Regional Director, USA Sport Group.
So my predictions for the semis would have gone three-quarters of the way to plan had Serena Williams not been injured in her loss to 19-year-old Sloane Stephens. My Angelique Kerber prediction was more in hope of an upset than anything, but after watching Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Li Na play, they undoubtedly deserved their places in the final four. So here comes the tricky part. Who will win? These are my predictions (or what some may call “educated guesses”).
Prediction: V. Azarenka
Having already suffered the curse of the “wouldn’t it be great if” syndrome with Kerber, I can’t bring myself to back the American Stephens. I would love to, but Azarenka has been playing some phenomenal tennis–only dropping one set on route to the semis. The World No. 1 is looking in fine form and at full fitness, so I think she should beat Stephens in straight sets. It has been a great tournament for the young American, and she has well and truly announced herself on the world stage of tennis. US tennis fans will be hoping to see a lot more of her in 2013, but Azarenka is looking too strong this time around.
Semi-Final 2: Li Na vs. M. Sharapova
Prediction: M. Sharapova
Speaking of dropping minimal games, Maria Sharapova has dropped nine–in five matches–has taken just over five hours to play those matches, and not lost a single set. Li Na has struggled a little more along the way, but is still holding a straight set record herself. Something’s gotta give. Some have claimed Sharapova’s lack of competition in her earlier rounds could well be her downfall, should Li Na go claim a set on her, but the way Sharapova is playing (and thinking), she sounds like a winner already:
''My goal is not really to be tested. I don't know how else to put it…It's not to think, 'Oh, well, should I just give away a few games?' It's not really the mentality of a winner” (via news.com).
Final: V. Akarenka vs. M. Sharapova
Not the most difficult final to have predicted before the tournament began, with World No. 1 facing World No. 2. However with favorite Serena Williams out of the picture, I can’t see any other outcome. Honestly, they way Sharapova is playing, she looks unstoppable. Gone is the young, immature, racket-smashing teenager after her breakout year in 2004 (although to be fair, she was only 16). She has improved her game mentally, tactically and physically in the past few years, her injury troubles have not returned since 2010, and she does not look as likely to crack under pressure as she may have done earlier in her career. For me, Maria looks favorite to win her second Australian Open, and the fifth Grand Slam of her career come January 26.
Winner: M. Sharapova