The S-Thread For 1/23/13: The 2013 Australian Open Semifinals Thread (First Version)

Recap of Victoria Azarenka's almost "choke of the year," as she held onto to beat Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-4. 

GSM: Li d Sharapova 6-2, 6-2

Maria Sharapova thought she had control of this rivalry with Li Na, especially after she placed another 6-0 set on her in Beijing 3 months ago to improve to 8-4. But today, the Chinese #1 refound the confidence that made Sharapova an angry and confused presence on the other side of the net. 

Today, Li Na's forehand stability and serve placement were not only present today when they needed to be, they were simply special. Sharapova was shocked with how Li rarely donated any points to her off that notorious patchy wing, and was even more flustered by the consistent, superb spot hitting by her fellow Max Eisenbud client. 

In the middle of the 2nd set, Sharapova was more devastated by not jumping out to a 2-0 lead, as Li saved another break point thanks to another brainless aggressive return from her. It was an embarrassing display from a player who resembled more the one before 2012, unable to defend well against a stable power player who moved well. 

It spells great things for Li when most of her 21 winners came from that forehand side, and major disappointment for Sharapova. The Russian couldn't take advantage of Serena Williams lost yesterday, and the pressure of that result, the wind, and Li's indomitable presence today got to her. Her abomination and disbelief at the events transpiring in front of her will leave her with a lot of thoughts heading into February. 

Sharapova feels that way because she thought she had solved that Li puzzle, where only Serena and Azarenka were the hurdles that could stop her on a subpar day. 

Instead, Li showed her today that she has the belief and drive to solve the Sharapova conundrum in emphatic fashion, just like the aforementioned new top 2. 

The Runthrough: 6) Li vs 2) Sharapova 

It seemed Li Na had control of the rivalry before 2012, closing the gap to 5-4 with four straight wins without dropping a set. As she ascended to a top class player, the Chinese #1 controlled her raw power and got consistent mental belief against Sharapova's return with great placement on her serves. She became the bigger hitter on the court to go along with having the superior natural movement, and that really annoyed Sharapova.

But Li's confidence in big matches against similar power hitters diminished last year, particularly against Sharapova. She was a wild mess against her in Miami, the ultimate choke artist in blowing the Italian Open final (and giving Sharapova the final confidence to not waste her best chance to date at winning the French Open), and was a nervous wreck again in front of her countrymen at the China Open.

The two matches on hard court last year resulted in 6-0 second sets, as the wind in Miami and the pressure in Beijing made Na's forehand and workman like serve easy targets for a determined Sharapova eager to get the matchup back in her control. But the American-Russian knew she had to physically reclaim herself as one of the strongest hitters on tour while continuing to make further strides on her defense in 2012, and she did just that to have Li searching for ways to beat her again.

The 13th battle of Max Eisenbud money makers is firmly looking as a Sharapova win, especially buoyed by the news of not having to face Serena Williams in the final. Li simply must be at her best to win this today, meaning she must not have her notorious wild patches plague her against Sharapova's current aggressive stability.


Keys to the match:

For Li Na

1) Cheap points on her serve today
2) Stability on her forehand as always.
3) Close Sharapova off by hitting down the line and away from her, instead of crosscourt and not letting her back into the point.
4) No mental slipups. Maintain a consistent level throughout.

For Sharapova

1) Established your power and aggression from the forehand to Li's forehand.
2) Use the height advantage and believe in your 2nd serve.
3) Keep points alive as much as possible, get into her head.
4) With Serena out, be liberated. You control the rivalry now with Li, dominate her serve.

Prediction: Sharapova in 2
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