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Serena Williams drops Maria Sharapova to advance to Sony Open finals

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Serena Williams improved her career head-to-head record against Maria Sharapova to 16-2 with the win in the Sony Open semifinals. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Serena Williams improved to 16-2 against Maria Sharapova. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

No. 1 Serena Williams defeated No. 7 Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday to advance to the Sony Open final for the ninth time. The six-time champion extended her winning streak over the Russian to 15 and now awaits No. 2 Li Na in Saturday’s championship match.

Sharapova showed she’s getting closer to solving her Serena problem, building a 4-1 lead in the first set and coming within a point of a 3-0 lead in the second set. But once again, Williams reeled her opponent back in with steady baseline play and clutch serving. Williams served nine aces — most came when she was behind in the score or on game point — and hit 21 winners to 22 unforced errors; Sharapova hit 15 winners to 29 unforced errors.

“I wasn’t playing my best,” Williams said. “I knew if I wanted to stay in the tournament and make another final, I just had to play better.”

Sharapova fell to 2-16 against Williams and remains winless since 2004. She will slip to No. 9 or No. 10 on Monday, her lowest ranking since 2011.

“Despite my results against her, I still look forward to playing against her because you learn so much from that type of level she produces,” Sharapova said. “You finish the match, and you know where you need to improve and the things that you need to work on.”

Game-by-game analysis below:

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  • Published On Mar 27, 2014
  • Stanislas Wawrinka stuns an injured Rafael Nadal to win Australian Open

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    Stanislas Wawrinka becomes the first men's player outside of the Big Four to win a Grand Slam since 2009. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    Stanislas Wawrinka becomes the first men’s player outside of the Big Four to win a Grand Slam title since 2009. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    MELBOURNE, Australia — No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka upset No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the Australian Open final on Sunday to win his first Grand Slam title.

    Playing his first major final, Wawrinka blew past Nadal in the first set behind a barrage of offense. Winning a set alone was a breakthrough for Wawrinka, who had been 0-for-26 in 12 previous meetings against the 13-time Grand Slam champion. The 28-year-old Swiss then held his nerve after Nadal struggled with a back injury early in the second set that led to an off-the-court medical timeout and additional treatment the rest of the match.

    Nadal said he felt discomfort in his back during the warmup.

    “I’m obviously disappointed and very sad about what happened,” Nadal said. “But that’s life, that’s sport. I’ve really had a lot of great moments in my career. That’s a tough one. Just accept it and try to keep working hard for what’s coming.”

    Wawrinka, 28, became the first player to beat both Nadal and three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic at a Grand Slam and the first player to topple the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds at a Slam since Sergi Bruguera accomplished the feat at the 1993 French Open. He also delayed Nadal’s quest to become the first man in the Open Era to win each Slam twice. Wawrinka will rise to a career-high No. 3 on Monday.

    “It’s quite crazy what’s happening right now,” Wawrinka said. “I never expected to win a Grand Slam. I never dreamed about that because, for me, I was not good enough to beat those [top] guys.”

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  • Published On Jan 26, 2014
  • Li Na takes control against Dominika Cibulkova to win first Aussie Open title

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    Li Na is finally the champion in Melbourne Park. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    Li Na is finally the champion in Melbourne Park. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    MELBOURNE, Australia — The third time was the charm. No. 4 Li Na overcame her nervy play to defeat No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (3), 6-0 and win the Australian Open women’s title. This is Li’s second major title after winning the French Open in 2011, when she became the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam. Her victory will push her to No. 3 in the WTA rankings on Monday, just 11 points behind No. 2 Victoria Azarenka.

    Li survived her own scratchy play in the first set, in which she hit 19 unforced errors off her forehand side, and pocketed the first set tiebreaker. After overcoming a bout of early nerves, Cibulkova played well enough to keep Li uncomfortable, but was ultimately let down by her serve. The Slovakian, the first Grand Slam finalist from her country, hit seven double-faults at seemingly the most inopportune times of the match. Once Li won the first set, she relaxed and played her best tennis of the match. After an hour and 37 minutes, Li finally got her well-earned trophy.

    “Before [I came] to the court I was tell myself, Don’t think about it,” Li said after the match, trying to explain her nerves. “Just play your game. Don’t think about the final. But the situation, you cannot [think] this is [a] normal match. Final is the final. Beginning was little bit tough. But I think I start when the tiebreak start. I was thinking about, Okay, now you have to go, otherwise it’s very tough for you.”

