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New # 1 for women; Same Order for men

January 26, 2012 | 10:16 PM

AZ has a shot for OZ, and #1

AZARENKA the Relentless turned out to be too much for Clijsters last night, in what seemed for the four time major champion to be one too many match in a row. Kim didn't exactly start out well, but came back strong in the 2nd set after losing a competitive but spotty first set 4-6 (winning the 2nd 6-1), but by the 3rd set it took all Kim had to mount a come-back at 1-4.

In normal circumstances for her - and often in the women's game - getting back to 3-4 on serve would have been enough to take her to the finish line. That's when Kim's game went flat. She served poorly, even double-faulting at 3-4, 0-30, and put in a weak 2nd serve at 30-40. This allowed Azarenka to immediately take control of the point and finish the game on her 3rd shot, a simple volley to an open court. Perhaps since this is Kim's last Open she wanted a 2nd Oz title too much. Perhaps she'd been fighting too long. And, just perhaps, her opponent was a little more than she expected.

The 3rd set ended rather undramatically, 6-3, with Vickie serving it out quickly, getting baseline help from Kim.

Azarenka should not be a favorite in her first final against Sharapova - but she is.

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MARIA defeats Petra, also has shot at #1 with title win

Also 3 sets (6-2, 3-6, 6-4), this one ran according to Plan B: a one sided 1st and 2nd set, followed by a suspenseful 3rd. Maria made coming back from 0-40 look routine and still lost her serve seven times with 10 double faults, breaking only 3 times but on each opportunity she had. The ladies won virtually equal numbers of points (86 to 84 for Maria) and ended with an equal error to winner deficit of -12. But as Roger said after his match, the numbers are unimportant. What mattered was that Maria had the fight in her, and knew she had to go for a lot even if it meant double faulting in an attempt to hit two first serves. It was imperfect tennis, not the kind Roger likes to win with... maybe he should learn a lesson from Maria when he plays Rafa for the 29th time?

Maria won here in '08 before her shoulder problems, and hasn't won a major in 4 years, since she was 20 years old. She hasn't been #1 in longer than that, and she has the appetite for both. After losing to Kvitova before in Petra's first major final, Maria is not going to let it happen against Azarenka in her first final. The 22 year old, ranked 3rd, only made her first semi-final at the US Open last year. Head to head, these two have split 3- 3, and though their last two matches on hard courts were very one-sided wins by Vicky, I doubt those losses will lessen Maria's chances. They've never played in a major, which is what Maria is about, so the rivalry hasn't been established. This one will start a rivalry, which now exists between Maria and Petra.

Seeing these players show up again in the final four is good for the future of the women's game, unless you happen to be court side without your earplugs.

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RAFA Earns Chance for #11 and - maybe - after tonight's other semis, a chance to reverse his curse against The Invincible One...

The Rafa v Roger record tells a story, not of their individual greatness, but of a match-up which brings the best out of one player but not the other (Roger said as much in his remarks to the press afterwards). There's been so much written and said on this already, I'm not sure this latest installment added anything new, although Roger added a twist by winning the first set (which he's lost in their last 4 Major meetings, along with the matches), and breaking to start the 2nd. His heart seems to be in being more aggressive, but his perfectionist instinct takes over and often prevents him from going for it earlier on a big point (as with a big 2nd serve). This hurts him against Rafa and Joker who can seize control and keep him pinned behind the baseline. Rog does all the right things, but not on enough of the must-win points.

What is worth noting, and even celebrating, is that while the outcome has gotten to be old hat, the quality of the tennis and the battle hasn't diminished in 8 years. If anything, the tennis is more brilliant than ever. This is true however you look at, with or without stats. They both played some of the best defense I've seen either of them play in two or more years.

For offense, Rog was first rate:

- 46 winners with 11 aces; his 63 UE's show were mostly errors of over-reach

- 35 points of 57 won at net (he took plenty of risks going in, rewarded 61% of the time)

- 62% winning of serve points

- 33% receiving points won (about average for Rog in any match, perhaps high against Rafa in a loss)

Rafa was, however, better:

- 36 winners with 4 aces; only 34 UE's

- only 5 of 15 at the net, but won 77% on 1st serves (most to Rog's BH in the deuce court)

- 67% winning of serve points

- 38% of receiving points won (excellent against Rog, even on a slow court)

When Rog did try to seize control of big points early, Rafa still manages to do something spectacular, such as the lob he made on break point serving at 5-4 in the 4th. And Roger still manages to make spectacular winners look as easy as missing a sitter like that lob, on which he could safely have tried for more than a soft slice overhead to Rafa's backhand: his ball curved wide of the alley like a certain field goal the New England Patriots remember with relish from last Sunday, and with about the same catastrophic result.

Tune in for another installment of Murray's Sorrow in a few hours, as he takes on the Invincible One. Coach Lendl says he'll be more aggressive with his forehand. Can he do it?

And then wait for Sunday when Rafa will be brought down from the heights...

Rick

Australian Open Results: Fed v Rafa,


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