Victoria Azarenka vs. Maria Sharapova: Keys for Each Competitor in Semifinal

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2013

Sep 7, 2012; Queens, NY, USA; Maria Sharapova (RUS), left, shakes hands with Victoria Azarenka (BLR) after their match on day twelve of the 2012 US Open at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Azarenka won 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The fans at Roland Garros are in for a real treat in the semifinals of the women's draw. The matchup between Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova should be a great one.

While Serena Williams should continue to cruise in her next match against Sara Errani, the bottom half of the bracket will be a lot more competitive. The battle features two of the top three players in the world, as well as two females who have won a Grand Slam in the past year.

Amazingly, Azarenka and Sharapova have also lost only one set each so far at the French Open. 

Something will have to give on Thursday, as only one will be able to move onto the finals. Either one has the ability, but the players will each have to follow these keys to victory.


Victoria Azarenka

Be Aggressive at Net

One thing that has helped Azarenka achieve her best ever finish at Roland Garros is her play at the net. She is usually unafraid of being aggressive in matches, and that has made a huge difference so far in the tournament.

In her most recent match against Maria Kirilenko, the Belarusian went to the net 14 times and won the point in 13 of those rallies. This is incredible efficiency on what is usually a risky play.

Sharapova has good fitness and succeeds partly due to her ability to cover a lot of ground. Going up to the net will take away this ability and allow Azarenka to end rallies earlier.

As long as she picks the right time to go, this should make a big difference throughout the match.


Jump On Second Serve

This is a classic example of one player's strength against the other's weakness.

Sharapova usually loses a lot from her first serve to her second. Not only does she have less speed, but she often hits it right at her opponent to avoid a double fault.

In this match, the Russian will have to try use that second serve against Azarenka, who has won 65.5 percent of return points on second serves this season.

Azarenka has a big advantage on these points, so she must make sure she wins as many as possible. This will be her chance to earn some breaks, which will be necessary to win this match.


Maria Sharapova

Get the First Serve in Play

As previously mentioned, Sharapova struggles when it comes to her second serve. So far this season, she has won 72.3 percent of first-serve points but only 46.3 percent of second serve points.

This is a serious problem that needs to be fixed, but it will not be changed by the time she faces the former No. 1 player in the world.

With this in mind, the best cure is simply to avoid the problem and make sure she gets the first serve in play. A good goal would be to have an accuracy of at least two-thirds, although this is a number that Sharapova has topped only once in five French Open matches.

Still, she has to focus on every swing to make sure she keeps her advantage.


Keep Unforced Errors Low

This seems obvious for any tennis player in any tournament, but unforced errors have been an issue for Sharapova to this point.

In her quarterfinal match against Jelena Jankovic, her opponent won the first set 6-0. This is embarrassing enough for the defending French Open champion, although it is even worse when you factor in that Jankovic only had two winners in the set.

Sharapova was shut out due to the fact she had a double fault and a total of 20 unforced errors. While the rest of the match was better overall, she still had 25 unforced errors in the three-set victory.

Hopefully, she got all of the bad hits out of her system. More likely, though, it will take focus to avoid giveaway points.

If she can play relatively mistake-free, she should have the advantage in this match.


Rob Goldberg is a member of Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team. Follow him on Twitter for the latest updates.

Follow TheRobGoldberg on Twitter