For all the talk of the women’s game being “open” in the absence of Serena Williams, the four women in the semifinals of the Australian Open have either won tournaments (Mertens, Halep, and Kerber) or been finalists (Wozniacki) already in 2018. These four are the stand-out performers of the year thus far and, win or lose, have begun to put together strong seasons.
Wozniacki (2) v. Mertens
Wozniacki, fresh off her win at the WTA finals last year and brimming with confidence, has cut her way through a tough draw. Her performances have not been consistently brilliant, but she has at times displayed ruthless tennis, as she did in the first set of her quarterfinal against Suarez-Navarro. Her slight dips in form could cost her against Mertens if they come at the wrong moments, but as the more experienced and overall more solid player, she will like her chances. Mertens, for her part, will have to rely on the kind of shot making that has seen her come this far in the tournament. Her lower ranking belies her prodigious talents but she will need every one of her natural gifts to overcome the number two seed for a place in the final. Mertens has shown what she is capable of, especially in her commanding quarterfinal victory over Elina Svitolina. Wozniacki’s experience if nothing else should see her through to victory. Both women will know that waiting for them will either be the current world number one, Halep, or the woman who has been playing possibly the best tennis of any player on tour, Kerber.
Wozniacki in 2.
Halep (1) v. Kerber (21)
In a just world, this would be the final. Simona Halep, after struggling for years with the mental side of her game, finally showed that she has put those travails behind her. The Romanian’s marathon victory in the fourth round, winning 15-13 in a third set after almost four hours on court, was an incredible display of grit and determination. The most impressive moment came when she saved three consecutive match points having gone down 0-40 on her serve. That level of commitment married to the kind of clean tennis she produced in her quarterfinal against Pliskova will be necessary to overcome the imperious looking Angelique Kerber.
Just one year ago, Kerber was the reigning world number one. Her time at the top was short lived and her 2017 season was disastrous. She struggled not to win tournaments, but to string together consecutive wins. Her shockingly low current ranking speaks for itself. Her recent level of play speaks even louder. At the Hopman Cup she was close to perfection and, if anything, she has been better at the Australian Open. Madison Keys, last year’s US Open finalist and one of the hardest hitters on tour, was averaging an hour a match coming into her quarterfinal. That average time on court didn’t change, but the winner did. Kerber handed her a thumping defeat 6-1, 6-2. Kerber’s ability to retrieve low balls and force opponents to hit extra shots is unrivaled. Her ability to unnerve players who rely on their power game has been on devastating display. Halep, however, is closer to the Kerber mold and, while her retrieving ability may not be quite as advanced, she is a better mover and, when on her game, plays a version of tennis virtually devoid of unforced errors. Kerber’s brick wallgame will fit well with Halep’s and, in a tough, tight contest, I expect the mentally strong Halep will find a way to win.
Halep in 3 very close sets.