Monday, September 3, 2012

US Open 2012 Women's Quarterfinals preview

The women's singles draw at the US Open is down to the last eight, and with the last 4 grand slam winners still present along with a former grand slam champion and two grand slam finalists, the quality of tennis during the home stretch of this years tournament is guaranteed to be of a high level.

Victoria Azarenka (1) vs. Samantha Stosur (7)
The best match-up of the quarterfinals features world no.1 and Australian Open champion Azarenka against the defending champion, Stosur. It should serve up a feast of high-quality tennis.

Azarenka has had a sensational year, and were it not for the dominance of Serena Williams, the Belorussian could conceivably have ended the year with three grand slams. In reaching this stage, Azarenka has remarkably lost only ten games. She has been utterly dominant in all facets of the game, and should dominate the rallies from the baseline against Stosur.

Stosur has failed to build on her remarkable achievement last year when she won at Flushing Meadows playing some uninhibited and fearless tennis. The Aussie has shown a tendency to freeze on the big occasions this year, and has done well to reach this stage after her disaster at Wimbledon. However, Stosur has come off two incredibly tough matches, and she displayed some frailty against British teenager Laura Robson, who saved many match points before eventually succumbing against the champion.

Stosur can match Azarenka for power from the baseline, though the world no.1's greater consistency and exceptional movement should prove too much for the reigning champion. Stosur can spring a surprise if she utilizes the greater variety that she possesses, although Azarenka's ruthless efficiency should ensure that she prevails in two close sets.

Maria Sharapova (3) vs. Marion Bartoli (11)
After cruising through the first three rounds, Sharapova's US Open challenge nearly unravelled against compatriot Nadia Petrova. Ultimately, her competitiveness and tenacity enabled her to get out of an extremely tricky situation. It could just be the wake-up call that the French Open champion needed.

Up against Sharapova is the extremely unpredictable and inimitable Frenchwoman, Marion Bartoli. When Bartoli is on fire, even the best in the world can't live with her, as witnessed in the shock win over Petra Kvitova in the round of 16. When Bartoli's serve clicks, she possesses a strong all-court game that enables her to overcome any adversary.

The challenge for Bartoli has always been in following up a huge victory. Bartoli will be extremely motivated and will relish being the underdog against Sharapova. If Sharapova's serve has an off-day, then Bartoli does have the game to dominate her opponent. Bartoli can possibly take a set, but Sharapova's big match experience and greater consistency should enable her to make it through to the semi's in three tough sets.

Ana Ivanovic (12) vs. Serena Williams (4)
Many in the field of tennis journalism, have given up writing previews for matches featuring Serena Williams this summer. After coming through some narrow escapes in the early rounds of Wimbledon, Serena's level of play has simply belonged on another universe altogether.

It's not often that a round of 16 clash at a grand slam features a double bagel, but that is exactly what Serena dished out to the unfortunate Andrea Hlavackova. While her groundstrokes and serve remain as powerful as ever, Serena has started to display a hitherto unseen finesse to her play, finding remarkable angles and finishing points with some exceptionally placed volleys.

It's great to see Ana Ivanovic in the quarterfinals of a grand slam again. The former world no.1 hasn't reached the levels displayed during her peak, nonetheless she has displayed impressive mental fortitude and staying power in some tricky matches in the earlier rounds, especially when coming back from a set down in the third round against impressive American Sloan Stephens. Riding on the momentum of that victory, Ivanovic went for her shots with more freedom resulting in her best performance of the tournament in an impressive win over Tsvetana Pironkova.

The problem for Ivanovic is that her serve is still unreliable. Her low first serve percentages will ensure that Serena attacks her second serves. On the other hand, Serena's serve is almost impenetrable. It's Ivanovic's first grand slam quarterfinal since winning the French Open in 2008, but her journey in this tournament should come to an end against Serena. While it won't necessarily be a double bagel again, it should be a fairly routine straight sets victory in Serena's quest to complete one of the most dominant summers in the history of women's tennis.

Sara Errani (10) vs. Roberta Vinci (20)
Best friends on the circuit, the French Open doubles champions play against each other in this intriguing quarterfinal. Quite how Italy has started producing some brilliant women's tennis players in the past few years is a question for another time. Following in the footsteps of Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci have been the two breakout players in the top 20 this year.

Errani has built on her impressive start to the year. After reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, Errani capped off a brilliant clay-court season by reaching the finals at Roland Garros. Errani's performance at the US Open so far proves that her earlier performances were no fluke. Her victory over an in-form Angelique Kerber in the round of 16 was extremely impressive, dispatching the highly fancied German in two hard-fought sets.

As impressive as Errani's victory was, Vinci's was even more remarkable. She completely out-thought and outfought world no.2 and Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, eventually thrashing her 6-1 6-4. After making her name on the doubles circuit, Vinci has finally made a breakthrough on the singles circuit this year. Her experience in doubles allows Vinci to catch opponents off-guard with her cunning play at net and subtle movement around the court. 

These both know each other's games inside out. Errani has the greater experience at this stage of a grand slam, especially this year, and her greater variety will prove a big asset in this match. Add in to the mix, that Errani has won her last three matches against Vinci, and the younger Italian should prevail in three close sets against her best friend.