Sunday, September 09, 2012

2012 US OPEN: Women's Final Preview

Victoria Azarenka BLR (1) vs.  Serena Williams USA (4)

Here are my predictions for the women's final of the 2012 US Open. This year I have correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals3 of 4 of the men's quarterfinals2 of 2 women's semifinals and 2 of 2 men's semifinals.

How They Got Here: Women's Semifinals Review
Serena Williams USA (4) d. Sara Errani ITA (10) 6-1 6-2. 
Serena was never threatened by the diminutive Italian who has become her country's best player by dint of having one of the best seasons of any player this year. Errani has won all 6 of her WTA career singles titles this year, and reached the quarterfinals or better in  three majors, the first time she had ever progressed that far in any Grand Slam. Errani is a fighter but she has no shot that could trouble Serena, and the match was basically a mismatch, with the result never really in doubt.

Victoria Azarenka BLR (1) d. Maria Sharapova RUS (3) 3-6 6-2 6-4.
The other semifinal was completely different, one in which the result was hard to predict until the very last game, which was won by Azarenka. These two are establishing a significant rivalry, having played four times in 2012, with Vika winning three of these matches and now has a 6-4 lead in their career head-to-head.  The two have very similar playing styles with hard-hitting groundstrokes on both wins, with stronger backhands than forehands. Azarenka has significantly better movement, while Sharapova can have a significantly better serve when she gets in a groove. This match was a war of attrition, with Azarenka surviving Sharapova's firepower with her retrieving powers (the Russian ended with 44 winners and 42 unforced errors, while the Belarussian ended with 19 winners and 19 errors). Sharapova's mental toughness and competitive spirit has served her well in winning 4 majors but Azarenka is 2 years younger and could very well end her career with  an even larger numbers, depending on when Serena decides to retire.

The Women's Final: Prediction
Victoria Azarenka BLR (1) vs.  Serena Williams USA (4). Serena has an overwhelming 9-1 career head-to-head advantage against Azarenka and this really reflects the 90% probability that Serena will win this match. Despite this act, it should be a relatively close, hard-fought match, perhaps of the quality of their 3rd round match from 2011, which was won by Serena 6-1 7-6(5). This is pretty typical of their matches; Serena wins the first set relatively easily and when she gets up a break in the second she relaxes and gives Azarenka a chance to get back into the match and eventually has to gut out the second set in a close tiebreak. Serena does not feel any kind of animus towards Azarenka and will not try to blow her off the court as she did with Sharapova during her 6-0 6-1 drubbing to win the Gold Medal match at the London Olympics earlier this summer.

However, after having two bad experiences in New York in 2011 against Sam Stosur and in 2009 against Kim Clijsters, Serena has been on her best behavior this year. Serena was unable to play the 2010 tournament due to her year-long medically induced hiatus from the game, and she last won this title in 2008 (over Jelena Jankovic). It's amazing that  a few weeks before her 31st birthday Serena is the heavy favorite to win her 15th major title, pulling her within striking distance of the magic number of 18 that all-time greats Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert ended their storied careers with. If she were to get to the number then the question of Greatest of all Time would be another legitimate title to bestow upon her.

MadProfessah's Prediction: Serena.

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