Serena's improbable run to end
Unseeded American will fall to top-seeded Sharapova in Aussie final
Coming off very limited play in 2006, Serena Williams has proved her doubters wrong by reaching the Australian Open women's singles final, but she won't win the title, predicts Tracy Austin of MSNBC.com.
By Tracy Austin
Updated: 16 minutes ago
MELBOURNE, Australia - Serena Williams has given tennis fans an Australian Open to remember.
Entering the first major of 2007 ranked as world No. 81 due to having played in only four events in 2006, the 25-year-old American has defied the odds to reach her 10th Grand Slam final.
She has taken out five seeded players, and she says she hasn't even played well yet Down Under.
There's no question Serena has exceeded expectations, but she is going to have her work cut out for her when she takes on top-seeded Maria Sharapova in the women's singles final.
Sharapova is going to be a huge step up in class for Williams -- too big a step in my opinion as I see the Russian taking the title.
Sharapova in storming form
There’s no doubt that Sharapova has elevated her game in the last few months. She is also a more confident player than she was before she won her second major at last year's U.S. Open.
The 19-year-old was already a great player on the attack, but her defense has gotten better and she has been serving well on big points.
Overall there are more facets to her game than there used to be, and you can see all the little pieces falling into place as Sharapova improves.
Williams’ semifinal opponent Nicole Vaidisova is a stablemate of Sharapova’s at Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy in Florida, and she has a similar game to Sharapova's but with one big difference -- Sharapova is much better at that game than is Vaidisova.
Sharapova is a tough cookie and she won’t be intimidated the way Vaidisova was against Williams. She was not intimidated by Williams when she was 17 and playing in the Wimbledon final, and she certainly is not going to be intimidated now as a seasoned player who has won two majors.
Sharapova hits the ball so early, so deep and so well on a consistent basis. I think she is going to rush Williams and therefore test her conditioning a lot more than it has been tested so far.
At her peak, Williams moved so well it was impossible to rush her, but Sharapova is going to put her on her back foot over and over again.
Let's break down their games.
It’s tough to choose between them. Williams has a big serve and she has used it well this tournament, but Sharapova’s serve is much improved. I don't see a decided edge for either of them on the serve.
RETURN OF SERVE
Williams used to have one of the best returns in the game, but it is not quite "on" yet.
Sharapova is returning a lot better than she used to, and she is being smarter about choosing when to go for her returns too.
Sharapova really does not volley unless she is fairly sure of hitting a winner, so she makes a higher percentage of a the volleys she hits. Williams, though, is a more natural volleyer.
Both Williams and Sharapova have incredibly powerful forehands, but both are also prone to mistakes on that wing.
I think Williams’ lack of matches puts her at a slight disadvantage here so, on current form, she loses out to Sharapova.
Right here, right now, Sharapova’s backhand is a safer shot than Williams’ is, so I back the Russian here too.
So many shots are about confidence, and in three months’ time, when Williams has a few more matches under her belt, then she is going to be stronger in so many areas, including this one.
FITNESS AND ATHLETICISM
I would split these categories into two. I think Williams is the more agile mover and is the better athlete naturally, but there is no question that Sharapova is in much better shape.
EDGE ATHLETICISM: WILLIAMS
EDGE FITNESS: SHARAPOVA
This is not going to be a strategic contest, it is going to be a battle of serves and power hitting. It is going to be about who executes their shots better on the day.
These are two of the strongest players mentally in the women’s game. Neither of them ever gives up and they have that champion’s ability to compete well even if they aren’t necessarily playing well.
SHARAPOVA IN STRAIGHT SETS
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