    “She was the one who was dictating the game,” Cibulkova said. “Today I can only regret that my serve was not really there ‑ maybe because I felt not a little nervous, but my serve wasn’t working, you know. Then she could push me from the first balls, and I was under pressure all the times.  Sometimes I catch myself running one meter behind the baseline. That’s not how I play.”

    Game-by-game analysis of Li’s major triumph below:

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  • Published On Jan 25, 2014
  • Rafael Nadal blows past Roger Federer to advance to Australian Open final

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    Rafael Nadal

    Rafael Nadal improved to 23-10 against Roger Federer. (Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)

    MELBOURNE, Australia — Thirty-third verse, same as the first.

    No. 1 Rafael Nadal’s quest to become the third player to win all four Grand Slam tournaments at least twice continues after he withstood an early challenge from No. 6 Roger Federer and rolled 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals of the Australian Open on Friday. The 13-time major champion on Sunday will face first-time Slam finalist Stanislas Wawrinka, who will replace Federer as the Swiss No. 1 next week.

    In the 33rd meeting between the two best players over the last 10 years, Nadal pulled out a 59-minute first set and rolled from there to improve to 3-0 against Federer at the Australian Open.  As Rod Laver and Pete Sampras sat in the crowd, Nadal showed once again why his now 23-10 record against Federer is no fluke.

    Federer, contesting his 11th consecutive Australian Open semifinal, had been riding a wave of confidence after big wins over No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round and No. 4 Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. Armed with a new racket and new coach Stefan Edberg, the whispers around Melbourne Park were that Federer was primed to snap his four-match losing streak to Nadal and beat his rival at a Slam for the first time since 2007.

    Nadal snuffed out that belief quickly. Federer didn’t earn a break point until the third set and his hyper-aggressive start to the match subsided quickly in the face of Nadal’s impenetrable defense.

    Here is game-by-game analysis of how Nadal weathered the early pressure to run away with another win over Federer:

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  • Published On Jan 24, 2014
  • Stanislas Wawrinka outlasts Tomas Berdych in tightly contested semifinal

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    Stanislas Wawrinka will play either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal in the finals of the Australian Open. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

    Stanislas Wawrinka will play either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal in the finals of the Australian Open. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

    MELBOURNE, Australia — Switzerland is guaranteed at least one man in the Australian Open final. And it’s not the one people are accustomed to seeing.

    No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka defeated No. 7 Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) on Thursday to make his first Grand Slam final. Wawrinka, who upset three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, will contest the final against either No. 1 Rafael Nadal or fellow Swiss Roger Federer, the man who both keeps his career in the shadows and helps mentor him into the spotlight.

    The match was a tight one, dictated by serving and offense. Of the 285 points played, 72 percent lasted fewer than five shots and only 26 went more than nine. Berdych failed to play his best in the crucial tiebreakers (there were three of them). He double-faulted three times in the last two tiebreakers and gave Wawrinka the breathing room to run away with them. After three hours and 31 minutes, Wawrinka booked his spot in the final in his 36th Grand Slam appearance.

    “Basically the game plan was working nearly perfect,” Berdych said. “But just the tiebreak is always a big lottery, and he was the lucky one today.”

    Game-by-game analysis of Wawrinka’s big win below:

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  • Published On Jan 23, 2014
  • Dominika Cibulkova defeats Aga Radwanska, makes first major final

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    Dominika Cibulkova celebrates her victory over Agnieszka Radwanska. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

    Dominika Cibulkova celebrates her victory over Agnieszka Radwanska. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

    MELBOURNE, Australia — No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia blasted past No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Australian Open on Thursday. Cibulkova will face No. 4 Li Na in her first Grand Slam final on Saturday.

    Cibulkova’s groundstrokes punch far above her weight class, but she’s struggled with consistency and mental focus throughout her career. Never a reliable player under pressure, the 24-year-old showed great poise and positive play over the last 10 days, which helped her reach her second Slam semifinal. She beat four seeds — No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 11 Simona Halep, No. 16 Carla Suarez Navarro and now No. 5 Radwanska — and won seven sets by a score of 6-0 or 6-1.

    Of course, the big talking point after the match was Radwanska’s failure to show up. Radwanska played sublimely in an emotional three-set win over two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday, but she came crashing down to earth a day later. She hit 24 unforced errors, couldn’t take advantage of virtually any break points and struggled to protect and hold her serve.

