WTA Championships semifinals preview
Sam Stosur needed just over an hour to rout Li Na 6-1, 6-0 and secure a spot in the WTA Championships semifinals. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)
ISTANBUL -- Saturday's semifinals are set for the WTA Championships, with a perfect balance of youth and experience. Victoria Azarenka and Samantha Stosur have advanced out of the White Group, while Petra Kvitova and Vera Zvonareva have survived the Red Group.
Kvitova, 21, and Azarenka, 22, are also battling to see who will finish the year at No. 2. Kvitova holds the spot now, as she supplanted Maria Sharapova in the rankings with a 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over Agnieszka Radwanska on Friday, but Azarenka still has a shot depending on the weekend's results.
Kvitova vs. Stosur: The Wimbledon champion meets the U.S. Open champion for only the second time this year. The last time these two played, the young Czech ruined Stosur's homecoming at the Australian Open, defeating the fifth seed 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the third round. That result doesn't look much like an upset anymore now that Kvitova's phenomenal year has unfolded -- a season in which she started outside the top 30. Her hard-hitting style doesn't suit Stosur's game, and her lefty advantage is particularly evident when she returns the Aussie's vaunted kick serve, which drifts directly into Kvitova's hitting zone.
"I've played Petra a couple of times and I haven't been able to get over the line against her yet," Stosur said. "It's going to be a tough one. She's had a very good year, and I think she's one of those exciting players to watch because she can pretty much do anything."
Said Kvitova: "The last time that we played, the first set was very close. She's playing a little bit like me, so she has a big serve. I have to be focused on serve and return, for sure."
The court has gotten faster over the course of the week, which won't help the Aussie. Stosur, 27, will have to mix up her serve, go for her shots and try to wrestle away control of the rallies, which is a tall order. Kvitova hasn't lost a match indoors since October 2010, and is 17-0 this year.
BTB pick: Kvitova. She is exactly the type of player that who gives Stosur fits.
Azarenka vs. Zvonareva: Zvonareva had to sit around on Friday to await her fate, squeaking into the semifinals after Radwanska was unable to get a set off Kvitova (despite leading the first set 5-1).
It's always tough to know where Zvonareva's confidence level is at any given time. The 27-year-old Russian comes into the semifinals with only one win in round-robin play, but it was a significant one, a three-set victory against No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. She followed that up with a tough loss to Radwanska, failing to convert three match points.
Azarenka, on the other hand, is surfing a wave of confidence. She steamrolled through the White Group before choosing to take her foot off the pedal against Marion Bartoli on Friday. Having already qualified, Azarenka appeared to be conserving her energy after she dropped the second set to Bartoli. At times she took no more than 10 seconds between points, spun her serve in and didn't bother chasing down balls that looked out of her reach. It's an understandable tactic given that she plays again Saturday, but the lack of intensity was still disappointing for the crowd.
Azarenka is the one to tip, though it's hard not to wonder how much energy she still has in the tank after playing so many matches in the last two weeks. She defeated Zvonareva handily in their only matchup this year, winning 6-3, 6-0 in Miami, but the Russian leads their head-to-head 6-3. Against Wozniacki, Zvonareva showed that she is capable of being aggressive and hitting her shots. If she comes out on fire early, she could rattle Vika. Then we've got ourselves a ballgame.
BTB pick: Azarenka. She's a better player today than when she picked up those six losses and she's in it to win it. Doubles Championships: The doubles competition starts Saturday as well, with three Americans looking to end their seasons on a high note. Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova take on Wimbledon champions Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik, while U.S. Open champions Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond face Australian Open champions Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta.