In recent years the Australian Open has consistently done one thing, kick off the tennis grand slam season with a bang. The story lines that come out of Melbourne Park give us a flavour of what’s to come for the rest of the tennis year, a flavour that often leaves us craving for more. Finals week-end in Melbourne is the biggest sporting event in the coming two days, so it is only fitting this edition of The Weekend Preview looks ahead to two fascinating finals down under.
Women’s Singles Final: Victoria Azarenka vs Li Na (26th January) Not before 7:30 PM Australian Time
Who would have picked this as the women’s final on the middle Sunday of the competition? With Serena Williams mowing down the competition left right and centre and Maria Sharapova shrieking and smashing her way through the draw, a final round confrontation between the pair was looking more and more likely with every round. However, the tennis God’s had a completely different agenda. Serena and Sharapova both fell before the championship round; in the quarter finals and semi-finals respectively. Having said this, we cannot take anything away from our pair of deserving finalists- Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and China’s Li Na.
One of the most intriguing points about the match between Li and Azarenka is the pair’s penchant for playing their very best tennis in Australia. Azarenka the world number one is renowned for her infamous grunt and fearsome ball-striking. “Vika” as she’s dubbed has forged quite a record in Melbourne since a 2011 loss to (you guessed) it Li Na. Since then she has gone on to achieve 13 straight wins on the Melbourne Park hard-courts including a title round thrashing of Maria Sharapova in 2012. On the other side of the net, Li is no slouch either. She has built up a solid Australian Open resume in that same time frame. Since 2010 not once has the Chinese number one failed to reach the quarter-finals. There is much to suggest Li Na will this time go one step further and wrench the title from the world number one. Since she began working with her new coach Carlos Rodriguez, we can see a marked improvement in Li’s game. She seems to have lost the chronic nervousness and lack of consistency that have plagued her throughout her career. Her steady semi-final victory over Sharapova is a confirmation she now packs the mental power to go with a powerful game. In addition to this, the crowd is bound to be behind her. The affable and funny home continent hero takes on Azarenka, a figure who divides opinion. When two players who like to dominate points meet, the question is who will sustain their dominance enough to gain the victory? The answer will be delivered tomorrow morning at 7:30 pm Australian time.
Men’s Singles Final: Novak Djokovic vs Andy Murray (27th January) Not Before 7:30 PM Australian Time
War. That is the word that springs to mind and aptly describes confrontations between Murray and Djokovic. Only born a week apart, the duo have engaged in some phenomenal contests. They stretch each other to their physical limits and then some; scampering left right and centre to retrieve balls seemingly out of reach. On the very same court where they will clash on Sunday, Djokovic edged out Murray in a 4 hour 50 minute semi-final skirmish 367 days prior. Djokovic took the win at the death; 7-5 in the fifth set. To say a lot has changed in those 367 days would be an understatement. Murray has gotten the grand slam monkey off his back. He stopped Djokovic in yet another five set grand slam encounter to win the U.S Open. Murray had come of age, finally chasing the ghost of Fred Perry the last British man to win a Grand Slam title into the shadows once and for all. Playing a more aggressive brand of tennis, the 25 year-old Brit has learned that to win grand slam titles you have to go out and snatch victory. As a result he has made a spirited run to the Australian Open final this year, outlasting Roger Federer in his second consecutive five set semi to set up a confrontation with Djokovic.
On the other hand Djokovic who finished 2012 ranked world number one, enters his third straight final in Melbourne with the history books in his sights. No man in the open era of tennis (since 1969) has won the Australian Open three times in a row. It must be noted that his form has not been as impressive as Murray’s leading into the final. The Serb was pushed to the limit in an epic struggle with Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round. Despite this he heads into Sunday’s final a marginal favourite. He brings to big matches a potency and competitive drive that is unmatched. The longer a match goes, the stronger he seems to become. All signs are pointing to a marathon, this final may not be about who simply wins but who conjures up enough will power to survive their opponent.