Sharapova & Azarenka: Looking Ahead...
Published April 01, 2011 12:00
MIAMI, FL, USA - At the beginning of any tournament, not many would predict the final would feature the No.8 and No.16 seeds. But in this case the names next to those numbers are two of the hardest hitters and biggest fighters on the WTA, and now it's down to Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.
Azarenka, the No.8 seed, was pushed to three sets in her first three matches here - including coming from 63 31 down to get past No.25 seed Dominika Cibulkova in the third round - but once she got to the later rounds she took it up another gear. She scored back-to-back upsets over Top 3 players, first No.2 Kim Clijsters in the quarterfinals (63 63) and then No.3 Vera Zvonareva in the semifinals (60 63). She has saved her best for last - how will she do in the final?
"I'm always in a good mood now," Azarenka said after her win over Clijsters. "Doesn't matter if I'm on the court, off the court. Miami certainly is a great place. There's so much excitement from people and so many great fans coming. It's always going to be a special place for me, so I'm really enjoying my time here."
Sharapova, the No.16 seed, has done the opposite, cruising through her first three rounds - including a comprehensive 64 61 victory over No.4 seed Sam Stosur in the fourth round - but going to three sets in both the quarterfinals and semifinals. First, she edged No.26 seed Alexandra Dulgheru in the longest match of the tournament, three hours and 29 minutes (36 76(6) 76(5)) then came from a set down to beat No.21-seeded Andrea Petkovic, although after that first set she stormed through 11 games in a row (she won, 36 60 62).
After her win over Petkovic, Sharapova was asked what it would mean for her to win the title Saturday. "It would mean a lot. It's the biggest tournament after the Grand Slams. I look forward to going out there and getting it done."
They both have comparable numbers for the tournament through the final - time on court, games and sets won and lost... but the biggest difference comes in the average ranking of their opponent - while Sharapova's conquests average out at No.76, Azarenka's are No.24. On the other hand, Sharapova has a much better WTA finals record in her career, 22-11 (Azarenka's is 5-6, although the only time these two met in a final, Azarenka won at Stanford last year, 64 61).
Azarenka is also a former champion here, winning the title in 2009 - Sharapova has been to the final twice but came away runner-up both times, in 2005 (to Kim Clijsters) and 2006 (to fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova).
Sharapova is projected to rise to No.9 on the next rankings, her 240th career week in the Top 10 (her first 239 all came consecutively between July 5, 2004 and February 1, 2009). Azarenka is expected to rise from No.8 to No.6 if she wins (matching her career-high) and to No.7 if she loses (Li Na staying No.6).
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