Women’s Semifinal Previews at the BNP Paribas Open

After an exciting day of tennis on Thursday, the women’s semifinal matches have been set and will be played during the evening session on Friday. Only two of the top four seeds remain in action, leaving two unexpected semifinalists, one on either side of the draw. In the quarterfinals, top seed Victoria Azarenka demolished Agnieszka Radwanksa, while No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova took was seriously tested by her Russian compatriot, Maria Kirilenko, winning a very long three set encounter. US Open surprise semifinalist, Angelique Kerber, caused another upset, taking out Li Na on Wednesday night. To round out the last four, Ana Ivanovic continued her stellar run here by defeating last year’s runner up, Marion Bartoli.

Victoria Azarenka vs. Angelique Kerber

Not before 6pm, the world No. 1 and Australian Open champion, Victoria Azarenka will take on the German, Angelique Kerber. It’s absurd to think that just a few months ago, no one had ever heard of Kerber. She somehow quietly made her way into the US Open semifinals, testing eventual champion Samantha Stosur. However, she wasn’t just a one hit wonder. Since September, she had posted fairly consistent results, winning her first tournament last month in Paris by defeating Marion Bartoli. By reaching this stage of the tournament, she will enter the WTA Top 15. Asked to talk about her impending match against Azarenka, she said, “Yeah, I have nothing to lose in the next match, so I will go out there, try to play really my tennis and focus on me like today, enjoy it, and, yeah, try to beat her, of course.” It’s true that Kerber will have nothing to lose, not having often made it to this stage of tournaments in the past. This has already been a stunning week for her, but a victory would only add to that feeling.

Kerber will have her work cut out for her as she faces the undefeated world No. 1 tonight. Azarenka has started the season very similarly to Novak Djokovic last year, quickly running to a 21-0 record. As impressive as that record is, Azarenka is not allowing her self to get complacent. With regards to working on continuing to improve her game, she said, “if I relax my butt a little bit, somebody’s gonna come and kick it.” Early on this week, she struggled in her opening match, but since then has cruised through to the semifinals in fine form. She did not have much to say when asked about potentially playing Kerber, who at the time had not yet won her quarterfinal. According to Azarenka, they have not played since juniors, but, “there are no easy matches in semifinals.”

While Azarenka thinks there are no easy matches in the semifinals, and Kerber has proven capable of causing all kinds of upsets, it is unlikely that Azarenka’s record will be challenged. She absolutely rolled against Agnieszka Radwanksa, a player who often gives her trouble, and has gotten progressively better with each match she has played this week. It will be a tall task for Angelique Kerber to topple the world No. 1 this time around.

Ana Ivanovic vs. Maria Sharapova

Following the Azarenka/Kerber semifinal, two Grand Slam champions will take the stage to battle for a spot in the finals. Early Thursday, Ivanovic scored her second major victory of the week, defeating Marion Bartoli in two sets, backing up her victory over defending champion Caroline Wozniacki. Ivanovic has yet to reach the level she was at in 2008, when she won the French Open at 21 years old. Since her post Slam slump, she has been gradually working her way back into contention for major titles, only recently finding stronger form. This has debatably been her best week in the last couple of years. Undoubtedly gleeful after yesterday’s win, Ivanovic could barely contain her smile during her post match press conference. Reminded of the last time she played Sharapova, in the 2008 Australian Open final, she laughed, admitting that the ill fated drop shot from that match still haunts her, “it still hurts me so much.  Silly dropshot forehand.  I know.  I was like, Why?  Seriously, why?” Any Ana Ivanovic fan will tell you that they too still remember that drop shot. Luckily, she claims to have learned from her mistakes and is looking forward to the challenge of taking on Maria Sharapova again four years later, a much different situation for both players. Ivanovic’s new coach, Nigel Sears, has seemed to be a steadying force for the volatile Serbian, helping to dramatically improve her forehand, and more importantly, her mental game.

Coming in as the No. 2 seed, Maria Sharapova was generally expected to make it through to this stage of the tournament. Knocked out in the semifinals last year, Sharapova’s game has become considerably more consistent than it used to be and she is certainly deserving of the No. 2 spot. However, Sharapova was in real trouble yesterday against fellow Russian, Maria Kirilenko, when she went down a set and a break. Things looked just about over, before Sharapova magically pulled out the second set 7-5, possibly with a little help from a hindrance call against Kirilenko. After securing the second set, Sharapova had very little trouble overpowering her opponent, quickly rushing to a 4-0 lead. Even after being broken, she was able to close out the set at 6-2. Sharapova won her last encounter against Ana Ivanovic four years ago, but those results are almost negligible, as both women are completely different players today. Asked about what she thought of the impending match, she said, “I think we’re in both very different stages in our careers.  She’s been playing really well this week.  It’s good to see. I mean, we have had tough matches in the past; I’m sure that this one tomorrow will be tough, as well.” It will be tough, as Sharapova played a significantly more grueling match than Ivanovic. Since they’re on last, recovery shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but it still has the potential to play a role. Based on their form this week, either player has the capacity to win this match and it will likely be much more of a mental battle than a physical one. If Ivanovic can keep her nerves in check, there’s a real possibility she could cause the upset.