It was one winner from my two bets in the semi-finals of the WTA Mutua Madrid Open on Saturday.
Serena Williams got the day off to a good start by easing past Sara Errani 7-5, 6-2 to cover her minus 4.5 game handicap successfully and move a step closer to defending her Madrid title. The American will face a very familiar foe in the final, as Maria Sharapova was just that bit too good for Ana Ivanovic and the Russian was able to overcome a shaky serving display to increase her unbeaten streak on clay to 21.
The last person to beat Maria on clay was, of course, Serena, here in Madrid when she defeated the Russian comfortably at the quarter-final stage. And that encounter was the last time that Serena was a backable price to beat Maria, as her last four prices against Sharapova have all seen her start between 1.2 and 1.3. The American won all four.
Indeed, Serena has won the last 11 straight against the current world number two and only her patchy performances here this week have made her an appealing price today. We have seen Serena struggle against the most unlikely of opponents, such as when she lost to Virginie Razzano at Roland Garros last year and when she was bageled by Anabel Medina Garrigues here this week, but she more or less always steps it up in finals.
We know all about the dominance of this match-up by Williams, but she also has a 49-16 record in finals and she’s won ten of her last 11 since losing to Sam Stosur in the US Open final in 2011. Sharapova has a less impressive 19-18 record in finals (she’s won just five of her last 12), but she is 7-0 in clay court deciders.
Clearly, Sharapova has improved out of sight on clay in the last year or so, but the match-up is still such a bad one for her. She can’t be approaching this match with any real confidence and I’m happy to take Williams minus 2.5 games on the handicap at 1.78.
Best bet: Back Williams –2.5 games to beat Sharapova at 1.78