Can Azarenka stop Serena?

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V. AZARENKA
S. WILLIAMS

Azarenka is a fighter

Bryant By Howard Bryant
ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- With her headphones on and hoodie covering her head, Victoria Azarenka steps on the court looking more like Floyd Mayweather than Chris Evert. That's fitting because she has a puncher's chance against Serena Williams in Sunday's U.S. Open final.

Perhaps more than in any other Slam, Williams will be highly motivated to win. Her friend Andy Roddick retired. She has again dominated the sport after losing at the French Open.

She doesn't seem particularly fond of Azarenka, and, the past two times she's been close to this title -- in the 2009 semifinals versus Kim Clijsters and last year's final against Samantha Stosur -- she has found spectacular ways to lose.

But here's the thing: Azarenka can beat her. She can rally with Serena and she can be more consistent. She has the game to move Williams around the court. Williams beat her 6-3, 7-6 (6) in the Wimbledon semifinals, but she had to serve up 24 aces against no double faults to do it.

Williams essentially played the tournament of her life. Against Azarenka at Wimbledon, she hit 45 winners and committed only 14 unforced errors -- and still needed a second-set tiebreaker to win the match.

Azarenka needs to forget all the stats -- the 1-9 lifetime head-to-head, the fact that she hasn't taken a set off Serena since the 2010 Australian Open or the 1-and-2 demolition Williams put on her at the Olympics -- and demystify Serena the way Stosur did last year.

Azarenka won't wilt from the fight. She believes she is the top-ranked woman in the world for a reason. She must not only serve well -- but return. In their past four meetings, Serena has outaced Azarenka 66-5.

Williams is clearly the favorite, but that doesn't mean Azarenka cannot win. There must be a fighter underneath the hoodie.

This one is a no-brainer

Wilansky By Matt Wilansky
ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- Howard, Howard, Howard. I think you just made my case for me. Look at those numbers you rattled off. As we say in tennis parlance, advantage Serena.

Is there really any reason to even play this final? You, of course, think there is, so let's hop on our way-back wagon, shall we, and rewind to June 26. It's Wimbledon time, and we'd been decrying the end of Serena as we know her after her stunning first-round French Open loss to Virginie Razzano.

But that day, in a predictable turn of events, Williams stepped onto the lawns of the All England Club and scorched Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in straight sets. Then she beat player after player after player until she was left holding a familiar trophy.

Then she went to Stanford, and, judging by the way she wiped out the field, you'd have thought she was playing the Stanford Cardinal JV squad. Three weeks later, Williams gave those London interlopers a good old licking at the Olympics. To boot, she volleyed her way to a gold in dubs.

Sure, there was that little hiccup in Cincinnati, but who cares about that? Serena doesn't, that's for certain.

That brings us here to New York. I just looked at the Internet, and it tells me Serena hasn't lost more than four games in a single set -- and that has happened only twice. In six matches, she has lost 19 games. I believe the word we're looking for here is dominant, perhaps ridiculous. No, no, it's unbeatable.

Sure, her opponent in the U.S. Open final, world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, is playing with swagger and a sense of urgency. And, if you look closely, you can almost see that chip on her shoulder. Clearly Azarenka is Serena's biggest challenge here. But that's like throwing Gael Monfils onto the court to take on Novak Djokovic. Hello.

You disagree, do you? Perhaps Azarenka has Serena's number. Wrongo. Serena is 9-1 against her, including seven straight wins. Well, maybe, just maybe, Serena struggles against the top-tier players? Nopers. She has won 13 straight versus the top five women. So what shred of evidence is there that Azarenka can win this match?

Ah, of course: She has Redfoo in her corner. That's a game-changer all right. Actually, as it turns out, that LMFAO guy will be doing a lot of LOLing after that Serena girl gets done hammering Azarenka -- to hide the tears he'll so desperately want to shed.