The 2012 US Open semifinals feature three reigning Grand Slam champions (Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams), one reigning Grand Slam runner-up (Sara Errani), and all the three London Olympics medalists. What more can you ask for? Our contributor Omair is back in action, giving us his take on the upcoming semifinal match-ups. First up, Victoria Azarenka vs. Maria Sharapova.
For the second time this year, Azarenka and Sharapova will square off at a Grand Slam. In the Australian Open final in January, Azarenka demolished Sharapova 6-3 6-0. This time, Sharapova will try to reach her third major final of the year, while Azarenka will work for her second.
Azarenka leads the head-to-head against Sharapova by a slim margin of 5-4. They have already met three times this year, each time in the finals, with Azarenka coming out on top in two of the meetings. However, it was Sharapova who won their last encounter at Stuttgart.
Let's see their average stats for the matches played until the 2012 US Open quarterfinals.
The top-seeded Azarenka lost one set en route to the last four, while Sharapova survived three-setters in her last two matches. If you look at the stats, not much differentiates the two, but there will be a few key factors that both will need to work on.
SERVE: Azarenka has been a better server. Sharapova still lets her serving demons haunt her at times, and if she is to make it out of this match, she will have to lock those demons somewhere. Azarenka has served 5% better than Sharapova (first serve percentage), though Sharapova has won 2% more points behind her first serve. Second serve will be the key for both players. Azarenka has served three double faults on average per match, while Sharapova has doubled Azarenka in double faults. The player who will be able to make better use of her second serve will clearly have an advantage and a greater chance to win this match.
RETURN OF SERVE: Azarenka and Sharapova are among the best returners on the Tour. Sharapova has won 2% more points than Azarenka returning first serves, while Azarenka has won 4% more points returning second serves. This is the area each player will have to be very cautious of, since this might be the turning factor.
WINNERS – UNFORCED ERRORS: Azarenka and Sharapova both have +5 winners – unforced errors differential. Both players are power hitters and both try to outhit their opponents. The player who gets on a roll early in the match will clearly be in advantage. First-strike tennis will be at its peak and whoever gets the first strike more often will be the clear favorite.
It is very tough to choose between the two. However, judging by their performance so far, Sharapova was not at her peak in her last two matches, just as Azarenka in her last match. Sharapova will be keen on having some revenge for her lopsided Australian Open final loss, while Azarenka will try to make it through to her first US Open final.
The match promises to be a great show of tennis (and shrieks of course 😉 ). If both players are on, it will be tough to make a call in anyone's favor. One is the reigning Australian Open champion, the other is the reigning French Open champion. One is Olympic bronze medalist, while the other one is Olympic silver medalist. One is current world No.1 and the other is former world No.1 (current world No.3). Most importantly, both are fighters who never give up!
I will go with Azarenka in three (just a gut feeling), despite knowing the fact that Sharapova is yet to lose a three-set match this year. Although, I would love to see Sharapova win and make it to the final, I guess Azarenka's fire-power will be more than what Sharapova can handle at the moment, given her performance in her last two matches, but we also know that every day is a new day.
My pick: Victoria Azarenka in three sets. Who's your pick?
Azarenka with her quarterfinal win over Sam Stosur ensured that she will retain the top spot after the US Open, while Sharapova with her quarterfinal win over Marion Bartoli will move to No.2 in the rankings. (photos: © Neal Trousdale)