World No. 1 Serena Williams and top competitors Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova sit on the sidelines this week as the semifinals play out at the Australian Open, featuring the familiar, the new, and the hungry for respect.
Thursday in Melbourne square off the Chinese veteran and two-time Australian Open finalist against the Canadian rookie, and the scampering Pole who has never tasted Grand Slam title success against the likewise short, speedy Slovak who was never on anyone’s late-week radar.
(4) Li Na vs. (30) Eugenie Bouchard
Na has not faced a seeded player in the Top 20, and the streak will continue against Bouchard, whose draw was even softer until she toppled No. 14 Ana Ivanovic in three sets to gain the semis. Bouchard showed she can up her power quotient from the baseline during the battle with Ivanovic, but can the rookie hold it together better than Na, who herself has been no monument of confidence at times in big matches? The sidelines will also be a place to watch during this match-up as Na has been known to have exchanges with her coach and her husband, and Bouchard has the cheering Aussies the “Genie Army.” “I’m going to fly them to all my tournaments with me,” Bouchard joked after her quarterfinal win.
(5) Aggie Radwanska vs. (20) Dominika Cilbulkova
Cilbulkova beat Sharapova and Radwanska beat Azarenka, so both can handle big hitters, but this will be a match of everything but with two players who like to explore angles and off-speed play — and chase down balls, making opponents hit that one extra. It is the second career Slam semifinal for Cibulkova after reaching the same stage at the French five years ago. “I was 19 years old then,” Cibulkova said. “I was pretty young. I would also say I was a different player. Now I’m much more experienced and have gone through so many things in my career since then. I would say I’m more mature now.” She’s going to need to be to hold it together against the experience of Radwanska, who is looking to extend her breakthrough. “Well, I hope [I can win the title],” said Radwanska, who ended an 0-4 skid in Australian Open quarterfinals. “I will do everything in my power to do that.”
While the title favor would have to go to the strong and experienced in Li, it’s anybody’s championship at this point.
“Of course, a couple seeded are out — doesn’t mean it’s going to be easier and you have a title right away,” Radwanska said. “It means that other players are playing great tennis this week. That’s why they beat the top seed players.”
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