The first major fortnight of the season provided its fair share of surprises, making a No. 1 vs. No. 2 final – paradoxically – all the more shocking. The history books make it clear what we can expect from this match-up: Maria Sharapova has only won two sets off her greatest nemesis in the last ten years, getting closest to victory on the hard courts of Miami in 2013. All at once, the Australian Open is the site of their rivalry’s highest highs and lowest lows. What exactly is the tennis world in for Saturday night?
The TTI Staff weighs in with their predictions:
I’ve made risky predictions all tournament and guess what, I’m going to continue with that for the women’s final. Maria Sharapova hasn’t beaten Serena Williams in over 10 years and has struggled to even win sets off the American.
But I’m going to pick the Russian anyway.
Beyond her second round match with Alexandra Panova, Sharapova has been the better player throughout the tournament and has won more of her matches in convincing fashion. Williams dropped sets to Elina Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza, and was nearly down a set to Vera Zvonereva and Madison Keys; though, she did look invincible in her quarterfinal match against Dominika Cibulkova.
Williams is arguably the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, hitting nearly every shot better than Sharapova (except, perhaps, the backhand). With that said, Williams is not that much better than Sharapova that she should be winning 15 matches in row against her. Sharapova hits the far too well to be physically outmatched 15 times in a row. This leads me to the point that Williams has a huge mental edge over Sharapova, one that has ostensibly augmented with each victory. Sharapova is as mentally tough as they get, but knowing Williams is on the other side of the net makes it tough to do things like close out sets, consolidate breaks and capitalize on break point chances.
If Williams is at her best, there’s little Sharapova can do – but if Williams shows some signs of fragility, look for Sharapova to be ready to pounce. Sharapova has looked very determined her last couple of rounds and with the form she has displayed all tournament long, she may be ready to end this streak.
Prediction: Sharapova in three sets
I had Sharapova winning the tournament, and I would have stuck with my prediction if she was playing anyone else. But now that she’s facing her on-court kryptonite of over a decade, I cannot help but pick Serena Williams to lift the Daphne Akhurst trophy for the sixth time in her career.
Sharapova has looked a lot more focused since her second round scare, but Williams’ serve has shifted into gear for the business end of the tournament. I can’t see the Russian breaking her nemesis often enough. I think World No. 2 might take a set (perhaps this stems from a hope for a competitive match) – but the World No. 1 is going to win her second Grand Slam in a row.
If Sharapova wants to have a shot in any shape or form, she’ll have to hope that a sleepy Williams shows up on Saturday evening and refrain from waking the lion by virtue of firing herself up too loudly (cue Miami 2013).
Prediction: Williams in three sets
It makes for a compelling narrative that the WTA’s two most transcendent stars are set to contest another major final now over a decade since their first. Yet what might have initially looked like the start of an exciting and heated rivalry 10 years ago has now cooled (at least on-court), with Williams owning an explicit mental domination over Sharapova.
While Williams’ form was called into question by poor performances at the Hopman Cup, she has (predictably) peaked yet again in time for the latter stages of a major tournament – despite some early blips. Sharapova saved match points in her second round, yet has been in exceptional form for the remainder of the fortnight. It’s difficult not to go with the top seed here, and given their head-to-head, the only prediction I can make with some certainty is that Williams will win the second set – whether that’s in mounting a comeback for the title or finishing off a straight sets victory.
Prediction: Williams in two – or three – sets
Maria Sharapova has been a better player this year. Although the season is young, winning Brisbane and making the final in Melbourne speak directly to her improvements. Her footwork is sharper, her serve seems to have calmed down, and her intensity – which no one would ever think could deepen – has lifted. She is on a tear to win her sixth major title, her first Down Under since 2008. However, she will face Serena Williams.
Like a steady diet of humble pie, Sharapova has lost to the top seed in every meeting for 10 years, making for 15 consecutive defeats.
The good news is she has one win at a major, dating back to Wimbledon 2004. The courts in Melbourne Park aren’t grass, but are slick enough to give Sharapova a marginal advantage, especially with her opponent suffering a respiratory illness. Although the records sharply point to a loss for Maria, I believe that she will rise to the occasion this time and stand tall holding the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy on Saturday.
Prediction: Sharapova in three sets
This Australian Open has been a strange one. After a catastrophic first two days for the women’s seeds and surprise packages of varying degrees making deep runs, we’ve ended up with the most predictable final tennis can offer:
No. 1 vs. No. 2.
Oddly enough, this is just the fourth Grand Slam women’s final to feature the top two seeds since the 2004 Australian Open.
As we all know, the head to head between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams has unfolded in predictable fashion over the past decade. Although there have been instances where the Russian claimed an early lead, or managed to stay level and pose a challenge, she’s been swiftly denied by the American every time. On paper, everything about this final seems predictable.
But matches aren’t played on paper.
Not all hope is lost for Sharapova, if only because there might be something in the Melbourne water this time around. Tomas Berdych broke almost a decade-long streak of futility against Rafael Nadal in the men’s tournament, as he took advantage of a Nadal who wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Beneath the surface, however, the Czech played the perfect match, suggesting that perhaps – after all this time – an old dog can learn new tricks. The same might hold true for Sharapova. While Williams has won most of the physical – and mental – battles in this matchup to date, a competitor like Sharapova will never admit she’s beaten on a given day until she shakes hands.
Sharapova’s already playing with house money at the tournament following her second round comeback. If Williams is still suffering from the illness that’s plagued her for much of the second week, or if she starts the match slowly, she has no reason to hesitate. After all, she could’ve gone home a long time ago.
Will the #fighter #narrative come full circle on Saturday? It just might.
Prediction: Sharapova in three sets
Okay, here’s how I think it’s going to go down.
The women’s final will likely begin as many think it will; Williams should have no trouble wrapping up the first set. It’s in second set where things will take a turn. With Sharapova down break point in the fifth game, Serena will pummel a backhand down the line to take the ascendency. But just as that backhand kisses the line umpire, Alison Hughes will suddenly be overcome by the American’s respiratory illness, and recuse herself from the match.
In her place, one Eva Asderaki(-Moore). (It’s still weird.)
The be-ponytailed Greek Goddess will take the chair and promptly call a let, causing an indignant Williams to call, not the referee…
…but best friend Caroline Wozniacki, with father Piotr in tow. The two will engage in an intensive interrogation of Mrs. Asderaki’s academic credentials with minor interjections from Williams, who clarifies that though she is No. 1, she is not the one.
Now having taken to her chair – and dreading the invariable resumption of play – Sharapova will decide to take advantage of the protracted respite by indulging in a cup of Pinkberry™ Frozen Yogurt, complete with an extensive assortment of Sugarpova™ toppings.
Sweet, delicious, non-legacy-threatening Pinkberry™.
Oh, and once play resumes, Williams won’t drop another game.
Prediction: Williams in two (chaotic) sets
Who do you think will win tonight’s final? Sound off in the comments!