Sharapova to beat Li to reach final and remain Australian Open favourite

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Serena Williams’ surprise exit from the Australian Open has made the draw a lot more open, with Maria Sharapova the new favourite for victory at 1/1.

Na Li is now the only obstacle between her and the final in Melbourne, while things get no easier for Williams’ conqueror Sloane Stephens as she faces world number one Victoria Azarenka in the last four.

Maria Sharapova v Na Li: Total games under 20.5 @ 4/6

This pair have met five times previously on hard courts and interestingly all have been won fairly comprehensively by Sharapova.

None of these five meetings have gone on for longer than 20 games, with Sharapova dropping a combined seven games across the two meetings last year.

The fact that Sharapova works with Li’s former coach Thomas Hogstedt is another positive in her column and no player has taken more than three games off her in a single set in reaching this stage.

Sharapova is 1/5 for victory, which is hard to oppose, but only two of the 12 career meetings between these two have needed a deciding third set, so fans of the Russian would be better served taking the 8/15 that she reaches the final in straight sets.

Another lucrative betting opportunity looks to be the 4/7 that over 3.5 aces are served in the match.

Victoria Azarenka to serve more aces than Sloane Stephens @ 11/10

Stephens has done a remarkable job in reaching a semi final of just her seventh Grand Slam, but it is a big ask to dump out the world number one just two days after eliminating the tournament favourite.

What was especially noticeable was that Stephens managed just two aces in the quarter final, despite Williams being hampered by a back injury.

In fact, although Stephens’ last two wins have both come in three sets, she has managed just three aces in total.

Azarenka’s serve is one thing that has been getting noticeably better as the Grand Slam has progressed and she has mustered seven aces in seeing off Elena Vesnina and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

1/8 is far too short to back Azarenka to win, but 1/3 is not the worst price that she triumphs giving up a handicap of 3.5 games.

Azarenka has not been involved in a tie-break at all in 2013 as yet.

All odds and markets accurate as of publication’s time and date

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Craig Kemp

Craig has written for Ladbrokes since the 2010 World Cup, having previously gained a Media & Sports Journalism degree and contributed to publications including the Racing Post. His main areas of interest are horse racing and UFC, but he is also an avid X Factor gambler and likes nothing more than indulging in a spot of Hip Hop Karaoke.