PARIS – Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova are partly cut from the same mold: both are no–nonsense competitors with Eastern European origins who are very passionate on court, as well as about as loud as two players get when it comes to grunting.
The two will meet in the semifinals of Roland Garros on Thursday, the third time that have met at a major in the past six Grand Slams. Azarenka won both their previous encounters on hard court in a blow out win in the 2012 Australian Open final and a close three-set victory in the 2012 US Open semifinals. She also took down her elder at 2012 Indian Wells and 2012 Beijing, but Sharapova tuned the tables on her in the 2012 WTA Championships. She bested the 24-year-old in their only clay court in the final of 2012 Stuttgart, their second meeting on clay. The first time they faced off on dirt, Sharapova also came away with the win at 2011 Rome
Azarenka has clearly been the better player on outdoor hard courts, but the defending Roland Garros champion has a far better resume on clay.
Both gutted out difficult quarterfinals wins on Wednesday in Paris, Sharapova over her old for from the Nick Bollettieri Academy Jelena Jankovic 0-6, 6-4, 6-3 and Azarenka over her friend and former doubles partner Maria Kirilenko 7-6(3), 6-2.
When the two face off, from the outside, it appears that they define intensity.
Inside the lines. it is much the same.
:”Same way,” Azarenka said. Maybe even more intense. “
While Azarenka wouldn’t concede that Sharapova is more intense than most other players she faces, or more intense than she is, it’s hard not to feel her imposing presence. But RedFoo’s girlfriend gets right back at Sharapova.
“I don’t look at her if she’s more intense than me or not,” she said. “But she’s definitely an incredible fighter, and she always fights for every ball no matter what the score is. That’s something the top players are so, so good at, and that’s what makes it difficult to play against them.”
While Sharapova hasn’t figured out a way to overcome No.1 Serena Williams in the past nine years, she does believe she has enough game and willpower to overcome the fast, super consistent and relentless Azarenka.
Before she bested Azarenka in Istanbul, Sharapova noted how she was too hesitant when she has chances to win the match in New York. She must apply the same mentality to her match in Paris.
“I think just stay with her a little bit more and be a little bit more consistent, but aggressively consistent,” Sharapova said. “We have very similar game styles. We like to hit the ball and be the first one to really go for it in the rallies. I think that’s just something that maybe I was a little bit tentative and not doing so well in some of the matches where I haven’t had success.
Azarenka is a bit of a match up problem for Sharapova because she returns her serve much more consistently and forcefully, the Belarusian has a slightly better backhand and she is faster. For a while last year, it also appeared that Azarenka has gotten into Sharapova’s head, as the two do not get along on a personal level, which made it even more difficult for Sharapova to take losses to her.
“There are many great things she does, but you have to expect that against someone that’s one of the best in the world,” Sharapova said.
Sharapova does have weapons to hurt Azarenka as she returns just as well, has a bigger (although not as accurate) first serve and a more threatening forehand. Plus, at least on Court Philippe Chatrier, where they will contest their semifinals, she is very comfortable and a proven winner: she’s won her past 12 matches at Roland Garros while this is the first time that Azarenka has had an impact at the tournament
“ I think it’s a matter of really applying your game and not really allowing Maria to step up,” Azarenka said. “Because she loves to hit first two shots and make, make you run after the ball and be aggressive. So we are kind of similar and kind of different in the same way. It’s going to be definitely a battle.”
Sharapova says she is relishing the challenge but also knows that Azarenka will be her biggest test of the tournament so far. There are numerous players who have gone on court against Sharapova during the spring clay court season and didn’t believe they could chop her down. The bold Belarussian is not one of them.
“She’s playing really well this tournament,” Sharapova said. “Always a tough match. We have played each other so many times there are really no secrets between each other in terms of our game styles and what we do well and not. It’s a semifinal and I’m looking forward to it.”