Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Down to four

There are only four women standing at the Austrlian Open, and a case can be made for each of them to claim the championship. That means that we are likely to see two really good semifinal matches today.

In the first match scheduled for Rod Laver Arena, defending champion Kim Clijsters takes on 3rd seed Victoria Azarenka. Clijsters doesn't seem to be bothered by her sprained ankle, and Azarenka--so far--doesn't seem to be bothered by any injuries or illnesses (though she had some kind of "moment" while practicing the other day).

This is a real Veteran vs. Upstart contest. Clijsters has had two WTA careers and won four majors; Azarenka has never won a major, but has suddenly reached two semifinals in a row. Both are big hitters. Clijsters is a superb mover with an outstanding transition game. Clijsters can also be error-prone, however, and Azarenka can be competitive by keeping her game clean. She has done a great job so far in Melbourne, and certainly has a chance to reach the final. The crowd, of course, will be cheering for Aussie Kim.

There's a bit more drama attached to the second match. Petra Kvitova will play Maria Sharapova, whom she beat in the 2011 Wimbledon final. Sharapova's service problems have decreased significantly in this tournament, though they did appear for a little while. With her serve intact, she can take advantage of a shaky Kvitova. Only Kvitova may not be so shaky for this match. So far, though, the 2nd seed has "gone off" several times, only to pull herself together for the big points. They're both great servers (when Sharapova's serve is working) and great returners. Kvitova has also shown herself to be skillful at the net.

No matter who wins the 2012 Australian Open, the win will be special. For Clijsters, it's her last chance to win in Melbourne and she would also be defending her title from 2011. Additionally, a victory would mean that she would retire with a minimum of five major singles titles. For Azarenka, a victory would place her in the elite group of women who have won majors, and annouce her as the latest really big star on the tour.

If Kvitova wins the Australian Open, she becomes an even bigger threat than she is now--a two-time major winner on an impressive victory roll, and with a gain in confidence. And if the trophy goes to Sharapova, then she will finally be all the way "back" and ready to contend for more major titles.

Even though Clijsters is retiring some time this year (maybe before the end of 2012?), a win for Sharapova seems like it would be the most emotionally charged. The Russian star hasn't won a major since she won the Australian Open in 2008, and she has struggled through a misdiagnosis, shoulder surgery, two rehabs, a drop in confidence, and major problems with her serve.

The semifinal draw "looks good" on paper. The defending champion is playing, along with seeds 2, 3 and 4. Missing, of course, are five-time champion Serena Williams and top seed Caroline Wozniacki. It's also worth noting that the 2011 finalist, Li Na, is also missing from the semifinals.

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