Friday, March 29, 2013

Sharapova and the curse of Miami

On Saturday, for the fifth time in her career, Maria Sharapova will play in the final of the Sony Open. She has never won the tournament. In 2005, Sharapova lost to Kim Clijsters in the final. In 2006, after winning Indian Wells, she lost the Miami final to Svetlana Kuznetsova. In 2011, it was Victoria Azarenka who made Sharapova a runner-up, and in 2012, the Russian was beaten by Agnieszka Radwanska.

Now the 3rd seed faces five-time Miami champion and world number 1 Serena Williams, whom she has not defeated since 2004. Williams has won 11 of their 13 contests. So in order to break the Miami curse, Sharapova has to break the Serena curse, and that will take some doing.

Sharapova, who handily beat a shadow-of-her-old-self Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals yesterday, has now won 11 straight matches, without dropping a set.

In the other semifinal, Williams defeated defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 6-3. The television commentators said repeatedly that Radwanska's having to hit so many second serves did her in (in addition to, of course, Williams' power). But I disagree with that assessment. Radwanska has worked hard in the last year or so to have a more-than-decent first serve, and she has used it to her advantage over and over. But when she plays Williams, that first serve simply goes away. Against the world number 1, Radwanska could get her first serve in every time, and it wouldn't  make that much difference. Something about seeing Williams across the net causes her to "forget" everything she learned about how to hit a successful first serve.

The semifinal draw is set in doubles. Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci will play wild cards Lisa Raymond and Laura Robson, and 3rd seeds Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik will play wild cards Svetlana Kuznetsova and Flavia Pennetta.

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