Sony Ericsson Open: Final Preview

 Maria Sharapova

On the Baseline Tennis News
April 1, 2011

The 2011 “Glam Slam” final is almost upon us, but is likely not the final that anyone anticipated at the Sony Ericsson Open. No underdogs. No clear favorite. No Kim, No Caroline. It will be an exciting match for sure, and undoubtedly, loud. Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, known for their high-decibel “shrieks” while striking a ball, haven’t faced each other in a final since Stanford (2010).

The final on Saturday will be Sharapova’s fifth meeting against Victoria Azarenka. They are evenly matched at 2-2 in their head-to-head.

This year, Maria Sharapova is playing in her first Sony Ericsson Open since 2007, and her first final of 2011. On Thursday, Sharapova advanced to her third final in Miami, powering through Andrea Petkovic in three sets. She also gutted out a quarterfinal win vs. Alexandra Dulgheru, which was the longest singles match of the Sony Ericsson Open, at 3 hours, 29 minutes (past midnight). “I’m pretty fortunate to be in the finals after having a few tough ones like I had the previous rounds,” said Sharapova.

Safe to say, it’s been a long and bumpy road back for Sharapova. After having shoulder surgery in 2009, most people expected her to make a swift and steady comeback, but the expected took longer than expected. Now, Sharapova is on the verge of winning her first title since 2010 (Strasbourg). She won her last WTA Premier title in 2009 (Tokyo). A title win in Miami would be Sharapova’s biggest win since the 2008 Australian Open.

At 23, Sharapova is a veteran on Tour, but first gained attention as a teenager, winning Wimbledon at the tender age of 17, and has already amassed 22 singles titles, including three Grand Slams. The former No. 1 is now on her way back to the top 10. Currently ranked at No. 13, Sharapova is projected to return to No. 9 (win or lose in Miami).

Sharapova is fitter than ever before, and has been returning extremely well in Miami, which she says will be important in the final against Azarenka. But if Sharapova has had any trouble at all (and you have to really look for it), it has been in the double fault area…39 so far, and 17 in her match against Dulgheru, which could be costly for her on Saturday.

The mental side of Sharapova’s game is (and has always been) the hallmark of her career, which is something that has plagued Azarenka’s game over the past few years.

Victoria Azarenka, who won the Sony Ericsson Open title in 2009 (vs. Serena Williams) is playing in her first final of the year. She hasn’t won a title since 2010 (Moscow). Azarenka has looked sharp in Miami, defeating the No. 2 and 3 players, Kim Clijsters (in straight sets) and Vera Zvonareva, in what most will agree was a self-esteem-shaking defeat for Vera. Azarenka’s confidence with her ground strokes and  second serve, as well as her consistency, will make her a tough opponent for Sharapova on Saturday. Azarenka has also won 74% of her service games (compared to Sharapova’s 68%). “She plays really aggressive and swings really hard from both sides. You know, a great returner,” said Sharapova about Azarenka. ” It’ll be tough. I lost to her the last time we played.”

Currently ranked at No. 8, Azarenka is projected to rise to No. 7, and to a career-high equal of No. 6 if she wins the Sony Ericsson Open title.

In every measurable way, both Sharapova and Azarenka have had many venerable opponents to test themselves against, as shown below.

Maria Sharapova’s Road to the Final:

R128: bye
R64: def. [WC] Petra Martic 6-3, 6-2
R32: def. [WC] Sabine Lisicki 6-2, 6-0
R16: def. No. 5 Samantha Stosur  6-4, 6-1
QF: def. No. 28 Alexandra Dulgheru 3-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(5
SF: def. No. 23 Andrea Petkovic 3-6, 6-0, 6-2
Total games: 106
Won/lost: 68-38
Sets won/lost: 10-2
Total time on court: 9h 04
Average time on court: 1h 49
Average rank of opponent: 76

Victoria Azarenka’s Road to the Final:

R128: bye
R64: def. [Q] Lucie Hradecka 7-5, 4-6, 6-0
R32: def. No. 25 Dominika Cibulkova 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
R16: def. No. 21 Anastasia Palyuchenkova 3-6, 6-1, 6-4
QF: def. No. 2 Kim Clijsters 6-3, 6-3
SF: def. No. 3 Vera Zvonareva 6-0, 6-3
Total games: 115
Won/lost: 71-44
Sets won/lost: 10-3
Total time on court: 9h 29
Average time on court: 1h 54
Average rank of opponent: 24

Now they face the ultimate test. Who’s going to win the title? Whichever side you take, this match is sure to be one to watch.

My Prediction: Sharapova in three sets.

Let the shrieks begin.

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