There have been two groups of players in this year’s Australian Open women’s tournament: those who have been flogged by Serena Williams, and those who will soon be flogged by Serena Williams.
While at the 2016 Australian Open there’s been a distinct absence of scorching hot days and live Channel 7 crosses to pumped-up roving reporters frying yet another egg on an outside court, Williams’ racquet has done more than enough roasting to compensate.
Now she faces the first German to have reached the final at Melbourne Park since 1996, and if you’re backing Angelique Kerber to pull off a minor miracle on Saturday night, you’re either her coach or a blood relative.
Surely not even Roger Rasheed’s life lessons will be enough to hoist Kerber towards an unlikely Grand Slam crown.
But allow us to attempt to make a case for the ($6.00) outsider.
ANYTHING YOU CAN DO…
Williams’ first set in the semi-final against Agnieska Radwanska was quite simply the best tennis anyone’s played at Melbourne Park this year.
Twenty minutes, 18 winners to Radwanska’s one, 10 out of 11 successful net approaches, only four unforced errors, and 24 total points to Aggy’s seven. It was borderline embarrassing.
The world No.1 has dropped just 26 games en route to the final, including yet another straight sets win against her favourite bunny Maria Sharapova in the quarters.
But save for some first round, first set jitters against Japan’s Misaki Doi,
Kerber has peeled off 12 consecutive sets for the loss of just 38 games. Her wins haven’t all been freight train jobs, but she’s hardly been hanging around.
IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE
If someone’s going to attempt to slay the dragon on Saturday night at Rod Laver Arena, better that it’s someone who’s managed to take Williams down before.
Cast your mind back to 2012 and you’ll find Kerber’s lone win from six clashes with Williams, when she ended the champion’s 19-match winning streak that included a Wimbledon title and an Olympic gold medal.
Sure, Williams was wrecked after a brutal couple of months of non-stop tennis, and sure, Kerber’s never taken a set off her before or since, but that 6-4 6-4 win in the quarter-finals of the Cincinnati Masters must give some hope to the German that anything can happen if you take your chances.
Williams dealt with the loss admirably, too, sending a racquet to tennis heaven after one particularly poor game.
THAT AZARENKA WIN
While Kerber has only beaten Williams once, she’d never beaten Victoria Azarenka in six attempts before they met in the quarter-finals here, either.
More than 30 winners and only 16 unforced errors later, she’d toppled the screecher in straight sets as a $4-plus outsider and given herself a healthy dose of self-belief.
THE STATS (ALMOST) STACK UP
Radwanska’s biggest issue against Williams was that while the American has pipes that are the envy of most blokes, Radwanska has pipe cleaners.
She hit only a few winners in the entire match and had no answer for Williams’ overwhelming brute force, rendering her relentlessly consistent game next to useless.
Kerber, on the other hand, has no trouble clubbing the ball off either wing, and has 147 winners to Williams’ 164 throughout the tournament.
She’s also made just 17 more unforced errors, despite having played an extra set and more games than the six-time champion.
Where Williams streaks ahead of the German is on her serve, where she’s thumped 46 aces to Kerber’s 15, while winning 84% of points when her first ball goes into play, while Kerber wins 67%.
ONE MORE, JUST ONE MORE
Williams needs only to beat Kerber to equal Steffi Graf’s open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles. A Kerber victory would take her within 21 Grand Slam titles of matching that feat, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.
*All odds correct at time of posting. Latest Australian Open ladies markets available here.