Friday, January 29, 2010

Australian Open 2010: Women's Final Preview

Justine Henin BEL v. Serena Williams USA (1)

One of the most exciting major tournaments in recent tennis history, and the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the new decade, is hurtling to a conclusion with a mouthwatering final where the competitors have a combined 18 Grand Slam titles between them, which is far more than we have seen since the legendary Steffi Graf was still competing in finals more than a decade ago.

Craig Hickman has done his typically excellent job of summarizing the background as well as the liabilities and strengths of both Serena Williams and Justine Henin coming into tonight's final (which will be on at 12:30am PST, 3:30am EST Saturday).

Briefly, Serena leads their overall head-to-head 7-6, (4-1 on hard courts) but trails 2-4 in major tournaments, the majority of which came in a string of 3 losses to the Belgian in 3 consecutive grand slam quarterfinals in 2007. Their last meeting was a devastating 6-2 6-0 demolition of Henin by Serena in Miami in March the following year; 6 weeks later Henin announced her retirement from competitive tennis.

Despite winning the doubles title with her sister for the second consecutive year, Serena's physical frailty is apparent. In her tense semi-final win over Li Na, Serena at times was barely moving. Her serve has kept her in the tournament and has been impeccable. Henin has been serving atrociously but her overall game is still as impressive as it was before her hiatus; she possesses every shot in tennis, combined with surprising power and superior movement. She has displayed mental frailty like in her Brisbane loss to Clijsters and in her win against Elena Dementieva, but she has the support of her coach Carlos Rodriguez to draw upon.

Serena has the sharpest competitive spirit of any player on tour, and particularly in Australia Serena has often played some of her best tennis on her way to winning four Australian Open titles (in 2003 over Venus in what some commentators call the most competitive match between the sisters; in 2005 over Lindsay Davenport after trailing a set and a break she won 9 games in a row to win the title--this after saving two match points against Maria Sharapova the round before; and in 2007 over Sharapova she displayed her most impressive level of play, ever only allowing her opponent a mere 3 games).

Although I have correctly predicted the outcomes of 3 of the last 6 matches in the tournament, I want to change my method for prognostication and try and use probabilities (I am a math professor after all!) There are four possible occurrences: Serena in 2 sets, Serena in 3 sets, Henin in 3 sets and Henin in 2 sets). I evaluate the probabilities of these events at 54%, 40%, 60% and46%, respectively. (Of course these probabilities are simply estimates, with the 2-set probability coming directly from their overall head-to-head record and the 3-set probability coming from my assessment of Serena's stamina). Crunching the numbers that gives Henin an overall 53% chance of winning, which is significantly better than a coin toss.

MadProfessah's pick: Henin (Williams in 2 sets, Henin in 3 sets).


Mad Professah said...

Even though I have called Henin to win, I voted for Serena because that's who I WANT to win.

Jonus said...

I give the edge to Serena, we all have to remember no matter how well or bad a person is playing, the final of a grandslam is a totally different atmosphere. Its almost like a clean slate, you either show up or choke up. I think Serena is going to bring her A game just like she did in the 07 and 09 championship finals. Especially if Henin's serve acts up. This match is on Serena's racket, because when she is playing her best tennis, NO ONE can beat her, other than

Thank God I live on the west coast, I feel sorry for all of you who have to watch at 3:30...hopefully it'll be a match worth watching!!

Dapxin said...


Dapxin said...

when was a womens game so this built up ?

Craig said...

The final in Brisbane comes to mind, Dap. Or the second round between Henin and ElenaD here.

This one deserves the hype because they've never played a Slam final.

Let's see how good it's going to be.

T0X MUND1 said...

2240? Knight odds anyone? 13...c4 is just suicide. way OT but Naka is starting to show signs, eh?

oh yeah, Serena NO QUESTION

lilac said...

I'm with you, Jonus. Serena should be able to serve Henin off the court. And Henin has no way to overpower Serena. Serena should smother her -- just like Sharapova did at the US Open. And Henin's slam finals (outside of the FO) record is not that great. She tightens up; Serena goes for the kill.

lilac said...

Oh yeah, Mad Professah? And what was your probability number for two black girls, born in Compton to the same mother and father, eighteen months apart, being tennis champions on the WTA circuit in the late 20(th and early 21st century? Probability, schmobability. Serena's go this.

soleil99 said...

First let me say "I LOVE This BLOG"
Craig, Mad Professah, Savannah, Karen...LOVE YA GUYS!
Is any one going to give a time out to Henin's Coach during the match?
And my vote is on Serena!

Dinesh Prabhu said...
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