As is the norm, the Spin team of Master Ace and Karen will preview the semi-finalists. I have taken the arduous task of previewing the Russians.
First up is 5 time Grand Slam winner, Maria Sharapova.
How she got here?
1stround – (Q) Petra Martic – 6-4, 6-1
2ndround – (Q) Alexandra Panova – 6-1, 4-6, 7-5
3rdround – (31) Zarina Diyas- 6-1, 6-1
4thround – (21) Shuai Peng – 6-3, 6-0
Quarters – (7) Eugenie Bouchard – 6-3, 6-2
There are many who will point to Sharapova’s relatively easy path to the semi-finals, but the fact is that the bottom half of the draw was akin to an International event rather than a Grand Slam. In the second round, Sharapova made her life tougher than it needed to be, as she struggled with her game and had to use all her experience and guile to overcome Panova in the second round.
After that hiccup, Sharapova has not dropped more than 3 games in any match and I doubt if we will see anything different in her match against Makarova. In terms of her chances to get to the final and win the whole shebang, that will depend on a lot of things, most of which will be cantered around which opponent shows up for the final.
Sharapova has a 5-0 head to head over Makarova and has an incredible head to head over lefties. The key for Sharapova will be her serve. In the match against Peng and Bouchard, even though she held serve, it was not without some amount of effort on her part. Sharapova has won 193 of her points on serve and has won 26 of her return games.
How she got here
1stround – (102) Mestach – 6-2, 6-2
2ndround – Vinci – 6-2, 6-4
3rdround – (22) Pliskova – 6-4, 6-4
4thround – ( ) Georges – 6-3, 6-2
Quarters – (3) Halep – 6-3, 6-0
Many, including me did not think that Makarova would ever make it to the later stages of a Grand Slam. Her performance in New York, coming as it did in the latter part of the year when most players who pull double duty (play singles and doubles) are quite weary is a testament to the hard work that she puts in off the court. To back up that performance of making the semi-finals by reaching the semi-finals of the next Grand Slam is remarkable and should be commended. An unassuming player with a soft voice, Makarova first came to the attention of many when she won the title in Eastbourne as a qualifier. At that tournament she took out seeded player after seeded player and played one of the best matches that I have seen in a long time on grass. She is always known as a giant killer being one of only a handful of players who have taken out the Williams Sisters on the biggest stages in the same tournament without ever getting to No. 1.
Her 0-5 record against Sharapova should be cast by the wayside. This seems to be a different Makarova. Someone who while she will never love the spotlight on her, plays a very subtle game which uses lots of spin and deft touch to get to the finish line.
What will be Makarova’s downfall in this match will be her inability to handle the pace of shot that will be coming from the racquet of her countrywoman. Sharapova has an excellent record against lefties and as such Makarova will have to use that serve to not only pull Sharapova off the court but to also keep her pinned behind the baseline. She has the shots to do it. The question remains whether she has the ability to withstand what will be a barrage of shots coming from the opposite side of the court.
Makarova is yet to drop a set. Sharapova was saved by the skin of her teeth because another Russian blinked. Makarova in 3
In our second semifinal, we have an All-American matchup between Serena Williams and Madison Keys.
When the tournament started, Serena Williams had a very loaded quarter with some dangerous players led by Victoria Azarenka, two-time Australian Open champion, and Dominika Cibulkova, 2014 Australian Open finalist. In her three matches after her opener, S Williams got off to slow starts before finding her game. In her match against Vera Zvonareva, she was serving down two set points in the first set before winning in straight sets. In her match against Elina Svitolina, she was very sluggish going down early breaks in the first set. She did make a late run in the first set but Svitolina closed it out. Despite Svitolina closing out the set, S Williams found her game and lost only two games in the last two sets.
In her match against Gabrine Muguruza, she was getting out hit on the court like she did at the 2014 French Open where she won a total of four games. However, in this encounter, S Williams found a way to adjust the flow of the match by going with a little more spin, noted by a spectator who S Williams admitted saying it in the post-match interview. After S Williams failed to convert on break points to let Muguruza hold, Muguruza had two break points to take the lead and maybe reassert herself but blew an easy volley. Once the easy volley was missed, S Williams’ serve started to click and was able to close out strongly. In her match against Dominika Cibulkova, she started out very fast and did not give Cibulkova a chance to impose her game.
With the help of Lindsay Davenport as her new coach, Madison Keys has played to her potential. After losing the first set to Casey Dellacqua, she started to lift her game to the next level by losing only two games in the final two sets. In the next round, Keys got a career defining win against Petra Kvitova, who was a lot of people’s choice besides S Williams to win Australian Open after she won Sydney, in straight sets by out playing her in all phases of the game. In her match against Madison Brengle, who has won more WTA main draw matches in 2015 than she did in her entire career highlighted by making the final in Hobart, Keys managed to play a consistent match which plagued her in the past when she got a good win. In her match against Venus Williams, she got off to a good start by going for her shots which paid dividends as she took the first set. In second set, Keys injured her left abductor, which occurred for the first time at 2014 Wimbledon, hitting a backhand and V Williams got off to a double break lead. Keys took a medical timeout to get treatment. Once she returned to the court, she got off to a fast start by getting both breaks back but V Williams managed to stop the tide and force a deciding set. In the deciding set, V Williams managed to lead in the set by a break but Keys managed to find one more wind, went for her shots and won the last three games of the match.
For S Williams to win, she has to avoid starting off slow and serve like she did in her last three sets. If she does this, you can hand her the Australian Open trophy on Saturday night as her Russian opponent will not have a chance in the final.
For Keys to win, she has to shorten the points while dealing with her left abductor injury and hope S Williams has an off night. She is trying to become the eighth player to defeat the Williams Sisters in the same tournament. If she manages to pull off the upset, the hype for Keys will only be increased by the media.
Ace’s picks to win: Williams and Sharapova
Karen’s picks to win: Williams and Makarova