By Kevin Ware
(March 28, 2013) MIAMI – In spite of injuries, illness, upsets, and withdrawals by the dozens, my initial selections for the Women’s semifinals held (mostly) true to form with three out of four correct picks: Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, and Agnieszka Radwanska. Jelena Jankovic occupies the fourth spot left open from Victoria Azarenka’s withdrawal.
Sharapova and Williams have had moments of brilliant play, and also moments of patchiness. Radwanska has struggled, needing three sets to advance each of her matches. Jankovic had only dropped one set, but also hasn’t been tested against any of the Top Ten.
Does any of this change my mind about a Serena-Maria final? No. Let’s take a look at my breakdown of the semifinal match-ups that leads me to that foregone final conclusion.
Maria Sharapova versus Jelena Jankovic
Head-to-Head: Sharapova leads 6-1
Their last meeting was a tightly-contested three-setter in the finals of the 2011 Western and Southern Open, which Sharapova won 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-3. The circumstances are slightly different this time around. Maria’s a much more confident player after completing her career Grand Slam. Though she may have bad patches of play, she’s usually able to maintain belief and fight through for the win as long as it’s not Serena Williams or Victoria Azarenka on the other side of the net.
Jankovic is playing solid tennis, but seems to be in perpetual “comeback” mode. That was true back in Cincinnati, and is true now in Miami. She’s hitting the ball with more confidence, and is moving well. Confidence is the key to Jankovic’s game. Without it, she struggles on every shot with the exception of her “down the line” backhand. With it, she can maintain with her forehand, serve, and defense. Sometimes, that’s enough for the win.
None of that will matter against Maria, however. This is one of those instances where the match-up against Jankovic suits Sharapova’s game and hitting style. Even with her struggles against Errani’s defense and spins in the quarterfinals, Sharapova will look across the net to Jankovic and see a comfortable foe.
I chatted with Jankovic’s hitting partner on the way back to the hotel. He didn’t divulge any particular strategies for the match, but rightly conceded that their games are a known quantity to one another. No surprises here.
Look for Sharapova to rediscover her form against regain her form against Jankovic for the victory.
Maria Sharapova in three sets
Serena Williams versus Agnieszka Radwanska
Hedad-to-Head: Serena Williams leads 4-0
Radwanska has won only one set against Serena in their four meetings. Given their respective levels of play, that’s not going to change in this semifinal. That’s not to say that Serena Williams is unbeatable, or that Radwanska won’t test her patience with defense and guile. But given their respective paths to the semis, Radwanska can’t have much left in the tank to defend if Serena brings her “A” game.
Williams’ last match was a good test for the World No. 1. Her opponent, Li Na, pushed Serena hard one day after a three-set battle against Dominika Cibulkova. Battling fatigue and a slight injury, Williams fought back from a 2-5 second set deficit to win in straight sets. It was a level of championship tennis we’ve come to expect from Serena that won’t be daunted by guile and defense.
Their last meeting hard court was in Istanbul at the WTA Championships. Radwanska won 3 games. She might win more games than that in this semifinal. But she won’t win a set, and certainly won’t win the match.
Serena Williams in two sets.