Maria Sharapova vs. Victoria Azarenka: Previewing US Open Semis Clash

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05:  Maria Sharapova of Russia serves to  Marion Bartoli of France during their women's singles quarterfinal match on Day Ten of the 2012 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 5, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Upsets are fun to watch early, but there is nothing quite like seeing two stars compete at the highest level. This will be the case when Victoria Azarenka takes on Maria Sharapova in the semifinals of the 2012 U.S. Open. 

Azarenka and Sharapova are the No. 1 and No. 3 female players in the world, respectively, according to the rankings. With their level of play, they are unlikely to drop from those high spots any time soon. 

Sharapova is having a renaissance of sorts this season at age 25 after injuries seemed to derail her career. This season, she completed the career Grand Slam with a win at the French Open and earned a silver medal in the Olympics.

The Russian also reached the finals of the Australian Open for the third time in her career. Unfortunately, that final showed why she is still behind Azarenka in the rankings. The Belarus native dominated Sharapova for two sets and came out with a 6-3, 6-0 victory.

The difference has been in the serve.

Sharapova has a solid first serve, but when she cannot get it in play, her second serve is very returnable. In her quarterfinal match against Marion Bartoli, she won 71 percent of first serves but only 39 percent of second serves.

Against Azarenka, that differential could be even higher.

The talented player has a strong cross-court shot with spin that can hold her opponent in check throughout the match. If Sharapova presents a weak serve just to get it in play, Azarenka will jump all over it.

Although the top-ranked player in the world also struggles at times with her second serve, she can make up for it with her ability to break. In her quarterfinal against Samantha Stosur, she won 43 percent of receiving points. 

Both ladies needed three sets to defeat their quarterfinal opponents, but that is where things might get interesting in the semifinal. The two are a combined 23-0 in three-set matches this season. It will be an interesting battle between them if this match gets that far.

Sharapova has been playing well, but it will take a big effort to get into the finals of this tournament. While each competitor prefers the hard court, Azarenka has dominated it this season to a 31-2 record. She showed what she could do at the Australian Open and is now back to the surface where she does her best.

It will be a highly competitive match to see who will likely face Serena Williams in the finals, but the No. 1 female in the world should be able to win in three sets.