Australian Open 2012
Men’s and Women’s Singles – Final Round Preview
After two weeks of play, the first tennis Grand Slam of 2012 has officially been reduced to its final round. There were many great matches, some surprise players with the occasional upset, and a lot of unnecessary grunting (by women). The pool has been weeded down to four, and at last the best men and best women will duke it out for the Grand Slam title.
In the Men’s final, we have the number one seed, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, against the number two see, Rafael Nadal from Spain. These two are arguably the best two players in the world. While their ranks do suggest that they are indeed the best two, both played extremely close and intense semifinal matches to reach the final round. Nadal battled against his old nemesis, Roger Federer (who is still, arguably, one of the two best players in the world), while Djokovic barely defeated Andy Murray. Nadal and Djokovic have played each other 29 times over their careers (Nadal having gone pro in 2001, and Djokovic doing the same in 2003), and they are almost even in the win-loss column. Nadal holds a slight edge in the series with 16 wins and 13 losses. There is perhaps no matchup that could be any closer or have as much of a chance of going either way. Both men are spectacular players, and due to their world ranking, have met in the finals of the last two Grand Slams as well (the 2011 Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals). They’re no strangers to the pressure, the level of intensity, or the stage.
Winning here could set the tone to come in the rest of the Grand Slams for the year. Rafa is looking to extend his series lead, but he has beaten Djokovic head-to-head since 2010. This may give Djokovic a little bit of breathing room, and a little room for error. With five sets, and with Nadal’s mentality, knowing that he hasn’t won in over a year, Djokovic can play around with his game a little bit, pressure Nadal early on, and perhaps break his spirit a little bit. One thing he will have to be careful of, however, is getting too lax in the later sets. In the semifinal match versus Andy Murray, Djokovic had a 5-2 lead in the final set. He was one game away from winning, and Murray managed to tie things up at 5-5. Judging from the way he was playing, Djokovic seemed to take his foot off the gas a little bit, which gave Murray his opening to make a move. (Note: It should be mentioned, though, that Murray also played spectacularly, and where he found the energy or the will that ultimately tied the game, I will never know. It was a shame he had to get so far only to fall in the end.) Regardless, it can be expected that if Djokovic takes his foot off the gas at any point in time, Nadal will make him pay for it.
The Women’s final match will feature the number three seed, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, against the number four seed, Maria Sharapova of Russia. I’ll say right now that I have a clear preference of who wins this one. I have been in love with Maria Sharapova ever since she made a splash in 2004 with her win at Wimbledon. I mean, come on, tall, blond, athletic—who in their right mind wouldn’t love her? So it’s great to see that she made the finals of this tournament. Against Azarenka, Sharapova is 3-3. This match is even closer than the Men’s singles, so Maria’s ability to win the whole tournament isn’t a given. Then again, she did beat Petra Kvitova in the semifinals, and that was an impressive feat in and of itself. Sharapova is on a tear right now through this Grand Slam, and she will not be stopped easily. She does, however, need to tone down the grunting just a little bit. It’s hot to a degree, but then just kind of weird after that.
What’s more interesting than the head-to-head between these two ladies is what’s at stake in this one match. Whoever wins will be the undisputed world number one, a place that Sharapova has been four different times in her career, while Azarenka has never achieved that status. Even more would be that if Sharapova wins, she will be the first player to ever win a major title after having shoulder surgery (which she had in 2008). She’s on a mission, and looking great to succeed, even if the odds currently put her as the underdog (many sites putting her at 6/5 odds to win). I’d take that bet, but I suppose emotion shouldn’t be a factor when money is on the line.
Australian Open Preview – Final Thoughts
Both matches should be exciting to see. Tomorrow morning at 3 a.m. will be the Women’s final, and then following morning at 3 a.m. will be the Men’s. If you can get up that early, do it. If you can’t, tape it. You won’t see better matches. And if you like hearing women grunt, then you’re in for a real treat.