 · Print This Article

by: Tom Cochrane

Andy Murray will face world number one Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s men’s final after outlasting 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in an absorbing 5-set tussle on Day 12. In the women’s tournament, world number one Victoria Azarenka and sixth seed Li Na go head-to-head for the women’s championship in tonight’s final.

Day 12 Recap

A capacity crowd at Rod Laver Arena was treated to another thrilling encounter between two members of the Big Four in the men’s game, as Murray came out all guns blazing against the Swiss great in the opening set. A break point opportunity to Murray in the opening game proved to be a sign of what was to come, with the Scot firing down 5 aces to Federer’s none as the third-seeded Murray claimed the opening set.

The second set was a tight affair, with no breaks of serve leading in to the tiebreaker. Federer took the early lead in the tiebreaker, only for Murray to rally and level the breaker at 5-all. From there Federer steadied to level the encounter at a set apiece before Murray again made the front-running in the third set, eventually taking a 2 sets to 1 lead over the second seed.

Federer looked to have the ascendency in the fourth set as he went up a break before the Scot broke back and broke again to put himself in a position to serve for the match. Undeterred, Federer broke back to force the tiebreaker, which he claimed to send the match to a decider. Unflustered by losing the fourth set, Murray exhibited his exemplary fitness and stamina, taking the fifth set 6-2 to set up a 2011 Australian Open final rematch against the top seed Novak Djokovic.

Match of the Day – Day 13

Li Na vs. Victoria Azarenka

Top seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka enters tonight’s women’s final as the heavy favourite, having seen her main rivals Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova get bundled out of the tournament. The Belarusian faces a very tough opponent in Li Na however, and the world number one must also respond to a couple of issues that came out of her semi-final victory over Sloane Stephens.

The first of those issues relates to Azarenka’s physical shape, with the top seed apparently battling ankle and knee ailments. The second issue is of a mental nature, with Azarenka being the subject of much controversy for taking a 10 minute break at a critical stage of the second set against Stephens, allegedly to combat “breathing difficulties”. Many observers have hit out at Azarenka for what they consider to be an act of gamesmanship, although Stephens herself shied away from making any such accusations.

Azarenka will need to block out such noise if she is to claim her second career Grand Slam, and she will also need to adopt a far more aggressive and positive mindset in the final than what she showed in the latter stages of the semi-final. Whether it was gamesmanship or a legitimate injury break, the fact remains that Azarenka tightened up significantly as the young American Stephens started to find her range in the second set.

Li Na was in stellar form against Sharapova in her semi-final, and the partnership with Carlos Rodriguez, her coach since August last year, appears to already being paying dividends for the sixth seed. Having won the 2011 French Open (becoming, in the process, the first ever Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title) and made the 2011 final at Melbourne Park, Li Na won’t be overwhelmed by the occasion and, just as importantly, won’t feel the immense pressure to win a major that preceded her previous major final appearances. Li Na also seemed to become heavily burdened with off-court distractions after winning that historic first major, and her form suffered as a result, but the sixth seed now appears fitter and more confident, and critically, seems to be enjoying her tennis once more.

Also in Li Na’s favour is the fact that Azarenka, like Sharapova, really only knows one style of game, which is to hit hard from the back of the court. In other words, there’s not really a “Plan B” for the top seed. The Chinese star likes a fast ball and generally plays better against the power hitters than she does in matches where she has to generate all of her own pace.

The best player in the world for the first half of 2012, Azarenka was eclipsed by Serena Williams in the second half of last year, but the Belarusian was merely points away from capturing the title at Flushing Meadows and, along with Williams, stands head and shoulders above the rest of the players on the WTA at her best.

To my mind, this final will come down to whether Azarenka can produce her best tennis when it really counts. Not much separates the pair – both have decent serves, move well and can generate tremendous power off both wings, although Azarenka has more variety and consistency off the forehand side. I’ll back Azarenka to shrug off the controversy over her semi-final match to pull through in a hard-fought final. Azarenka in 3.

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

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