The top ranking at the women's game will be on the line when No. 3 Victoria Azarenka meets No. 4 Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final on Saturday.
The other big story - one that was tweeted about repeatedly as the semifinal matches played out - is the projected decibel level of the championship match.
Yes, the two loudest screamers on the WTA Tour, Russia's Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, are both through to the final, defeating Petra Kvitova and Kim Clijsters respectively. Many in the blogosphere (and elsewhere) are suggesting fans watch the final match on mute.
The WTA says its looking at ways to reduce the grunting, which it acknowledges has become "bothersome" for some fans as well as competitors. Sharapova and Azarenka both say it has been part of their game since they were youngsters, and neither has any intention of changing.
Azarenka's high-pitched hooting has been mimicked by the crowd at times during her Australian Open run, but the 22-year-old has maintained her composure.
If the incredible semifinals are any indication of the kind of tennis we're going to see in the final, then we're in for a treat. Both matches went to three sets (the first time since 2006) and every point was contested. Azarenka managed to control her emotions against a dominant Clijsters and get down to business to win a third set from the former champ.
Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open via ZUMApress.com
Meanwhile, Sharapova advanced past Petra Kvitova in an equally contentious match. Kvitova's powerful returns seemed destined to break Sharapova but Sharapova's resolve and focus helped her win a match she just as easily could have lost.
Beyond all the noise is a very compelling final. Sharapova, who has three Grand Slam titles to her name, will be a challenge for the gutsy Azarenka, who is competing in her first Grand Slam final.
Four years after winning the last of her major titles and approaching eight years since she lifted the Wimbledon trophy at age 17, Sharapova has another chance for redemption.
"It means so much to be back in a Grand Slam final," Sharapova said. "It's nice to get that far again after losing quite early in the last couple of years."
Sharapova reached the Wimbledon final last year, but lost to Kvitova—the player she beat in Thursday's Australia's semifinals. The two finalists have split the six matches they've played. Both are power players who will spend most of the match ripping big serves and powerful, two-handed backhands. The age gap is only two years but the difference in experience may be the deciding factor. Whoever wins on Saturday walks away with the No 1 world ranking which Caroline Wozniacki has held on to for the past 15 months (without ever winning a major title).
Sharapova has been ranked No. 1 three times (in 2005, 2007 and 2008) but no Belarusian has been there since the WTA computer rankings started in 1975. Either way, women's tennis will once again have a No. 1 with a major title which is the way it should be I think most will agree
Both Azarenka and Sharapova want to win. Both deserve to be in the final. I personally love the fact that Sharapova has battled back from what could have been a career-ending shoulder injury and demonstrated what a competitor she truly is. Her return to the game has had it’s bumps, most notably her struggle to find a serve that worked with her repaired shoulder, but she represents all that is good in the sport. She's classy, cool, calm and always a fighter to the absolute last point (plus the dress she designed for Australia is stunning)
In the end, however, the outcome of the Australian Open final might just depend on who screams the loudest. Keep the remote close.
Men's semifinal update: Nadal beat Federer in another incredible match between the two great rivals.
Here's the rest of the Australian Open schedule through the weekend (Eastern Standard times):Date Round Time Network Thu., Jan. 26 Women Doubles Final 11:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. Tennis Channel Fri., Jan. 27 Men Semifinals 3:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. ESPN2 Sat., Jan. 28 Women Final 3:00 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. ESPN2 Sat., Jan. 28 Men Doubles Final 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Tennis Channel Sun., Jan. 29 Mixed Doubles Final 12:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Tennis Channel Sun., Jan. 29 Men Final 3:00 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. ESPN2
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