    This was the first time Radwanska has played back-to-back days this tournament, but that’s why players work to increase their fitness. As she walked off the court she put her towel into the camera lens to block it, clearly trying to hide the disappointment of once again failing to take advantage of a huge opportunity to win her first Slam title.

    Game-by-game analysis of Cibulkova’s dominant win below:

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  • Published On Jan 22, 2014
  • Li Na crushes Eugenie Bouchard to reach another Australian Open final

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    Li Na set the pace of the match when she jumped up to a 5-0 lead in the first set against Eugenie Bouchard. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    Li Na set the pace of the match when she jumped up to a 5-0 lead in the first set against Eugenie Bouchard. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    MELBOURNE, Australia — No. 4 Li Na defeated No. 30 Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-4 on Thursday to advance to her third Australian Open final in the last four years.

    Li thoroughly outclassed the 19-year-old Canadian, who started the match nervously, an understandable reaction to her first Grand Slam semifinal. Li raced to a 5-0 lead in the first set. Though the second set was closer due to a series of multiple-deuce games, Bouchard’s inability to hold her serve did her in. She served at 45 percent for the match and won only 18 percent of her second-serve points. You can’t win with that stat line, but Bouchard leaves with something to work on; there’s little doubt that she’ll be on this stage again soon.

    Game-by-game analysis of Li’s win below:

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  • Published On Jan 22, 2014
  • Roger Federer defeats Andy Murray to advance to Australian Open semifinals

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    Roger Federer came within two points of winning the match in the third set, but he closed it out in the fourth set. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

    Roger Federer couldn’t convert two match points in the third set, but he closed it out in the fourth. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

    MELBOURNE, Australia — No. 6 Roger Federer defeated No. 4 Andy Murray 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 on Wednesday to advance to his 11th consecutive Australian Open semifinal. The 17-time Grand Slam champion will meet longtime rival and 13-time major winner Rafael Nadal, the world No. 1.

    The match was as much about Murray’s fight as Federer’s form. Federer was in command for nearly three sets, playing with controlled aggression and pouncing on Murray’s passive play. Murray, who continued to show some rust in his second tournament since having back surgery in September, gave Federer too many free points and the Swiss took the first two sets easily.

    As the third set progressed, Federer looked primed for a relatively easy straight-set victory. When he toed the line at 5-4 to serve out the match, he had not been broken in 50 consecutive games and he hadn’t given Murray a break point all match. But Federer played a poor game and was broken. Federer then led 5-2 in the tiebreaker but still couldn’t close, with Murray saving two match points and winning six of the last seven points to take the set.

    “I was proud of the way I fought,” Murray said.

    Federer, however, was the one who created most of the chances in the fourth set; Murray saved six break points in his first service game of the set. Finally, on his 10th break point of the set, Federer broke in the eighth game and then served it out.

    “I am back physically,” Federer said. “I’m explosive out there. I can get to balls. I’m not afraid to go for balls. Last year at times [I] couldn’t do it, but what’s important is that I can do it now. I’m looking forward to the next match.”

    Game-by-game analysis of the match below:

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  • Published On Jan 22, 2014
  • Andy Murray vs. Novak Djokovic: U.S. Open men’s final live blog

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    Andy Murray has done it. Murray won the U.S. Open in a thrilling final vs. Novak Djokovic 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 for his first career Grand Slam title. He became the first Brit to win a major title since Fred Perry in 1936 and caps off an impressive summer that saw Murray reach the Wimbledon final and win Olympic gold. The match featured grueling rallies and incredible shotmaking and counterpunching from both players, but Murray was able to prevail in just under five hours.

    Click below to read Courtney Nguyen’s live blog as the match unfolded.

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  • Published On Sep 10, 2012
  • Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka: U.S. Open final live blog

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    Serena Williams showed her champions’ mettle to come back from a break down in the third set to beat World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, in the first U.S. Open women’s final to go to three sets since 1995. But enough can’t be said for Azarenka, who took advantage of Serena’s dip in form through the second and much of the third set to put herself in the position to serve for the championship at 5-4 in the third set. Experience won out in the end, as Azarenka let loose some nervy errors to relinquish the break and up stepped Serena, who won the final four games of the match to capture her fourth U.S. Open title, 15th major overall, and cap off a summer in which she won Wimbledon, Olympic gold, and the U.S. Open.

    Courtney Nguyen was there to live-blog the action. Click below to read her analysis as the three-set drama unfolded.

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  • Published On Sep 09, 2012


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