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Yesterday was a day in which three of my favourite players played semifinal matches at the 2012 Aussie Open.
My absolute favourite male player, Rafael Nadal was set to take on Roger Federer while two other big faves - Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka - were in battles of their own for a spot in the final.
How does one prepare for the emotional roller coasters of watching your faves be so close to a grand slam final? Personally I like to keep my expectations low and try to focus on the tennis. Of course the inner calm quickly dissipates and I become a tense fan who sometimes has to get up from the TV and step away!
Yesterday's women's semifinals were a great preparation for the tense Rafa/Fed match. Watching Azarenka and Clijsters battle, I could feel the match slipping away from Vika who is one of my faves. I am still scarred from watching Li Na (huge fave) lose to Clijsters last week while I was watching live and I've seen enough matches from the Belgian to know she's just never out of it. Vika, on the other hand, has worked hard on the mental and emotional parts of her game and I'm impressed with how she kept herself pumped up and closed out the defending champion.
Score: Steph 1, Tennis Heartbreak 0
Then it was time for a match I was much more nervous about - Maria vs Petra Kvitova. Petra is the one everyone seems to have appointed the best female player at the moment but I'm hesitant to fully believe she's ready for that crown. Yes, when she's on she has a dominating game but she is still working on consistency and can just play horribly bad tennis and go off the rails. I'm not quite ready to trust her but she can really step it up in big matches (Wimbledon final, Istanbul, Fed Cup) so I did not expect Maria, one of my faves, to have it easy though she's looked pretty great all tournament long. Another seesaw battle in this match, and in that third set I thought for sure Maria was going to lose. She was repeatedly down on her service games and it just looked like she was hanging on. But somehow, that fighter in her just kept going and then it was Petra's turn to freeze when serving to stay in the match and Maria pulled it out 6-4 in the third. They joy on her face was just awesome. It's been a long four years since she won the 2008 Aussie Open and it was that final match that turned me into a fan. She is definitely the favourite in the final given her experience in slam finals but I expect Vika to fully contend. Should be a fantastic final!
Score: Steph 2, Tennis Heartbreak 0
Then, it was time for Rafa and Fed. I am a huge Rafa fan - no one else comes close to being my favourite male player like the Mallorcan. And given I was present in November when Rafa lost 6-3 6-0 to Roger I was pretty sick to my stomach about this match. I know it's a slam, and I know Rafa's record against Roger in slams but as I said above - that really can mean nothing. Roger's looked pretty good all tourney long, while Rafa was just not quite in his best form though he really picked it up in the latter sets of his QF with Tomas Berdych. The first set began as it did in the French Open final. Rafa got down early, 4-1, and at that stage I wasn't too worried as Rafa didn't look good while Roger came out firing hard. As Rafa got into the match, it seemed her just started to look like he did three years ago here - moving so well, firing the forehand tho Roger really picked on his backhand again and again. After the two split sets and Rafa led in the third, I still felt so tense. Neither player seemed to grab the momentum and leads went as quickly as they came.
Rafa took a huge lead in the tiebreak, 6-1 and would proceed to lose the next four points. God help me these tiebreakers are the worst - may never get over Li Na's four match points in her tiebreak with Clijsters. But Rafa hung on to that tiebreak and lead 2 sets to 1. I don't know how many Federer breaks of serve were followed by Rafa breaking straight back but I was sure that fourth set was going to Federer. But toward the end he really stuffed up some key points and Rafa managed to serve it out the make his second Aussie Open final. Utter joy!
Score: Steph 3, Tennis Heartbreak 0.