The 2014 Australian Open will feature the last four women standing on Day 11 with a pair of women's singles semifinal matchups.
The first semifinal was set up on Day 9 as Li Na and Eugenie Bouchard won their respective quarterfinal matches to advance in the draw. Meanwhile, the second semifinal showdown has yet to be determined, with two-time defending tournament champion Victoria Azarenka headlining Day 10's remaining quarterfinal action.
With only two matches to play before the women's semifinals kick off at Melbourne Park, let's get you up to speed on the state of the women's draw.
Below we'll get you set for all of Thursday's women's semifinal action.
Date: Thursday, January 23, 2014
Start Time: 1:30 p.m. (local time), 9:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday (U.S.)
Where: Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park
Live Stream: WatchESPN
|Thurs, Jan. 23||Women's Semifinal No. 1||1:30 p.m. local time, 9:30 p.m. ET on Wed, Jan. 22||ESPN2|
|Thurs, Jan. 23||Women's Semifinal No. 2||Immediately following Semifinal No. 1||ESPN2|
The Contenders (players locked into semifinals are italicized)
With world No. 1 Serena Williams bowing out in the round of 16, two-time defending Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka is now the favorite to win this tournament for the third straight year.
Azarenka has won 18 consecutive matches at Melbourne Park dating back to 2012 and has yet to drop a single set through the first four rounds of this year's event. The world No. 2 will battle fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals on Day 10 and will be a heavy favorite to advance.
Keep in mind that Azarenka has won seven straight matches against Radwanska, including five straight on hard courts.
China's Li Na has never won the Australian Open but has reached the final in two of the past three years, coming within one set of winning it all in 2013.
This year, the 31-year-old has her sights set on another final berth. After defeating Flavia Pennetta with ease in the quarters, Li will take on Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard in the semifinals. Bouchard certainly has the talent to spring the upset and crash the final. But given Li's experience and her current form, it's tough to see her dropping two of three sets to the No. 30 seed.
Not to mention the four-time Australian Open semifinalist has gotten stronger as the tournament wears on, per The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg:
6-2, 3-0 now for Li Na over Pennetta. Hard to believe this is the same woman who was down match pt to Lucie Safarova four days ago. #AusOpen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 21, 2014
Agnieszka Radwanska has reached the quarterfinals Down Under for the fourth consecutive year.
However, unless she's able to put together a complete performance against defending champion Azarenka on Wednesday, she'll be bowing out in the quarters for the fourth straight year as well.
Radwanska will be an underdog against Azarenka but has the game and the Grand Slam experience to pull off the upset and break the draw wide open.
No. 11 seed Simona Halep has improved mightily over the past year and is off to a strong start in 2014, having reached her first ever Grand Slam quarterfinal in Australia.
Still, the 22-year-old's lack of experience in the second week of a big-time tournament could be a factor against Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova, who has played in four Grand Slam quarterfinal matches since 2009.
Halep's play through the first four rounds has been awfully impressive, but can she continue to deliver?
As already mentioned, Cibulkova has had success in the second week of Grand Slam tournaments in the past. Unfortunately, none of that success has come at Melbourne Park, where the 24-year-old had never been past the round of 16 until this year.
Despite her struggles at the season's first major, her round of 16 triumph over third-seeded Maria Sharapova has her entering the quarterfinals with loads of confidence and belief that she can win her first-ever Slam Down Under.
While it would be foolish to count out 30th-seeded Bouchard in her semifinal clash with Li Na, keep in mind that she's playing in just her fourth career Grand Slam tournament and is in uncharted territory having never been past the third round at the previous three.
Still, there's no denying Bouchard's chances in the semifinals given her stellar play thus far:
"A lot of the players now are playing better with age...but I think I've been doing well this week handling big moments on court" #Bouchard— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 21, 2014
If there's another concern on top of her lack of experience, it's her recent trend of starting slow. She has lost the first set in each of her past two matches, and another sluggish start against a player of Li's caliber will likely spell the end of her impressive run.
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