Friday’s play in Marrakech went a way that very few people could have predicted, with two favourites losing and two comprehensive wins in games that on paper looked close.
Mandy Minella backed up her shock win over Kaia Kanepi by defeating Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Lourdes Dominguez-Lino stunned Kiki Bertens in a three-set success. That was followed by Chanelle Scheepers, who hadn’t been past the third round of any clay event since 2010, dishing out a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing to Kiki Mladenovic.
Fran Schiavone, meanwhile, must be riding the Fed Cup wave, as she reached her first semi-final since Strasbourg last year by creating a whopping 21 break points in a two-set win over Alize Cornet. Over in Stuttgart there was misfortune for Yaraslava Shvedova, who narrowly failed to take a set against Angelique Kerber, going down in a second-set tie breaker.
Today’s semi-finals in Marrakech have the look of two matches that I wouldn’t want to be involved in, but Stuttgart offers more value. The obvious choices are Maria Sharapova over Kerber and Na Li over Bethanie Mattek-Sands, but Sharapova looks much too short for me at 1.35 against home favourite Kerber. The same can be said of Li at 1.23 against a resurgent Mattek-Sands.
I would expect both to prevail, but neither match looks straightforward. Neither Kerber nor Mattek-Sands is a forlorn hope - although the American must be getting tired now after six matches, including a late night clash with Sara Errani. I’m tempted to side with the overs in that one, as Mattek-Sands has troubled Li before and took her to three sets in quick conditions on the dirt in Madrid. She is in great form, so over 19.5 games at 1.70 looks worthy of consideration.
But I prefer siding with Kerber in front of her home fans to beat Sharapova with a 4.5 game start at 1.68. Maria has struggled so far this week and although I would expect her to improve as the tournament goes on I’m not sure she will be able to cover that sort of handicap against a motivated Kerber.
The Russian has had the better of their previous meetings, all of which took place last season. Maria has won two of their three completed matches, including the only one on clay in Rome. Conditions are slower in Rome than indoors here in Stuttgart, but that could be offset by the lack of wind, which always helps Sharapova’s often questionable serve.
Kerber likes these indoor conditions too and we’ve seen Sharapova troubled by one leftie already this week in Lucie Safarova. Kerber should have more than enough to do the same.
Best bet: Back Kerber +4.5 games to beat Sharapova at 1.68