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Day 11 On Tap: AO Women's Semis Preview

What once looked like a one-woman coronation has now turned into a four-way race to the finish. Tennis Now's Erik Gudris preview the Australian Open women's semis.

By Erik Gudris

Maria Sharapova French Open(January 23rd, 2012) -- The women's semis are set at the Australian Open and what once looked like a one-woman coronation has now turned into a four-way race to the finish. Here's a preview of today's matches.

Li Na vs. Maria Sharapova

Some may think that seeing Li Na in the semis is a surprise, but it really isn't. The Chinese star is now back into the final four of Melbourne for the third time in four years. Li has said the event is her favorite of the Majors and she certainly proved she has what it takes to get to the finals.

Standing in her way is Sharapova who has displayed record setting form in only dropping nine games throughout the tournament. This will be her 13th meeting with Li and Sharapova leads the overall head to head eight to four. With those numbers in the back of her mind, Sharapova will like her chances but she knows that if Li gets streaky and starts hitting winner after winner, she could just as easily get hit off of the court.

It's hard not to back Sharapova in this one as she seeks not only her second AO title but perhaps a return to No. 1 in the world. I picked Li to reach the finals and I still think she can do it if she plays high quality, minimal error tennis. A long shot perhaps but hey, we've seen quite a few players this fortnight do just that when least expected.

Victoria Azarenka vs. Sloane Stephens

Azarenka was asked about Stephens in her post-quarterfinal match presser and you can tell from the response that although Azarenka was complimentary to the 19-year-old she likely didn't expect to face her in the semis. But that is the case as Stephens kept her poise throughout that tumultuous three set battle against Serena Williams to reach her first ever Major semi.

If Stephens can put the biggest win of her young career out of her mind and go for what would be an even bigger win is the main question going into this one. Stephens proved she can chase almost everything down and well as deliver big winners when needed. Azarenka has not played her best tennis to get to the semis, but she'll now know she'll have to against Sloane in this first time meeting.

Azarenka will need to return well and not get impatient when she sees Stephens chase down ball after ball. The youngster might just take Azarenka to three sets, but the older and now more mature Azarenka will likely be the one showing up for Saturday night's final.
(Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve)


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