Wednesday 23 January 2013

Maria Sharapova vs Li Na (Australian Open 2013 Semi-Final Preview)

Maria Sharapova will walk into the match with the fewest games lost in the tournament in making it to the Australian Open semi-final since the 128 player draw began, an open era record. Li Na will walk back to the courts where she clawed her way back from the jaws of defeat in 2011, by saving a match point and defeating then World no.1 Caroline Wozniacki, to make it to her first ever grand slam final.

The two players have been hot since the start of the season, Li going 13-1 since the start and the only loss coming at the hands of Agnieszka Radwanska, while Sharapova still undefeated in her 2013 campaign.

This is the pair's 13th meeting, with Sharapova leading 8-4, winning the last 3 meetings in 2012. Sharapova routed Li in the semi-finals of Beijing last year, baggling Li in the 2nd set.

Both players have yet to drop a set so far in the tournament. Let us have a look at what do the numbers tell us about the performance of the players.

The stats below are the average stats of the players for the 5 matches played so far in the tournament.
Description     Sharapova                    Li          
Aces            4              3
Double Faults            3              3
1st Serve %age          60%            66%
1st serve points won          79%            65%
2nd serve points won         55%            50%
Net points won          62%            69%
Break points won         57%            75%
1st serve return won         54%            47%
2nd serve return won         71%            65%
Winners          20            21
Unforced Errors         15            29

The match will come down to 3 things as always

Serve: Service holds have not been a problem for Sharapova so far in this tournament, as she has been broken only twice in her previous 5 matches. Li, on the other hand has been broken for 11 times in her previous 5 matches. Add the fact that Sharapova has won 14% more points compared to Li, behind her first serve and 5% more behind her 2nd serve. Serve, a liability for Sharapova or Li?

Return: Sharapova has been hot on returns, breaking her opponents ruthlessly throughout her 5 matches. Li, has not been bad on service returns, however Sharapova has been better. Li has won 65% points behind her first serve while Sharapova has won 54% points while returning the first serves of her opponents. The major concern for Li will be her 2nd serve, where has won only 50% points and Sharapova has been punishing the players on their 2nd serves. Li will have to up her first serve %age and points won behind her first serve. 

Winners-Unforced Errors Differential: The player with cleaner stats will have more chance of making it to the final of the first grand slam of the year. Both players hit the ball as hard as they can, and keeping the unforced errors low will definitely help each player. A perfect balance between aggression and defense will be needed. Sharapova has so been been able to keep her stats clean with a +5 winners-unforced errors differential, while Li has a -8 winners-unforced errors differential.

Sharapova has Li's previous coach Thomas Hogstedt in her corner and an insight into Li's game will definitely help Sharapova. Li on the other hand has Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin's former coach, on her camp. It will be interesting to see how to the players go out there on the court.

 Sharapova leads Li 5-1 in the pair's meetings on hard courts, Sharapova has gone for Li's forehand in her previous meetings which is the weaker wing of Li Na and tends to break down under pressure.

Sharapova has a great chance of winning this match, however, if Li can dictate and make Sharapova run and come to the net, Li will have a chance in this match.

Li has been known for losing concentration during the match, however, she will have to razor sharp from the start to the end if she is to make it past the 2008 Australian Open champion, Maria Sharapova.

It will also come down to what type of Li we see today, an error spraying machine or a composed and winner producing player. The player making the first strike will definitely have an edge in the match.

My mind tells me to go with Sharapova, but I know that I will be rooting for Li Na.

Pick : Sharapova in 3 sets.

Who are you going for?

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