The blockbuster tussle between the world No.1 and arguably the best player of last season has eventuated and stands out as the marquee match of tonight’s women’s singles semifinals.
Victoria Azarenka, the Belarusian who landed her maiden Grand Slam singles crown in Melbourne last summer, finished the year as the top-ranked woman, but her 2012 nemesis, Serena Williams, lost just one match from May onwards and stands across the net from her tonight as the third seed, desperate to prove her worth as the player to beat heading into the year’s first major.
Williams won Wimbledon, an Olympic gold medal, the US Open and season-ending championships. She stands half way to completing a second “Serena Slam” and of the pair’s 12 matches, has lost just once, at Miami back in 2009.
While eight of the world’s top 10 women touched down in Brisbane this week, a surprise duo will contest the all-unseeded second semifinal for the right to enter the decider as an overwhelming underdog.
Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is no stranger to semifinal action in Brisbane. She lost to eventual champion Petra Kvitova in the last four two years ago and returns fitter and with two top-10 scalps – Kvitova and Angelique Kerber – to her name already this week. She will start favourite against lucky loser, Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, who benefited from Maria Sharapova’s withdrawal to take her place in the draw.
Men’s singles quarterfinals fill the day session on Pat Rafter Arena with Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis bidding to reach his first semifinal in Brisbane, having reached the last eight for the third time in succession. His opponent is the equally fleet-footed Frenchman, Gilles Simon. The No.3 seed has flown under the radar this week but having reached the semifinals here last year, will be confident of going one further as the highest remaining seed in the bottom half of the draw.
His conqueror from last year, Alexandr Dolgopolov, meets Japan’s fifth seed Kei Nishikori in the second quarterfinal of the day. Ranked 18th and 19th respectively, the talented duo are two of the lightest players on their feet so expect the full repertoire of shots today as the Ukrainian looks to level their head-to-head at one apiece.
Unseeded Denis Istomin was impressive in wiping eighth seed Martin Klizan in Round 1 and handled Lleyton Hewitt’s challenge in the last 16 in two tight sets yesterday. Today he meets the tournament’s top seed and defending champion, Andy Murray. The Scot barely raised a sweat in sending qualifier John Millman packing last night and while 43rd-ranked Istomin represents a sterner challenge on paper, Murray should have few difficulties nullifying the Uzbek’s big serve.
Tickets are still available for today’s and tonight’s sessions via Ticketek.