Djokovic vs Ferrer, Li Na vs Sharapova, Azarenka vs Stephens Previews

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Follow Novak Djokovic v David Ferrer Live here: Djokovic Ferrer Australian Open 2013 SF Live Commentary

Li Na v Maria Sharapova

Li Na has justified her dark horse tag, pulling off an excellent straight sets victory over the previously unbeaten Agnieszka Radwanska. While her serve was still not overly convincing, she played excellently on return, breaking the Pole no fewer than six times. However, the service numbers will be a concern, albeit Radwanska is one of the best players on return in the game. Only 51% of points won on the first serve is disappointing, although 56% behind the second serve is certainly respectable.

Sharapova continues to bulldoze her way through the competition, losing only four games in a comfortable win over Ekaterina Makarova. Her serve is firing, winning 83% of points behind her first serve against Makarova and getting 66% of first serves in play. Once again, she posted a positive winners-unforced errors ratio of 22-19.

The key to this match will be how well Li Na can protect her serve. She has been broken 11 times in her past four matches and Sharapova will fancy her chances to get a couple of breaks in each set. As well as Li Na has been playing, it will be tough for her to break the Sharapova serve more than a couple of times. However, if she can find some consistency and holds of serve, she has the ground game to manoeuvre the Russian around the court and get some joy.

Victoria Azarenka v Sloane Stephens

Sloane Stephens pulled off the shock of the tournament as she knocked out an injured Serena Williams, coming back from a set and a break down, and a break down in the third. While the back injury for Serena clearly hampered her, we should take nothing away from Stephens’ performance.

Stephens won an impressive 72% of points behind her first serve and protected her second serve well, winning just over half the points behind it. Against a player of the class of Serena, these are impressive figures. She hit plenty of unforced errors, but that is to be expected as she looks to hit the lines against the top players. She was also able to find plenty of joy against the Serena serve, breaking her compatriot no fewer than five times.

Azarenka finally looked as though she was finding some form as she beat Kuznetsova in straight sets. After a slow start, she won 12 of the last 14 games of the match as she dismantled the Russian’s game.

Although she was helped by 43 unforced errors of the racket of the Russian, she hit 26 winners herself and broke four times. She got plenty of first serves in court, which was a bonus given how Kuznetsova attacked her second serve, winning 52% of points off Azarenka’s second serve. Azarenka’s strength though is the return of serve and she found plenty of joy, winning 51% against the first serve and a massive 62% against the second serve.

We know that Azarenka’s strength is the return, rather than the serve. Sloane Stephens will be looking for a repeat performance on serve that she produced against Serena, and she will likely get opportunities on the Azarenka serve. If she can serve well, there is the chance of the upset, albeit relatively unlikely.

Novak Djokovic v David Ferrer

While the H2H reads 11-5 in Djokovic’s favour, this flatters the Spaniard somewhat. Three of his five victories have come on the clay before Djokovic’s real rise to the top, while another came at the year end championships in 2011 when the Serb was clearly not fit. This will be the fourth meeting between the two in hard court Grand Slam events, and Djokovic has only dropped one set.

The Serb showed little sign of the marathon match he played against Wawrinka as he outclassed Tomas Berdych. While he had a slight blip in the second set, he played exceptionally well against the Czech. He hit 47 winners to just 25 unforced errors, a phenomenal ratio. He won 78% behind his first serve and 63% behind the second serve, only being broken once at the start of the second set.

He was also impressive on the return. While Berdych won 66% behind his first serve, the Serb targeted the second serve, resulting in Berdych winning just 42%, including just 30% in the first set and 27% in the second set.

David Ferrer can count himself lucky to have reached this stage. For the first two and a half sets, as well as most of the fourth set, he was outclassed by Nicolas Almagro. Unfortunately Almagro was unable to close out the match, despite serving for it three times. Once the self-belief had gone, Ferrer was able to battle his way back into the match and grind out the victory.

In the first two sets, Ferrer was only able to create two break points, both of which were saved by Almagro. Indeed, he only won 24% and 19% of return points respectively. For a player who relies a lot on his return game, this would be worrying. 51 unforced errors over the five sets will also have been a concern, given the reliance he places on grinding out points from long rallies.

He did protect his serve well though, winning 72% of points behind his first serve and hitting 69% of first serve. The big serve down the middle from the ad-court was a particular success, producing 8 of his 16 aces and resulting in winning 75% of the points.

This will be a massive ask for David Ferrer. He relies on grinding out points and outlasting his opponents in the rallies. However, this simply will not work against Novak Djokovic. The only set that he has won off him at a Grand Slam came in the wind at Flushing Meadows, and the conditions are unlikely to help him here. He will have to find plenty of cheap points on serve and hope that he can draw enough errors from Djokovic to find a few breaks.

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