Azarenka, Sharapova to battle for Aussie crown


It's Azarenka's time to win

Garber By Greg Garber

Some of us saw this coming, Ravi.

I know you picked Petra Kvitova to win the title in Melbourne -- talk about making the easy, predictable choice -- but I had Victoria Azarenka all the way. I liked the way she looked coming in, beating Li Na in the final at Sydney, and thought she might be ready to win her first Grand Slam singles championship.

Still feel that way.

Azarenka's emotions always have held her back, but there have been moments when you saw the potential. I was in the stands in Miami at the Sony Ericsson Open in 2009 when she thumped Serena Williams in straight sets for her biggest title to date. She was 19 years old. I was there last year when Azarenka defeated Kim Clijsters in the Miami quarters, then hammered Maria Sharapova in the final -- again in straight sets.

I think she'll do it again on Saturday.

First off, Azarenka has the best backhand in the game, a low, flat, nasty shot. And now, after beating Clijsters in the semifinals, she seems to have a growing belief to go along with it. There was a moment in her quarterfinal match against Agnieszka Radwanska when I thought Azarenka was going to lose it -- literally. She lost all seven points in a first-set tiebreaker and I was waiting for Baghdatis-like, racket-smashing fury.

It never came. Instead, Azarenka gathered herself and crushed her good friend 6-0 in the second set and won going away. Similarly, she lost the second set to Clijsters, dropping six of seven games, and then came back with a steady, forceful third set.

Even before this newfound maturity, Azarenka won her past two meetings with Sharapova on hard courts. This one, with the No. 1 ranking on the line, will give Azarenka the trifecta.

Sharapova's hard work will pay off

Ubha By Ravi Ubha

Hey Greg, what's up?

First off, that's a low blow. Why wouldn't I pick Petra Kvitova to win? She entered the tournament as the tour's hottest player -- taking into consideration how she ended last year, indoors or no indoors. She arguably has the biggest weapons out there.

And nine times out of 10, she beats Maria Sharapova in the semifinals. It was one of those days (3-for-14 on break points). The final is going to be a close one, but here are my best arguments for Sharapova.

Sharapova is one of the best competitors in the women's game and knows how to take her opportunities. Although Kvitova floundered on break points, Maria went 5-for-5. That was the difference. By no means was that new. In the fourth round against Sabine Lisicki, Sharapova saved a bunch of break points early in the third set -- then pounced when she had to.

Further, if Victoria Azarenka's first serve isn't working, Sharapova will be all over the second delivery. Sharapova continues to be one of the top returners on the women's tour. Of course, Sharapova has to reduce her double faults.

Now that Kim Clijsters has departed, is Sharapova the player of destiny? She deserves to win this Slam after working so hard in the last few years to recover from a 2008 shoulder injury. Guess what? Her last Grand Slam title came in Melbourne (four years ago).

I, too, have been impressed with Azarenka's maturity. She's now very calm on court and is no longer the combustible sort. Her coach, Sam Sumyk, deserves much of the credit. But this is the most important match of her life. Can she hold it together if things start to go badly? Will nerves be a factor?

Those are valid concerns.