Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Australian Open semi-final preview

The Australian Open has failed to deliver any truly memorable matches so far but this could all change with a sensational semi-final line-up for both the men and women.  The mens is rather predictable, but incredibly exciting at the same time with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray ready to do battle for the first time in 2012.  The womens is surprisingly strong; I say surprisingly because there it is rare that the majority of the top seeds make it this far because the womens tournament is often littered with shock exits and new breakthrough stars such as Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon and Angelique Kerber at the US Open.  There is the added spice with the Australian Open 2012 line-up that Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova are all fighting for the number one spot... and don't forget about the reigning champion Kim Clijsters who will be just as hungry as the other three women to win this Grand Slam.  Here are my predictions :-)


Kim Clijsters vs. Victoria Azarenka 
Clijsters produced a clean performance to beat Wozniacki in the last round and showed no ill effects with the worrying ankle injury that she picked up in her epic 4th round match against Li Na.  Azarenka has reached her second Grand Slam semi-final and was pushed hard in the first set of her quarter-final encounter with Agnieszka Radwanska, before racing through the gears to win in style.  Clijsters and Azarenka have played each other six times with the Belgian winning four of them.  I felt that the two matches that Azarenka won (Eastbourne 2010 and Miami 2011) were against a below-par Clijsters.  When the two have both been playing well, it has been Clijsters who has come out on top in their previous clashes.  This will be their first ever encounter in a Grand Slam and i'm going against the general consensus of the form book and sticking by my original pick for the title in Victoria Azarenka.  Azarenka will need to serve well, stay aggressive and display a positive mental attitude on court.  Whatever fitness that Clijsters brings into this match, you can take it for granted she will fight for her life in what she has declared has her last ever Australian Open.  This will no doubt be Azarenka's biggest test but she is much stronger both physically and mentally since her last match with Clijsters.  I believe this is Azarenka's time to shine...
Prediction - Azarenka to win in 3 sets

Maria Sharapova vs. Petra Kvitova 
Sharapova and Kvitova have both lost just one set on their way to this semi-final clash. Sharapova has been particularly impressive having come into the Australian Open with no matches under her belt in 2012.  She stormed through her first three rounds before battling past Sabine Lisicki in a tough 4th round match and easing past Ekaterina Makarova in the quarter-finals.  Kvitova has been up and down throughout her Australian Open campaign having to really fight hard in her second round match against Carla Suarez Navarro.  However she has looked like a seasoned pro and showed real confidence in her game to progress to this stage.  Sharapova and Kvitova have played each other three times but the match that sticks in the memory is Kvitova winning the Wimbledon final in straight sets.  I think that Kvitova will progress to her first ever Australian Open final... the Wimbledon final showed that she is not afraid of the big clashes and she can bring her A game in the most testing of situations.  I also believe that Kvitova's lefty serve will cause Sharapova some problems tomorrow.  Sharapova appears to have made improvements on her own serve, but I still question whether it can hold strong under the immense power of Kvitova's returns.  I always find it difficult to write off Sharapova... but I am ;-)
Prediction - Kvitova in 2 sets


Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray 
This will be Murrays fifth consecutive Grand Slam semi-final, but the first time he will face Djokovic at this stage of a Grand Slam.  Djokovic beat Murray in a one-sided Australian Open final in 2011 but I would not read too much into that encounter for when they face off on Friday night.  Murray has had a serene progress dropping just one set and cruising past his opponents with the number 24 seed, Kei Nishikori being his highest ranked opponent so far.  Djokovic has had a much tougher route, particularly in the last two rounds against Lleyton Hewitt and David Ferrer but has passed them with relative ease.  I am feeling in two minds about Murray; he has had the most straightforward progression to the semi-finals that any player could ask for so it almost makes me feel this is his time. On the other hand, he has not been tested at all and that is dangerous going into a match with the world number one because I believe tough matches along the way can actually be positive and play you into form.  I am going to stick by my original prediction of Djokovic to win.  There have been so many times that I have gone for Murray and he has failed to deliver the goods so surely if I go against him then he will do it? We shall have to wait and see...
Prediction - Djokovic to win in 4 sets

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal
We have been well and truly spoilt with this semi-final line-up and most will be salivating at the prospect of a semi-final match-up between two greats.  Both Federer and Nadal have been in terrific form; Federer has waltzed his way through the tournament with a most impressive victory over the huge-hitting Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarter-finals.  Nadal was pushed hard in his his last match against Tomas Berdych, but passed the challenge with flying colours and was playing his best tennis in quite some months at the end of the match.  Their last encounter was at the World Tour Finals where Federer produced one of his greatest ever performances to destroy Nadal, 6-3 6-0.  I am certain this one will be tighter, but I am going for the same winner.  I think it will be an excellent match that will stretch both players to their limits.  I normally go against Federer, but he has the distinct edge for me on the hard courts over Nadal and he will especially hungry for his first Grand Slam in three years... please be epic :-)
Prediction - Federer to win in 5 sets

I won't be able to watch any of the womens semi-finals live :-(  I hope to catch the highlights and get my first review out by tomorrow night!

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