The fairytale air surrounding the 2017 Australian Open will continue until the final point on Sunday night with two singles finals for the ages. Tonight (Saturday AEDT), the Williams’ sisters turn back the clock as Serena battles older sister Venus for the crown. On Sunday night, the dream final of Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal will decide the men’s singles titles after both veterans prevailed in five-set semi-finals.
Women’s Final: #13 Venus Williams (USA) v #2 Serena Williams (USA)
Eight years after their last major final, at ages 36 and 35, respectively, Venus and Serena Williams will meet in the Australian Open women’s final. A fortnight ago, it seemed ridiculous to expect such a scenario as Venus hadn’t reached the final at Melbourne Park in 14 years. But Rod Laver Arena is an appropriate venue for the sisters to renew their on-court rivalry at the highest level as it was on this court that they first faced each other in a professional match, way back in 1998. Venus emerged victorious in that second-round match in straight sets, but Serena has long left her pioneering sister in the proverbial dust. In their 27 tour meetings, Serena leads the head-to-head count 16-11 including seven of the past eight.
The rare occasions they’ve met are psychologically painful for both women, and their knowledge of each other’s game is almost total. Their most recent meeting, in the 2015 U.S. Open quarter-finals, was a three-setter. Indeed, more than half of their previous meetings have gone the distance, which is far higher than the three-set average for the WTA tour. Serena typically bulldozed her way through the tournament, without dropping a single set while improving with each match. After a relatively sub-par performance against Barbora Strycova, where she still won in straight sets, Williams roared back to thump arguably the most in-form player in the world right now, Johanna Konta.
Smoother path for Venus
She went to the next level to end the dream run of Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, winning 6-2 6-1. Venus fought back impressively to defeat Coco Vandeweghe, who had previously dumped Garbine Muguruza and defending champion Angelique Kerber out the tournament but had an easier path to the final, playing just two top 40 opponents, and only one seed (Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 24). Venus took Vandeweghe’s best punches, adjusted to her pace and improving as the match progressed and used her serve and forehand to shut the door. In reality, the 36-year-old is freerolling here and can play with abandon in a match no-one expected see her competing.
In contrast, Serena is a red-hot ($1.80) favourite, she’s playing her least preferred opponent, and she’s desperate for that 23rd major title to leave Steffi Graf behind on the all-time list. The last time she won a Slam, at Wimbledon last year, she dominated her semi against Elena Vesnina and edged Angelique Kerber in the final two days later. It could go the same way in Australia if Serena plays as well as she has throughout this fortnight. She has a slightly worse return game than her older sister, breaking opponents 40.1 per cent in the past 12 months on hard courts, compared to Venus’ 44.7 per cent, but Serena has an immensely better serve, holding 82.5 per cent with Venus at just 67.4 per cent. Serena wins, with three sets the best value (one unit @ $2.90 on Sportsbet).