Sloane Stephens: Keys for Young American to Beat Victoria Azarenka in Semifinal

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 23, 2013

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23:  Sloane Stephens of the United States plays a forehand in her Quarterfinal match against Serena Williams of the United States during day ten of the 2013 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Sloane Stephens is on cloud nine after knocking off five-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams in the 2013 Aussie Open quarterfinals on Wednesday. She won't have a whole lot of time to celebrate, though.

The 29th-seeded Stephens will square off with defending tournament champ and women's No. 1 seed Victoria Azarenka on Thursday, for the right to play in the women's final on Saturday.

With Thursday's epic semifinal on the horizon, let's break down the biggest keys for the 19-year-old Stephens in her matchup with the reigning champion.


Achieve First-Serve Success

Stephens was strong on first-serve points against Williams on Wednesday, winning 72 percent of them for the match. For the tournament, she is winning roughly 70 percent of her first-serve points, which bodes well for her in her next matchup with Azarenka.

Azarenka is winning 69 percent of her first-serve points Down Under, but won only 62 percent against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals.

So long as Stephens is able to hold serve against Azarenka, the match will be tight, placing added importance on every single point. 


Look to the Forehand

Stephens boasts a monster forehand. It's her greatest asset on the court and could surely pay huge dividends against Azarenka in the semis.

The youngster connected on seven forehand, ground-stroke winners against Williams in the quarters, posing a serious threat in rally situations.

If Stephens can dictate points with her forehand, she will have an excellent shot to win. She doesn't need to strike a winner every time in order to be successful, though. As long as she's hitting the forehand with pace, she will likely force Azarenka into some errors of her own.

When you watch Stephens, the one thing that stands out is that strong, accurate forehand. She'll need to utilize it early and often to combat Azarenka's well-rounded game.


Take Advantage of Break-Point Chances

Stephens must take advantage of her opportunities to break Azarenka on Thursday, because she likely won't get many.

She won five of eight break points against Williams, which turned out to be the difference in the match. Break-point chances don't come often against the world's elite players, and when they do come, they can go in an instant.

It's vital that Stephens focuses and keeps the ball in play during her break-point chances on Thursday. It's one thing to miss out on a chance to break, but it's another altogether to miss out because of unforced errors in those moments.

She has proven already that she has the head for those clutch moments. She'll just have to prove it once more in order to move one stage closer to winning the crown.


Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter throughout the 2013 Australian Open for more reaction and analysis on the year's first Grand Slam.

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