Victoria Azarenka vs. Maria Sharapova: Who Will Ride Momentum to Victory?

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor ISeptember 7, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 04:  Victoria Azarenka of Belarus returns a shot against Samantha Stosur of Australia during their women's singles quarterfinals match on Day Nine of the 2012 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 4, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood, of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for USTA)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova will make for the best semifinal at the U.S. Open.

The current world No. 1 (Azarenka) and former world No. 1 (Sharapova) meet up on Friday afternoon at Flushing Meadows, and while it's not necessarily a classic rivalry, the contrasting styles make this a must-see matchup. 

Let's take a closer look at how each player has fared so far in New York, what it says about their style and what it means for their prospects of reaching the final. 



Maria Sharapova has a much more intimidating serve, and that's been on display this tournament. 

In the Russian's five matches so far in New York, she has racked up 29 aces, including 10 in her last battle with Marion Bartoli. Azarenka, on the other hand, has just six total aces in five matches.

That probably has a little something to do with the fact Sharapova's average first-serve speed has been somewhere right around 104 MPH this tourney—second only to Serena Williams—while Azarenka's has been averaging a meager 92. 

Finally, Azarenka has won 70 percent or more of her first-serve points in three matches so far, while Sharapova has done it four times and surpassed 80 twice.

Advantage, Sharapova. 



That's OK, though, because that's the way Azarenka likes it. She doesn't blow anyone away. She plays a steady game at the back, doesn't hit many errors and frustrates her opponents to death. 

That's been evident at the U.S. Open.

In her first five matches, Azarenka has tallied just 104 winners, but she's also only hit 81 unforced errors. She plays defense. She survives. She outlasts you. 

Sharapova, meanwhile, will try to crush it past you, as evidenced by her 147 winners and 121 unforced errors. She'll make the bigger shots, but she'll also make more mistakes. 

Finally, and most importantly, Azarenka has a ridiculous 31 breaks in 11 total sets while Sharapova has an impressive—although not nearly as jaw-dropping—27 in 12 sets. 

Advantage, Azarenka. 



This was really just a way to put a bunch of numbers behind some things that most of us probably already knew, but it revealed some intriguing facts about how each player is fairing at Flushing Meadows. 

Sharapova is powerful. Azarenka is steady.

Sharapova is the rabbit. Azarenka is the turtle. Uh, kind of. But you get the point.

Whenever two contrasting styles take the court in a matchup like this, it's always worth watching, regardless if it's No. 1 vs. No. 3 in the U.S. Open semifinals or not.

What's more, whenever two contrasting styles like this face off, I'm much more comfortable taking the steady player who won't make mistakes (unless the "power" player is Serena Williams). Also, the one who has won four straight head-to-head matches on the hard court.

That's Victoria Azarenka.