The Semifinals: Analysis, Picks, Chat

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[Friday, first night match on Laver]

How they got here:

- Federer d. Tsonga
- Murray d. Chardy

What Federer needs to do to win:

Murray has developed a more aggressive mentality, but Federer still outclasses him in this department. He should aim to dictate terms of rallies with his forehand and look for ways to terminate points as early as possible, knowing that Murray’s biggest asset is time. A better day at the service notch than he had against Jo- Wilfried Tsonga would also help.

What Murray needs to do to win:

At the 2012 Olympics, Murray routed Federer after the Swiss played a punishing semifinal. There’s a similar dynamic in play here, with the Scot having an easier road to this match; he should use his fitness as a weapon. As for actual shots, Murray’s down-the-line backhand is powerful enough to keep Federer at bay and deceptive enough to swing points in his favor.

Our picks:

PETER BODO: MURRAY -- Based on their wildly different quatrerfinal experiences, Federer's 31 years will tell, as will Murray's 25, as this match unfurls.
STEVE TIGNOR: FEDERER -- In their three Grand Slam matches, Federer has dropped just one set.
ED MCGROGAN: FEDERER -- He has substantially more mileage, but a substantially better forehand.
RICHARD PAGLIARO: MURRAY -- His speed, return game and backhand give him the slight edge in what could be a tight semifinal.

[Thursday, second day match on Laver]

How they got here:

- Sharapova d. Makarova
- Li d. Radwanska

What Sharapova needs to do to win:

Keep doing what she’s been doing. Sharapova, who has blown out everyone she’s faced, has come out sharp after her off-season training block. Her forehand has been on fire, and her return appears to be improved.

What Li needs to do to win:

Li says she’s in better physical condition than ever. The question is: Will that help her her main problem, her consistency? She lost an up-and-down final to Maria in Rome last year, but she dominated for stretches. With her ball-stroking skill, she can win; she just has to avoid letting one error turn into 10.

Our picks:

PETER BODO: LI -- Sharapova has been playing great tennis, but former Oz finalist Li has unfinished business.
STEVE TIGNOR: SHARAPOVA -- The last time she was this sharp Down Under, she won the whole thing.
ED MCGROGAN: LI-- Tennis' version of the Baltimore Ravens, she's gotten hot at the right time.
RICHARD PAGLIARO: SHARAPOVA -- She has rampaged through the field, permitting only nine games in five matches.

[Thursday, third day match on Laver]

How they got here:

- Azarenka d. Kuznetsova
- Stephens d. S. Williams

What Azarenka needs to do to win:

Make the teenager feel the weight of her shot and the magnitude of the moment. Stephens is quicker around the court, but Azarenka hugs the baseline and can take the ball earlier. Azarenka’s two-handed backhand is a powerful weapon. She will want to take the first strike in rallies, engage Stephens in backhand exchanges, and occasionally hit behind the quicker American.

What Stephens needs to do to win:

Use her superior speed to extend running rallies and attack Azarenka’s second serve with her blistering forehand. Stephens is a fine volleyer, who won 18 of 20 trips to the net in upsetting five-time champion Serena Williams, and will want to use her front-court skills to pressure the top seed and occasionally use her slice backhand to lure the baseliner forward.

Our picks:

PETER BODO: STEPHENS -- After seeing the composure Stephens had during and after her defeat of Serena, I decided there's something special going on. Let's roll with it.
STEVE TIGNOR: AZARENKA -- Sloane is the story, but Vika is still too solid all-around for her right now.
ED MCGROGAN: AZARENKA -- Hard to see the immediate beneficiary of Serena's stumble not cash in her winning lotto ticket.
RICHARD PAGLIARO: AZARENKA -- Stephens has the game to challenge, but the defending champ is on a roll Down Under.

[Thursday, first night match on Laver]

How they got here:

- Djokovic d. Berdych
- Ferrer d. Almagro

What Djokovic needs to do to win:

Just do what he does best: Rally, and look for any opening to hit a winner from the baseline, force an error, or push Ferrer so far back that it neutralizes the Spaniard’s ability to hurt Djokovic. His life will be easier if he serves well and attacks Ferrer’s serve to shorten points. And that Djokovic down-the-line backhand is a real weapon against a guy who likes to run around his own backhand.

What Ferrer needs to do to win:

You don’t outmaneuver Djokovic, so the best—if riskiest—strategy is to hit deep down the middle and then pull the trigger on an aggressive placement. Ferrer will have to dictate during his service games, and he must attack the Djokovic serve when possible. The standard Ferrer policy of playing steady tennis until his opponent makes an error simply won’t work against the No. 1 player.

Our picks:

PETER BODO: DJOKOVIC -- Once again, Ferrer will be overpowered by a guy who’s bigger, stronger, and superior in every department of the game but for tenacity.
STEVE TIGNOR: DJOKOVIC -- Nole has won their last four, and he's in the better form at the moment.
ED MCGROGAN: DJOKOVIC -- He diffused Wawrinka and Berdych, and won't be nearly as tested by the weapon-less grinder.
RICHARD PAGLIARO: DJOKOVIC -- The defending champ as won all four of their major meetings and should reach his third straight Aussie Open final.

At 1 pm EST on Wednesday, January 23, Peter Bodo took your Australian Open questions in a live chat session, which you can replay here:

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