Originally written on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 9/7/12

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23: Victoria Azarenka of Belaru plays a forehand in her third round match against Tathiana Garbin of Italy during day six of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Coming into this tournament, Victoria Azarenka and Sam Stosur looked like the only two players who could possible come close to Serena with the level she’s playing at. Stosur showed how to beat Serena last year and Azarenka has the power game to almost compete from the baseline. Really, though, Serena is just a whole level above the field write now. I’m tempted to make Azarenka’s key to victory be “pray Serena doesn’t play well” and Serena’s to be “just be herself”. Because that’s really what this match will be. But we can break things down a little farther.

Azarenka’s Keys to Victory:

1. Force Serena off her game- Aside from praying that Serena doesn’t play well, there are some things that Azarenka can do on the court to try and keep this match close. Serena doesn’t really have a weak shot from the baseline, but her forehand is more powerful than her backhand. If Azarenka can keep her shots deep and heavy and towards Serena’s backhand wing, maybe she can keep Serena from a position in which she can take control of the points. Also, if Azarenka can just come out firing and hit some bombs early, maybe she can throw Serena off her rhythm a little.

2. Attack the second serve- If Serena has anything close to a weakness, it’s her second serve. Stosur exploited that fully when she beat Serena in the US Open final last year. By the end of the match, it felt like every Serena second serve was met with a forehand return winner. Azarenka needs to do the same. She needs to make Serena scared to hit her absolute bombs on her first serve. If Serena knows that every second serve will be met with a return winner, she will have to dial back the first serve to guarantee getting it in.

3. Attack the short balls- This is basically to use Serena’s own game against her before Serena gets a chance to do it. Anything that Azarenka leaves even mildly short will be crushed and Serena will have an advantage in the point that she will never relinquish. Azarenka cannot allow that to happen. She needs to keep everything deep. But, more importantly, she has to take anything that Serena leaves even a little short and attempt to crush it for a winner (or close to it). She will not have a way to control points otherwise and once Serena gains control of the points, she will not give it up.

Serena’s Keys to Victory:

1. Stay confident. We have seen the difference between a Serena that is confident and one that is unsure of herself. The timid Serena lost in the first round of the French Open to Virginie Razzano. The confident Serena has lost only one match since, a match against Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati that Serena might not have wanted to win anyway. She had her hard court warmup and then needed to rest before the US Open. As long as she trusts herself and can put all of her considerable power into her shots, no one is beating her.

2. Keep on serving big- Serena’s serve this tournament has been, in a word, awesome. It has been precise, massive, and unreturnable. If Serena can keep serving absolute bombs that no one on tour right now can return, she is going to be nearly impossible to break. Azarenka has a good return, but Serena’s serve has just been absolutely untouchable this tournament. She should be able to hold serve comfortably throughout the match if she can serve the same way she has the past two weeks.

3. Make strong returns- Azarenka has a big serve and ground game and might be able to hold a lot if Serena can’t attack off the serve. If Serena can only put the serves back in play then Azarenka might be able to follow up with winners and hold her serve. But that shouldn’t be a problem. Serena needs to be able to keep her returns deep and angled and take immediate control of the point. If she can do that, there is nothing that will stop this scoreline from being as lopsided as any of Serena’s other matched.

Prediction: Azarenka is a great player and a great competitor, but she just doesn’t have anything that can come close to Serena’s level right now. Serena in 2 easy sets.

To see my men’s semifinals preview, please click here.


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