Australian Open 2014: Women’s Final Preview

No big names this time. With all the pre tournament favorites taking their flights back from Melbourne, two best women of the fortnight play on Saturday for the first biggest trophy of the season ‘The Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup’ at the Australian Open.

Na Li (CHN) [4] vs. Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) [20]

Both the finalists Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova are a surprise given the dominance of Serena, Azarenka and Sharapova on the WTA tour, especially Vika who won the last two editions and made all four hard court slam deciders in the last two years. Though China’s Li Na was immediate favorite to reach the final after Williams was upset in the fourth round, the Slovak isn’t really new on the game’s grandest stages. She boasts of victories over Azarenka and Sharapova beating the latter en route to the final. Coincidentally, she was able to record those upsets in French Open where her previous best major performance stands including the semifinal run in 2009 as a 20-year old taking down Sharapova in the quarters.

Stats Corner:

Li Na
-Fourth major final. Third at the Australian Open
-Runner up in 2011 (lost. Kim Clijsters), 2013 (lost. Victoria Azarenka)
-Roland Garros champion 2011 (def. Francesca Schiavone)

Dominika Cibulkova
-Quarter final appearance at all four majors
-Semifinalist at Roland Garros 2009 (lost. Dinara Safina)

Road to the final – Li Na

It was not a roller coaster ride for Li to make the final. Last year runner up was widely tested in the early rounds. She safely passed the test of upcoming Swiss, Belinda Bencic in the second round in straight sets. She was almost knocked out by the Czech, Lucie Safarova in the third round where she escaped with victory in the third set after saving match points in the second set. Since then, she barely put a foot wrong in the following three matches losing as few as twelve games including her demolition of big hitting Makarova in R16 and Bouchard in semis. It’s something that worries Cibulkova going into the final.

Road to the final – Dominika Cibulkova

Slovak’s run was quite a contrast to her opponent in the run to the title match. She was hardly troubled by her opponents except the fourth round foe Maria Sharapova whom she edged 6-1 in the deciding set. Her victims included the promising future star Romania’s Simona Halep and ever-versatile Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in the quarters and semis respectively. She will thrive on the confidence from her victories against the top players in back to back matches.

What To Look Forward:

It’s going to be a seesaw battle between scintillating ball striking of the Slovak and the experience of the Chinese woman. Spectators of the Saturday night final are assured of some valuable entertainment.

My Prediction:

Li Na won’t be ready for yet another heartbreak in front of the Rod Laver Arena crowd, where she really feels like playing at home. Her diverse game and confidence added with experience should lead her to straight sets victory.

Story of the tournament:

Young Canadian Eugenie Bouchard who thrilled the fans with some fearless tennis earning her victories over crowd favorites Casey Dellacqua and Ana Ivanovic before her dream was abruptly curtailed by the fourth seed Li Na in the semifinal. It was just her fourth main draw appearance in a major and the first ever semifinal. Hopefully many more to come from the 19-year old.

-Harish Narahari [Harish Narahari is a Sports Analyst for the Tennis Galaxy. He tweets here]

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