04 July, 2012

2012 Wimbledon Ladies Semifinal Previews & Predictions

After a week and a half of tennis, we're at the business end of this year's Wimbledon.  In the ladies' event, AKA the Run for the Rosewater, our four semifinalists are Victoria Azarenka, Angelique Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska and Serena Williams.  Two of these players have been World No. 1, hoisted major tournament trophies and played Wimbledon semifinals before.  Naturally, those two will play each other in the semifinals. The other two are (relatively) new entrants to the highest echelon of women's tennis, first time Wimbledon semifinalists and will vie against each other for their career-defining first major final.  How do we expect these ladies' semifinals to pan out?  Read on tennis lovers:

(3) A. Radwanska v. (8) A. Kerber

Two of the WTA's most consistent performers of late square off in this women's semifinal with Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska and Germany's Angelique Kerber playing for a spot in what would be either's first major final.  Their head-to-head is dead even at 2-all and they've yet to face each other on grass.

Before yesterday, Radwanska had played five major quarterfinals (including two at Wimbledon), she lost all five.  With the exception of a loss to Daniela Hantuchova in her first major quarterfinal (Australian Open 2008), every time since she's been finished off by one of the purveyors of "big babe tennis," (Clijsters, S. Williams, V. Williams, Azarenka) the power-based game that's diametrically opposed to Radwanska's crafty, all-court stylings.  The Pole fought through an up-and-down match with the solid Russian, Maria Kirilenko, yesterday to reach the semis after ousting Camila Giorgi, Heather Watson, Elena Vesnina and Magdalena Rybarikova previously.  In other words, an in-form Kerber is going to be a major step up in quality level from Radwanska's foes to date.

The 24 year old German Angelique Kerber is playing the best tennis of her life right now.  She opened this year ranked World No. 32 and came into Wimbledon as the 8th ranked player in the world and with two early season titles under her belt (plus a runner up finish in the Eastborne warmup for good measure).  The big-hitting lefty is playing her first match this deep in a major.  She managed to make her way past compatriot Sabine Lisicki in an erratic quarterfinal after blasting through the soon-to-be retired again Kim Clijsters.  Earlier in the tourney, Kerber faced American prospect Christina McHale, Ekaterina Makarova and Lucie Hradecka.

This match will hinge on two elements: nerves and power.  Kerber has won her way through this Wimbledon with her big ground game.  In her 6-1, 6-1 demolition of Clijsters, Kerber smacked 19 winners to just 5 unforced errors.  The troublesome part of Kerber's quarterfinal match, the win over Lisicki, was the end of the second set tiebreak, where Lisicki, down two matchpoints and almost snuck the match away from Kerber.  That's where Kerber will have to be on guard against Radwanska.  The Polish woman is nothing if not consistent.  Radwanska doesn't have the power to outhit her opponent, but if Kerber wavers, there will be Aga to pay.  A smart mover, who plays the angles, slices and lobs for all they're worth, Radwanska will look to frustrate Kerber and reach her fourth final this year, following up titles in Dubai, Miami and Brussels.

Winner: Radwanska 

(2) V. Azarenka v. (6) S. Williams

The consensus "better" match on paper, two of the best players and biggest names in the game today face off in the other semifinal.  Victoria Azarenka, the Bella Belarussian versus Serena Williams of the Sisters Sledgehammer for a place in the Wimbledon final.  Their head-to-head is mildly surprising, eight matches played, seven won by Serena.  One note, these matches aren't all deep archival material either, since Serena's comeback from the pulmonary embolism last summer, she's 3-0 against her fellow former World No. 1.  Only once has Azarenka even claimed a set versus Serena.

Azarenka came into Wimbledon knee-deep in a funk.  After a stellar 26-0 start to her 2012, claiming the Australian Open among other titles, she played a solid claycourt campaign.  That said, she ultimately lost the Stuttgart final to Sharapova, the Madrid final to Serena and the serenity that's guided her to World No. 1 (not to mention the No. 1 ranking itself) in a listless fourth round Roland Garros loss to Dominika Cibulkova.  She's taken time off, re-centered and has yet to drop a set at this year's Championships.  She was tested by a better-than-her-ranking Tamira Paszek in the quarterfinals, but otherwise largely breezed past Irina Falconi, Romina Oprandi, Jana Cepelova and another ex World No. 1 Ana Ivanovic this fortnight.

For her part, very little has come easy to Serena Williams since she arrived in London.  Entering Wimbledon on the back of a shock loss in the first round of Roland Garros (in both singles and mixed doubles), she had more than enough game to bamboozle Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Melinda Czink in the first two rounds, but then she struggled versus Jie Zheng  (9-7 in the third) and Yaroslava Shvedova (7-5 in the third). Serena raised her level noticeably and necessarily to move past defending champion Petra Kvitova in two tight sets yesterday.

Either woman is capable of winning this match if they're playing their best tennis.  The big question mark here is which Serena Williams comes to Centre Court tomorrow.  Is it the world-beating champion that demolished Azarenka 6-1, 6-3 on the slick blue clay of Madrid, or will it be the meek playing-not-to-lose Serena that barely scraped past Zheng in the third round?  Let's be clear, Azarenka can, has and will be mercurial as well; but given Williams has been the dominant player in their matchups, her form (read: temperament) will likely have a bigger say in the outcome of this match.  What we know for a fact is there will be loud grunting, big hitting and the winner of this match will be the favorite to win Wimbledon on Saturday.

Winner: S. Williams


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