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    09/07/2011 10:47 PM
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Australian Open Women's Finals Preview Victoria Azarenka vs. Maria Sharapova Start Time, Free Pick

The Australian Open women's finals will see Victoria Azarenka take on Maria Sharapova with the winner taking the No. 1 ranking in the world. The match is scheduled for a 3:30 EST a.m. start time Saturday morning and it will be televised nationally on ESPN2. Currently the odds have Azarenka favored at -125 on the moneyline while Sharapova is considered the underdog with a +109 on the moneyline. The two have both had hard-fought runs to this point in the tournament.

Free Analysis: With the way Grand Slam tennis tournaments are run, neither of the two competitors will have any extra rest in terms of days off. Victoria Azarenka was able to knock off defending Australian Open Champion Kim Clijsters in a three-set semifinals on Thursday. Maria Sharapova was able to beat Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova on Thursday in a match where Kvitova definitely controlled the style of play in the final two sets of the match. When we look at this match from a rankings standpoint, Azarenka has climbed up the charts in recent years and currently sits at No. 3 in the World. Sharapova, who is coming off some time removed from having shoulder surgery, still sits at No. 4 in the world despite being in her 10th year competitively on the WTA. The winner of this matchup will undoubtedly be crowned the new No. 1 player in the world as Caroline Wozniacki will lose her spot by not making it to the finals. It will be the first Grand Slam finals appearance for Azarenka while Sharapova enters her sixth Grand Slam final and the first since losing to Kvitova last year at Wimbledon. Sharapova has played well historically in Melbourne and is making her third appearance in a finals down under. In her previous two matchups she split, winning in 2008 over Ana Ivanovic but losing to Serena Williams back in 2007. Neither entered the tournament with a very high chance to win as oddsmakers considered neither would have the game, nor the wins based on their draws, to get to this point. Prior to the tournament's start Azarenka had 7/1 odds to win while Sharapova was a surprisingly long underdog at 26/1. Sharapova, after the shoulder surgery, hasn't been nearly as dominant a player as before, but she has since returned to getting at a level where she is comfortable. With a big serve and high-percentage shots on returns, Sharapova could possess some problems for Azarenka. One has to wonder just how much experience will play into the final outcome of the contest. Sharapova has been in this situation before while Azarenka has never made it past the quarterfinals of any major tournament. Maria seems to have found the passion again that fueled her to be one of the most feared tennis players in the world just a few years ago. She's only 24 years old, but she has been playing for quite a few years at an elite level. In the all-time head to head matchup each woman had three wins apiece. Last season, Azarenka beat Sharapova in the finals at Rome, which is played on outdoor hardcourts like the Aussie.

Free Pick: I like Sharapova in this matchup, especially in an underdog role. As we metnioned, she seems to have found the passion again that may have been lacking a little in previous seasons. Remember, prior to last year's Wimbledon Finals, it had been more than three years since Sharapova played in a Grand Slam finals. However, I think some of that experience will come into play in this match. Azarenka dominated her way to this point in the tournament and both are coming off tough 3-set matches in the semis, but it appears to me that Sharapova has been on a mission since the tournament started. And we are getting her at plus-money, which is hard to believe, but we'll back her even as the underdog in this situation.

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