With the world number one and reigning champion already out the four remaining women in the Australian open draw will all be thinking of Grand Slam glory. Below are previews of the two semi-finals from Down Under.
Na Li to beat Eugenie Bouchard @ 8/13
Eugenie Bouchard has become only the second Canadian in history to reach a Grand Slam semi-final but her dream run looks set to end at the hands of the far more experienced Na Li.
Nike’s new flavour has won plenty of fans over the past year and also a few admirers of her tennis. However, she will rarely have an easier passage to the last-four of a major and it’s difficult to envisage how she overcome the 2011 French Open champion in the biggest match of her life.
The 19-year-old only lost one set en route to the quarter-finals – she had never gone past the third round previously – but she has faced no-one of note. Coming through against her first higher ranked opponent in Ana Ivanovic last time was an excellent win in what was at that point her most important match to date but her Serbian opponent was way below the level that saw off Serena Williams and in retrospect it was a kind draw.
World number four and new favourite for the tournament outright Li has had a much tougher path to her fourth semi-final in five years at Melbourne Park but has only dropped one set when nearly exiting at the hands of Lucie Safarova in the third round.
After losing the first set 6-1 Li saved a match point in the second before coming through a tie-break and eventually easing through.
Since then it has been plain sailing with impressive wins over Ekaterina Makarova and Flavia Pennetta where she didn’t lose more than two games in any of the four sets.
The fact that the Chinese superstar has reached the final here in two of the last three years is a massive advantage and like Agnieszka Radwanska there will be a realisation that few better opportunities will come along to win a major.
In their only previous meeting Li won comfortably when they played in the second round of Montreal at the end of 2012 and although Bouchard is a far stronger player now a repeat scoreline looks by far the most likely outcome.
Back the favourite to reach her third final in four years within the minimum distance at 8/13
Agnieszka Radwanska to beat Dominika Cibulkova 2-1 @ 3/1
Both players sprung upsets of sorts in their quarter-final matches but the biggest surprise is seeing the Pole in the last-four.
The fifth seed overcame a second set comeback by defending champion Victoria Azarenka to not only defeat the tournament favourite but batter her, inflicting the first ‘bagel’ the world number two has suffered since 2010.
That form line looks incredibly strong and it is difficult to make a case for her opponent Cibulkova despite the Slovakian’s impressive run to her second Grand Slam semi-final.
Radwanska herself has only reached one semi-final before which she won on her way to her first major final at Wimbledon two years ago.
Although that experience can only help the reality is that the favourite is the far more accomplished player anyway and she will understandably be thinking this is a golden opportunity to break her duck at the highest level.
The world number 24 can take little encouragement from her past meetings with Radwanska either having won only one of their previous seven.
Although one of those was last year when beating the 24-year-old in a deciding set of the final of Stanford – her third title on the WTA tour – the underdog has more negative memories to battle against than good ones.
The 2009 French Open semi-finalist has suffered the ignominy of being ‘bagelled’ four times by her opponent in the past including last year in Sydney where she didn’t win a single game.
However, the burly hitter will rightly be focusing on another interpretation of the data which shows that in three of their meetings a third set has been needed.
This looks the best way to approach the match as although Radwanska is justifiably the strong favourite she showed clear signs of fallibility before her match with the champion.
The Pole has actually been easy to back in her matches thus far after under-performing badly in the end-of-season Masters Cup last year and in two of her matches it became apparent why.
Against both Yulia Putintseva (ranked 112) and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (30) in the first and third rounds Radwanska was forced into a deciding set something, especially against the former, that would not have happened if the fifth seed had been near her best.
And so the advice is to back the favourite to win but in three sets at 3/1.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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