1-VICTORIA AZARENKA VS. 4-SERENA WILLIAMS
If Azarenka shows the same spunk and get-up-and-go attitude that she did in taking down Maria Sharapova in a marathon semifinal, then she'll have a chance to win this match, but if she comes out flat, uninspired and without confidence, then she could be wiped out.
Somewhat amazingly, given how good Azarenka is, Serena owns a 9-1 record against her, losing to her only once in the 2009 Miami final, when Williams was exhausted from long wins over Li Na and her sister, Venus. Other than that, Serena has dominated the Belarusian, beating her three times at the Australian Open, twice at Wimbledon, at the 2011 US Open and three times this year alone, most recently a 6-1, 6-2 beat down in the semifinals of the Olympics. Yes, that was on grass, but it’s not like Azarenka does not like fast courts.
Clearly, Serena is in Vika’s head because not only is one of the world's best returners unable to get a read on Serena’s serves, but she rarely holds against her, either, or stays strong from inside the baseline, where she is very, very good against other players.
While Serena is the world’s most feared server and can belt a return, it is possible to stay with her from the baseline on outdoor hard courts. If it wasn't, she would own 12 US Open titles rather than three. But if a player does not believe that she really belongs on the court with another, then she will come on court with a defeatist attitude and go down quickly.
Serena has won the last 10 sets they've played since 2011. Azarenka says that she knows she has to do something different and will come on court with the intention of winning the match, but does she really believe deep down that she can? I’m not sure that she does.
Game-wise, I do think she can stay with Williams off the ground, and she moves just as well and perhaps is a little quicker, but she does not have Serena’s sense of anticipation. She actually has to get into points to be able to use her movement to her advantage, which means the outcome of the match will rest on how well they both serve and return. Serena has a far better serve, and when she’s on a hot streak – which she has been at this US Open – an equally good return.
I’m hoping for the fans' sake that Azarenka comes out roaring, plays to the best of her ability and makes this an exciting and dramatic match, but all I see is one competitive set out of the Belarusian in a straight-sets victory by Williams. On Saturday evening, Williams will raise her first US Open trophy since 2008 and, given how down she was after her last two very emotional losses, her smile will be as wide as the span of the Whitestone Bridge.