Well, after a fortnight of some superb tennis in the women’s game and a fair slice of drama we have reached the final stage.Early predictions, despite her indifferent early form at the start of the year saw world number one Justine Henin as favourite to at least reach the last hurdle here, the tournaments form player put that to rest. Maria Sharapova has produced a ruthless standard of tennis over the last fortnight and is clearly back to her devastating best after a year niggled by injury for the most part. Fitter, stronger and with an improved, much more varied gameplan. The technique has been sharpened up and the Russian now stays in longer rallies with ease and as a result of her extra strength usually wins most.
Her place in the final is no surprise. Her opponent from the other half was never as predetermined. Venus was probably the safest bet, but Svetlana Kuznetsova has always been capable of turning on the heat at the biggest stages, regardless of her in-going form. However it is no surprise either that tomorrows other finalist is Ana Ivanovic. The Serbs have attacked Australia with real force and – with the exception of the aforementioned Russian and a certain Frenchman – have become the stars of this 2008 tournament.
The 20 year old from Belgrade may display the odd bit of youthful over-excitement at key points in matches, and this has cost her in the past. In her last dramatic steal in the semi-finals she often played with fire at critical moments (going for a forehand winner down the line at deuce 2-3 in the third), but owing as much to her opponents renowned tendency to crumble as her ability to grind out results against anyone has seen her through to her second Slam final.
What is so impressive about Ivanovic is her weight of shot matched with some sublime defensive play.
It is an interesting final to predict, yes Sharapova’s form has been even greater than her normal high level, and one cannot forget Ivanovic’s utter capitulation in the final of the French last year – yet another disappointing finish to the women’s competition at Roland Garros. But even after just eight months it is a different Ivanovic. Much wiser in just a short space of time and enjoying a greater level of support both compared to the Justine-heavy Parisian crowds and probably more than her opponent tomorrow.
But however great the support will be for such an idolised player like Sharapova, it will be nothing to the volume of pro-Serbian followers – as fellow beauty Hantuchova found out all to well.
Who will triumph? The two are equal in head to head meetings with their last encounter at the quarter final stage of the season ending championships seeing Sharapova crush the Serb 6-2, 6-1, but the result that will always give Ivanovic hope is that semi final trouncing of the former number one with an identical scoreline.
I fancy Sharapova, purely because her level of play has reached another level, at least during the tournament. Sharapova’s one dimensional game will mean that players like Justine and Ivanovic will beat her at least once by the years end, but not quite yet.