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By Chris Oddo

Serena Williams will face Sara Errani in the semifinals of the 2012 US Open (September 6, 2012)—On Friday, the women will take center stage on at the US Open. Here’s what our crystal ball is telling us about the women’s semifinals.

Victoria Azarenka vs. Maria Sharapova

The first thing on Maria Sharapova’s mind after vanquishing Marion Bartoli in the quarterfinals was revenge. “She beat me in Australia quite easily and I’d love to get my revenge in a Grand Slam,” said Sharapova of her semifinal opponent, Victoria Azarenka, matter-of-factly.

But revenge, as the saying goes, is a dish best served cold. Unfortunately for Sharapova, Azarenka is clearly red-hot at the moment. Actually, check that: both Sharapova and Azarenka are red-hot. Each has won a Grand Slam this year, and each is undefeated in three-set matches this season (Sharapova is 12-0, while Azarenka is 11-0).

So who has the edge? If you look at their last hard-court encounters, Azarenka has proven to be superior on the surface. She’s won the last eight sets against Sharapova, all in finals, and she’s only lost 2 of 33 matches on the surface this year. For Sharapova, her challenge has been consistency against the fleet-footed Belarusian. As the rallies have progressed, Azarenka has been able to get Sharapova out of her comfort zone on the baseline, forcing her to hit shots on the run and taking away time from her.

Serving effectively will be crucial for both players, as both can dominate a match with their returns, and both can tend to let a bad serving performance be their downfall.

But the real intrigue in this battle will be the mental side. Sharapova has long been considered one of the most mentally tough fighters on the WTA tour, but she’ll have to do more than fight against Azarenka on Friday—she’ll have to believe that she can beat her on her favorite surface. For Azarenka, the challenge will be to remain patient and to not let the adrenaline of the moment take her focus away.

Key Matchup: The third-set prowess of Sharapova vs. the third-set prowess of Azarenka

Crystal Ball says: Azarenka 7-5, 6-4

Serena Williams vs. Sara Errani

It’s all gravy for Sara Errani. She’s in the US Open semifinals for the first time in her career, and while she claims to be hungry for more, who could fault her for getting throttled by Serena Williams on Friday? For Williams, a three-time US Open and fourteen-time Grand Slam champion it’s just the opposite: anything less than a title will be a complete disaster.

The one thing that Errani does have going for her is that Williams’ serve—while still ridiculously potent—will be slightly easier to deal with than it was during her dominant run on the Wimbledon grass this summer. Williams has managed only 41 aces through her first five matches in New York, while she had 102 aces in seven matches at Wimbledon.

Still, Williams leads all women in winning first-serve points, having won 81 percent. A more startling statistic, and one that is going to be very important on Friday, is the fact that Errani has won 65 percent of her second serve points en route to the semifinals. Since she lacks a formidable first serve, Errani will need to do some hard work on her second serve in order to keep the Williams return game from doing too much damage.

Errani will have to do whatever she can to prolong the rallies and to try to avoid getting hit off the court by Williams, so that she can take advantage of her superiority in the stamina and movement categories.

On paper, Williams holds the obvious advantage in pretty much every category. In reality, she does too. But to count Errani out would be a mistake. In her first 17 Grand Slam appearances the Italian went 15-17. Since then, in 2012, she’s 17-3 with a Grand Slam final and semifinal to her name.

Key Matchup: Errani second serve vs. Williams return game

Crystal Ball says: Williams d. Errani 4-6, 6-1, 6-3

(File Photo: Serena Williams plays her second-round match at the 2012 U.S. Open; Credit: Andy Kentla)


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