No matter the outcome of the Tokyo semifinals, the final will feature a contrast in styles between a bold attacker and a stingy defender. Aligned against each other on Friday are a pair of veterans in the former category and a pair of younger contenders in the latter. Quality of execution rather than tactics should decide both matches between women who conceal few secrets from their opponents.
Petrova vs. Stosur: Since 2008, Russian women have arrived in the Tokyo final with remarkable consistency, starting with an internecine bout between Safina and Kuznetsova. Attempting to become the sixth different Russian to reach the final during that span, Petrova won consecutive three-set epics that combined for nearly six hours of tennis in the last two days. Despite an injury that forced her to withdraw from Seoul last week, she found the resilience to weather significant spells of adversity against the cunning Errani before seizing control in the third set much as she had against Martic the day before. Eyeing her most formidable test of the tournament, the surprise semifinalist can draw confidence from her upset over Stosur at Indian Wells in a match that culminated with a third-set tiebreak. Even during her breakthrough fortnight in New York last fall, the 2011 US Open champion came closer to defeat against Petrova than anyone else, trailing by a break in the final set of a three-hour epic.
For her part, however, the Aussie may have stiffened in resolve after she survived a compelling quarterfinal victory over Sharapova. Until she stood on the verge of victory, Stosur capitalized upon her opportunities with uncharacteristic courage, saving break points with bold shot-making and serving more smartly against her chronic nemesis than she has before. But the Mr. Hyde version of her supplanted Dr. Jekyll without warning, as it often does, when she served for the match, and nerves plagued her throughout a painfully tense tiebreak that featured four squandered match points. Veterans with similar playing styles, both the Russian and the Aussie will aim to build points from their explosive first serves while pouncing upon any invitations to approach the net, where each excels. Whereas Stosur often will run around her backhand to hit forehands, Petrova usually reaps more rewards from her smooth two-hander. The underdog in her previous match, the eighth seed must adjust to the role of the clear favorite as she seeks her second Premier Five final of 2012.
Kerber vs. Radwanska: Increasingly familiar with each other as both of their careers have soared, these women of Polish origins met in an early round at this tournament last year, when Radwanska prevailed in three sets. More closely scrutinized by most observers was their Wimbledon semifinal a few months ago, claimed by the Pole in a nearly impeccable effort. Like Wozniacki, conquered by the defending champion on Thursday, Kerber should struggle to hit through Radwanska from the baseline with her modest power. Frustrated by the impenetrability of her rival’s defenses, that former #1 struck point-ending shots only after she had moved the Pole well off the court with angles to open the vast amount of territory needed for a winner. Kerber must aim to use her left-handedness for a similar purpose, angling her forehand cross-court to create the opening down the line that Radwanska covers slightly less well, for she moves more effectively towards her backhand than her forehand. Also a key to this semifinal is the often maligned serve of the world #3, recurrently under pressure in her quarterfinal from Wozniacki’s solid return. But Radwanska mostly sustained that pressure with poise, even striking aggressive first serves to save a few key breaks towards the end of the match.
Handed a walkover from Azarenka, Kerber will enter the match more rested late in a week during which each elite contender has played every day. Her efficient victories earlier in the tournament, including a demolition of Radwanska’s rising sister, also should have left her plenty of energy to weather a match filled with long rallies. Defeating the elder Radwanska twice on hard courts in the last two years, she has found a somewhat richer vein of form in the second half despite the vast quantities of matches that she has played. Kerber seeks her second straight final at a Premier Five tournament, while Radwanska hopes to move within a victory of defending a title for the first time.