By Sandra Harwitt
Serena Williams has something in common with Rafael Nadal, who is also in the finals of the Western & Southern Open final. Both Williams and Nadal enter the final having already won eight titles this year.
Williams, the No. 1 player in the world orchestrated her place in the final after an extremely tough 7-5, 7-5 semifinal battle against fifth-seeded and defending champion Li Na. It was her 10th semifinal of the year and she has a perfect 10-0 record. And more importantly, the win guaranteed that Williams clinched the 2013 Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series Women’s title, which means she can win a very large bonus -- as in $1-million -- if she wins the U.S. Open.
At 31 years of age, Williams is the dominator of the WTA Tour and the oldest woman to ever hold the top ranking. She is 60-3 on the year and won her 16th Grand Slam title at the French Open earlier in the year. She also won Brisbane, Miami, Charleston, Madrid, Rome, Bastad and Toronto.
The theory on La Serena is if she shows up she’s most likely to win the title. And her results make it a hard theory to argue with -- I certainly would have a hard time talking it down. Sure she occasionally falters as she did when she took a fourth round loss at Wimbledon to eventual finalist Sabine Lisicki. But as her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou told her afterwards -- she’s only human and you can’t win every day. But with Serena she can win most days.
Williams is not only here with many from her team in tow -- Mouratouglou and trainer Esther Lee among them -- but she has son Chip with her too. Now don’t get nervous here. Chip isn’t a child, it’s her most adorable Yorkshire Terrier that she does refer to as her son.
On Friday, Williams suggested that the Western & Southern Open title is on her bucket list of things in tennis to still achieve. Her best previous result here was reaching the 2006 semifinal. She would love to make this title the 55th title of her career.
And you can be sure that Victoria Azarenka is well aware of just how well Williams is playing. Nevertheless,Vika is never afraid of any opponent and she also is a former world No. 1. And she’s a Grand Slam champion, too. Okay, she doesn’t have 16 Grand Slam trophies, but she’s won the last two Australian Opens, which is an achievement to be proud of.
Azarenka has won two titles this season -- the Australian Open and at Doha. And she won that Doha title by beating Serena Williams in the final. This year they are 1-1 against each other as Williams won their final at Rome.
Azarenka’s journey to the final -- her best result at Cincinnati -- came after a quarterfinal win over former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and another former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals.
It’s no secret that Azarenka, who has won 16 career titles, is a fierce competitor -- she thrives on taking on challenges. And she’s not at all intimidated by Williams. That said, it’s hard to ignore their head-to-head record that gives Williams a huge 12-2 winning record.
While Azarenka won’t shy away from this battle -- and is capable of pulling off the victory -- a smart person would probably play it safe and stick with Serena for hoisting the trophy.