The symmetry of the women’s final
Originally published on: 27/01/12 06:36
Both players are in their early twenties, Sharapova the more senior by two years at 24, that makes her 10% older. Both women are elegantly tall. At 6”2” Sharapova edges her younger opponent by two inches. The Belarusian is ranked No.3 in the world and the Russian No.4.
In terms of their match ups to date, they are neatly tied at three apiece. Sharapova won their last meeting in Rome, when Azarenka retired, but Azarenka won arguably their most meaningful recent meeting last year in Miami in two sets.
They have both dropped two sets coming into this final. Sharapova dropping the first set in her semi-final against Petra Kvitova and the first set against Sabine Lisicki. Azarenka dropped the first set against her friend Agnieszka Radwanksa and the second set, where by her own admission she said she had gone walkabout, 6-1 against Kim Clijsters.
Both have spent around nine hours on court. Last year they both reached the quarter-finals here.
So, what is there between them? Well, in our opinion, on the basis of form coming into the tournament, Vika has the slight edge. She played and won at Sydney in the week before coming to Melbourne. She defeated Jelena Jankovic, Marion Bartoli, Radwanska and Li Na to take the title. By contrast Sharapova withdrew from the tournament with an injured ankle, but says she used the time to get to Melbourne early so perhaps she’s a tad more relaxed.
Having said that though, the 24-year-old is probably the highest profile female athlete in the world and she spent some of that time promoting her apparel sponsor Nike. We know, because we caught up with her, and she spoke enthusiastically about her involvement in the design of her dress.
Not to be outdone, Victoria Azarenka currently boasts a video on her facebook site that she made for her apparel sponsor. Oh, did we mention that was Nike too – so there’s a good smattering of lime green across both their outfits.
But when it comes to facebook Sharapova has a huge advantage. If facebook fans voted for Queen then the crown would be firmly placed on the blonde hair of the Russian. That is the blonde hair of the Russian, not the Belarusian, (note to self, are they both naturally blonde?!). At the last count MaSha has 6,227,620 facebook followers. Vikka has a much more modest following of 60,105.
And when it comes to the prize-money that nobody likes to mention, Azarenka is about to breach an eye-watering $10 million, while Sharapova has a mind blowing $16 million tucked under her mattress.
Then there’s the technique. Big serves, big groundies, double handed backhands and rhythm enhancing grunting. But let’s not go there today. We will wait for tomorrow and hope that it does not rain and that the roof on Rod Laver Arena remains open to let a bit of the sound out.
Some people might think that experience would land the title Maria’s side of the net, but she has been there before remember? When she played Petra Kvitova at the 2011 Wimbledon final, her three grand slam titles mattered not. It was Kvitova, the Slam Final virgin who took the honours. Perhaps Maria has learned more from that experience and she won’t make the same mistakes tomorrow.
If both players are feeling a little nervous then they can also share the knowledge that whoever wins will also grab the No.1 title. Maria has said on several occasions this fortnight she’s more interested in slams than rankings.
The celebrations after their semi-final victories may provide a bit of insight. Azarenka fell forward into a yogic child’s pose, collapsing with a mixture of self-confessed relief and joy. Sharapova remained on her feet; arms outstretched exposing her heart to the sky.
When asked by a TV presenter for a recordable soundbite opinion about the outcome of final, we said this: On the basis of form coming into the Aussie Open and through the tournament, the honours will go to Azarenka. On the basis of who has the guts and steel, we’re handing it to Sharapova.
But in the girlie and very trivial dimension of outfit, we think the dress wins it over the shorts.
Tennishead’s Melbourne prediction: Sharapova in three.