Can Li pull off the upset?

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Who will win the Sony Open women's final?

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WILLIAMS
LI

Numbers don't do Serena justice

Wilansky By Matt Wilansky
ESPN.com
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Mr. Garber, if you haven't noticed, you don't have to look very far to find analytics these days.

Seriously, take a gander. We have enough cutting-edge algorithms to fill all the space between Key Biscayne and Indian Wells.

We have GPS data that measures player movement, force and excursion. We can predict probability to the nth degree, whether it's a No. 3-versus-14 matchup in the NCAAs or the very rich Miguel Cabrera's odds of hitting for the Triple Crown again. There are no statistical limits in our sports society anymore.

But there is good news for the algebra-allergic creatures still out there. And we can thank Serena Williams for that.

Why? Because her numbers aren't very complicated. Let's start with this digit: one. Serena's world ranking. Here's another: six. You might know that figure as her total of Sony Open titles, more than any other player and more than she has in any other tournament. How about 58? Did I stump you? Those are her career titles, which, according to my abacus, says 49 (yes, 49!) more than her opponent in the Sony Open final, Li Na. Oh, and in case you're wondering, Serena leads their head-to-heads 10-1.

Now I will say Serena hasn't been razor sharp this year in Miami, especially in her first two matches -- nor has she looked anything like the player who thoroughly thumped the field day in, day out in 2013.

But since a 69-minute opening set against Yaroslava Shvedova in her first match in Miami and a laborious battle with Caroline Garcia that went the distance, Serena has regained some of the form we haven't seen from her since winning Brisbane in January. We can say with certitude that overcoming Maria Sharapova in the semifinals -- a match Serena stumbled in early before recovering -- was the lift Williams needed.

So, Mr. Garber, some friendly advice: Save your cell minutes and don't bother calling Nate Silver. Simple math says Serena in two sets.

Numbers often lie

Garber By Greg Garber
ESPN.com
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Numbers -- as you well know, Mr. Tennis Editor -- lie more often than they tell the truth.

Manipulating raw statistics is a shell game that serves no purpose -- except for the person massaging those numbers.

If Li Na was daunted by sheer numbers, she wouldn't be where she is today -- one of the richest and most successful female athletes in the world. China has a population of 1.3 billion, but until she came along, it never had a Grand Slam singles champion. And now she's won two, including the recent Australian Open. How do your clever analytics account for that?

The record says that Li has met Serena Williams 11 times (there was a walkover two years ago in Rome), and that Miss Williams has won 10 of those tilts -- including the last five in a row. In fact, Li has won all of five sets in those 11 matches.

But that doesn't begin to take into account the growth she has experienced these past several years. Beginning with the breakthrough victory at the 2011 French Open, Li has become a solid player, even though her nerves sometimes betray her. This year, she's off to the best start of her career -- a 21-2 record and a first-ever Miami final.

In the semifinals, she found herself trailing Dominika Cibulkova 3-1 in the third set. The young Li Na, she said in her news conference, probably wouldn't have won five straight games. Yet that is precisely what the 32-year-old did. Not everything about getting old is bad, she said.

Hey, here's a number for you, Nate Silver, two, actually: 6-2.

That was the score of the first set the last time these two played, at the WTA year-end championships, and Li won it. Eventually, she lost in three, but it was tangible evidence that, when her mind is right, she can play with Serena. She will have nothing to lose in this final against a six-time champion.

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