For the first time since 2004, the Australian Open women’s singles final will be contested by the top two seeds, after Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova collected straight sets wins on Day 11 to set up a showdown in Saturday night’s final. Meanwhile, Andy Murray awaits the winner of today’s semi-final clash between Djokovic and Wawrinka after the Scot downed Tomas Berdych in 4 sets to reach his fourth Australian Open final.
Day 11 Recap
Maria Sharapova went into her semi-final against countrywoman Ekaterina Makarova having won all 5 of the pair’s previous clashes. Initially, things didn’t look great for Sharapova as she went down an early break in the first set, only to reel off 6 consecutive games to turn the match on its head. Despite having played in the semi-finals of the US Open in New York last year, Makarova looked edgy on the big stage, with her normally reliable forehand not able to cause the same damage it had done in the opening 5 rounds of the tournament. In windy conditions, Sharapova produced a strong serving performance and never gave her opponent a chance to come back into the match, wrapping it up 6-3 6-2 and giving herself a chance to claim a sixth Grand Slam title and second Australian Open on Saturday night.
Sharapova will need to overcome top seed and world number one Serena Williams if the Russian is to hold aloft the trophy, after the American overcame compatriot Madison Keys in the second semi-final. If teenager Keys, playing in her first Grand Slam semi-final, was overwhelmed by the occasion or affected by a lingering left adductor injury, she didn’t let it show, breaking the Williams serve early in the first set to underline her intent. Williams broke back in the sixth game and gradually gained more control via her serve, taking the first set in a tiebreaker and then jumping all over the Keys second serve early in the second set to set up a commanding 5-1 lead. Keys managed to save an incredible 8 match points, but Williams remained unflustered, converting match point number 9 to move into her sixth Australian Open final with a 7-6(5) 6-2 win.
The night session on Day 11 featured the first men’s semi-final, and the first set saw the contest live up to its much-hyped billing. After 76 minutes of twists and turns, breaks of serve, arguments over the balls, some unsavoury taunts from Murray’s fiancee Kim Sears and more, it was Berdych who took the lead, recovering from a 3-0 deficit in the tiebreaker to claim it 8 points to 6. The loss of the first set catapulted Murray into action, the Scot becoming more offensive, moving inside the baseline and pushing Berdych more around the court. A near-perfect second set saw Murray bagel Berdych, the two-time major winner losing just 10 points for the set, to even the match at a set apiece.
Berdych appeared to have regained his focus at the start of the third set, but a lapse in concentration in the sixth game proved costly for the former Wimbledon finalist. Up 40-0, Berdych wound up losing his serve, handing Murray the break, and the Scot maintained his advantage to close out the set, 6-3. It was a similar story in the fourth set, with Murray rock-solid on the key points, saving break points in the sixth game and then taking his chances when Berdych tightened up at 5-all. A poor service game by the Czech gave Murray the chance to serve for the match and Murray made no mistake, sealing the win with his fifteenth ace in just under 4 hours. After losing 3 finals at Melbourne Park, Murray will be looking to finally lift the trophy on Sunday against the winner of today’s semi-final between Djokovic and Wawrinka.
Match of the Day – Day 12
Novak Djokovic vs. Stanislas Wawrinka
What more can be said about this pair and their matches at Melbourne Park? For the third consecutive year, world number one Novak Djokovic will take on defending Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the first Grand Slam of the year. The past 2 years have seen the pair play out exhilarating contests in Melbourne, with Djokovic overcoming Wawrinka in 5 sets in 2013, and Wawrinka turning the tables on the world number one in another 5-setter last year en route to the title.
Djokovic holds a commanding lead in career head-to-head meetings, the top seed having collected 16 wins in the 19 matches played to date. However, Melbourne Park brings out the best in Wawrinka and, having finally beaten Djokovic in a major in Melbourne last year, has the requisite confidence and self-belief going into this clash. Wawrinka’s game is well-suited to the bouncy hard-courts at Melbourne Park, with the ball mostly sitting in Wawrinka’s preferred hitting zone and the courts quick enough for him to get due reward for his shotmaking abilities. The fourth seed produced his best performance of the year to date in dismissing the dangerous Kei Nishikori in straight sets in the quarter-finals and, just as he did against the Japanese star, Wawrinka will need to serve extremely well and go all out on his backhand side if he is to take down Djokovic.
Djokovic has been very steady in the tournament so far, and he was at his clinical best in dismantling Milos Raonic’s big serve in the quarter-finals. I think the Serb will still be kicking himself for not collecting more Grand Slam titles last year, and he will be hell-bent on recapturing the Australian Open trophy in order to provide himself with an ideal foundation for the 2015 season and to reassert his position as the world’s best. Djokovic is the better mover around the court and more consistent from the baseline, and to my mind is also fitter if the match goes deep into a decider. Wawrinka has the weapons to beat Djokovic but it’s essentially a case of everything needing to go right for the Swiss star if he is to progress through to another final. Look for Wawrinka to challenge strongly for the first 2 and a half sets, but for Djokovic to absorb the pressure and pull away in the third and fourth sets. Djokovic in 4.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.