Li Na can notch another massive milestone for Chinese tennis with a win over Caroline Wozniacki today.
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Semifinal action is on the docket today, and I'm here to take a stab at making sense of what promise to be two very engaging women's semifinals. Yesterday went pretty much as expected until the shocker in the night session, so I managed to go three of four.
Today promises to be a lot harder. I've been on the fence with both women's tilts, and I am starting to think that I should just put the names in a hat, close my eyes, and let lady luck decide.
But that would be too easy. Any of you who noticed that I picked Stan Wawrinka over Roger Federer in the quarters know that I don't like doing things the easy way.
So allow me to get down to the business of prognosticating:
Li Na vs. Caroline Wozniacki, Not before 1:30, Rod Laver
The head-to-head between these two class-A baseliners reveals that Li has enjoyed success over Wozniacki. She's taken the last two matches — also four out of the last five sets — over the Dane, and she'll step on court knowing that if she plays to her capabilities she could become the toast of all of China. Knowing you can win is a good thing, and Li will need to be confident. But she'll also need to be blissfully ignorant of the massive implications that winning this match could have for Chinese tennis.
How Li deals with — or ignores — expectations might be the key to her short-term future in Melbourne. She'll be up against a known commodity, and the match will more than likely hinge on Li's ability to do what she does best: execute a high-risk game and dictate points, for better or for worse.
Meanwhile, it's no secret that Wozniacki will look to use her uncanny retrieving abilities and let the match come to her. She'll patrol the baseline and only venture off of it when she's forced to come in. She'll counter punch when opportunities arise, and she'll look play it safe until the moment dictates taking a gamble with her backhand.
The Dane is predisposed to conservatism, and she's also predisposed to a certain level of predictability. The world's No. 1 is easy to scout but oh-so difficult to beat. She may be pragmatic, and some might even say boring, but her focus, footwork and anticipation make her the best in the game at the style she plays.
Pick: Li in 3
Kim Clijsters vs. Vera Zvonareva, 2nd Match, Rod Laver
If it wasn't for one monstrosity of a hiccup in New York, the tennis world would be looking at Zvonareva as the hands-down favorite in this match. Vera took three out of four in 2010 from Clijsters, including a Wimbledon quarterfinal, and two other significant matches on hard court (Montreal and Doha). But in New York she fell in grand fashion to Clijsters in the final, taking only three games in a crushing defeat that altered our perception of the Russian.
In one fell swoop she went from being perceived as the most improved player in the game to just another player who isn't ready to take the next step.
While many see windows closing on her, Zvonareva sees her past experience opening them. "Definitely those experiences helped me a lot," said Zvonareva, "and I think I'm even more mature, more experienced because of that right now."
With two Grand Slam titles since her return, Aussie Kim knows a thing or two about experience too. She's lost four of five Australian Open semifinals, but all of those occurred before her retirement. These days she's more secure, and the pressure seems to bounce off of her instead of getting to her head.
She hasn't been perfect in Melbourne, but she's been perfect in all three of her tiebreakers (1 each in her last three matches) — that might be the most telling stat when it comes to the current state of Clijster's game.
She hasn't been flawless in victory, but in her heart she believes her best tennis will come when she needs it most. "I'm in the semifinals and you know, I don't feel like I've played my best tennis probably," said Clijsters. "So it's a good thing," she added. "I feel that I'm hanging in there, working hard, you know, to win my points. Sometimes that's probably even more of an achievement than winning your matches very easily."
Pick: Zvonareva in 3