Women’s Semifinal Preview: Kvitova, Sharapova, Azarenka Bid For No. 1 Ranking And Australian Open Final
With No. 1 on the line, four of the best hardcourt players meet tonight in the semifinals of the Australian Open.
Kim Clijsters (2011) and Maria Sharapova (2008) are former Australian Open champions and former world No.1s. Both have also finished runner-up at Melbourne Park, Clijsters in 2004 (l. Henin) and Sharapova in 2007 (l. S.Williams). Clijsters has reached a further four SFs here; Sharapova, two.
Clijsters is gunning to become the 8th woman to defend the Australian Open title in the Open Era; including threeand four-year streaks, the AO defending champion has lifted the trophy 13 times. Having won the US Open in 2009-10, Clijsters would also become the 11th woman since 1946 to defend at least two different majors.
Clijsters and Sharapova are aiming to set up their first meeting in a Grand Slam final; the Russian prevailed when
they met in the semis here in 2007.
Victoria Azarenka and 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova are making their respective Australian Open SF debuts. Both are former quarterfinalists at Melbourne Park, Azarenka in 2010 and Kvitova in 2011.
Azarenka has equaled her career-best Grand Slam result by reaching the Australian Open SFs. She also reached the
semis at 2011 Wimbledon. She is the sole semifinalist at the 2012 Australian Open who is still chasing her maiden
Grand Slam singles title.
Of the 68 players who have reached a Grand Slam final in the Open Era, 18 of them have reached their first Grand
Slam final at the Australian Open.
 Kim Clijsters (BEL #14) vs.  Victoria Azarenka (BLR #3)
Head-to-head: Clijsters leads 4-2
If this does turn out to be Kim Clijsters’ last hurrah at the Australian Open, she is going the right way about leaving a lasting impression. After playing through the pain barrier of a twisted ankle and fending off four match points against Li Na, Clijsters then rolled back the years in a straight sets win over top seed Caroline Wozniacki on Tuesday.
The ominous sight of Clijsters dissecting the soon-to-be-usurped World No.1 on Rod Laver will not have made pleasant viewing for her semifinal foe, Victoria Azarenka. Yet the Belarusian sent out a message of her own in her quarterfinal with Agnieszka Radwanska, recovering from the psychological blow of losing seven straight points in the first set tiebreak to reel off the next two sets for the loss of just two games.
Radwanska is the first player to take a set from Azarenka in Melbourne, and it is testament to the new positive approach the World No.3 brings to the court that she rebounded from this setback in such convincing fashion. One year ago, it was questionable whether she possessed the mental fortitude to deal with the ignominy of failing to win a point in a tie-break. This year she does, and responded by stepping inside the baseline, taking on both Radwanska’s first and second serves and bludgeoning 39 winners in the process.
Against Clijsters, one of the best athletes on the WTA, she will need more than just power, though. The defending champion is more than capable of trading groundstrokes from the back of the court and showed against Li that her will to win is as strong as ever. Clijsters leads the head-to-head 4-2, although any mental edge this provides is blunted by the memory of their most recent meeting, won 63 63 by Azarenka in Miami last year.
 Maria Sharapova (RUS #4) vs.  Petra Kvitova (CZE #2)
Head-to-head: Kvitova leads 2-1
It is not often that Maria Sharapova plays second fiddle to anyone on a tennis court. But in last year’s Wimbledon final, she did just that, as an inspired Petra Kvitova overpowered her 63 64 in under one and a half hours. How much Sharapova has learnt from this chastening defeat will be clear for all to see on Thursday, as she locks horns with Kvitova once more, this time with a place in the Australian Open final at stake.
As evidenced by their Centre Court meeting, Kvitova is one of the few players capable of out hitting Sharapova for an entire match. However, the Czech’s passage into the semifinals in Melbourne has been far from serene, and the lapses in concentration against both Sara Errani and Carla Suárez Navarro are sure to have encouraged the Russian. Against a supreme competitor like Sharapova, another mid-match walkabout could prove fatal.
Despite deciding against playing a pre-Australian Open tune-up tournament, Sharapova arrived in Melbourne in a rich vein of form. The 2008 champion dropped just five games in the first three rounds and, in her only test thus far, produced her best tennis of the fortnight to see off the hard-hitting Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round.
A good serving display is crucial to Sharapova’s hopes of exorcising her Wimbledon demons. Double faults have plagued the 24-year-old in several of her biggest matches over the past few years, and by keeping these to a minimum, whilst also maintaining a high first serve percentage, she has a chance of putting Kvitova on the back foot. Putting Kvitova on the back foot is easier said than done, though, and the Czech knows that if she is at her free-swinging best on Rod Laver it is likely to render service statistics inconsequential.
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