Oh, how women's tennis has changed in the past, 6 months or so. Back in early 2009 we were complaining about how boring the WTA was, and the lack of motivation shown by the ladies, and blah, blah, blah (Ke$ha!). We had Mary Carillo constantly bashing the women, and Jelena Jankovic saying how uninteresting the game was. Funny how things change, because this year promises to be the most exciting Australian Open yet. Ever since Kim Clijsters returned and took the decade's final major, things have been looking up. Maria Sharapova has returned to top form, and who can forget the return of Justine Henin, who will be playing her first major since the Aussie two years ago. And of course, Serena, Venus, the Ova's and the Ina's. Heres a breakdown of the ladies' draw and predictions for the opening slam of 2010.
To noone's surprise, this quarter is Serena Williams' to lose. The American is the top seed and the defending champ, but ODDly enough, she seems to only triumph down under in odd-numbered years. After dominating the WTA Year-End Championships, Serena came back last week in Sydney and reached the final, suffering a knee injury in the process. Regardless, the 11-time major champ is a heavy-favorite. The second highest seed here is Victoria Azarenka, who came extremely close to sending Williams packing last year. The Belarusian has the chops to beat anyone, on any given day, but she has proved to mentally weak to break through on a big-time stage. Following Azarenka comes Vera Zvonareva, a semifinalist in 2009, Aussie-native Samantha Stosur, the homecrowd fave, and Ana Ivanovic, who has fallen so off the radar that she is barely worth writing about. Expect the Serb's fall from grace to continue. Zvonareva, when healthy though, poses a true threat to Serena. Here powerful groundstrokes can keep up with anyone, but, similar to Azarenka, this Russian is a MAYJAH headcase.
Quarterfinals: S. Williams def. V. Azarenka
Looking up and down the 2nd quarter of the draw, very few pop out as potential dark horses. The sections highest seed, Caroline Wozniacki, reached the finals of the US Open, but I expect 2010 to be a very dissapointing year for the Dane. She plays a smart brand of tennis, and can hit a backhand as good if not better than anyone, but her flaws can be easily exploited, and her serve is a major liability. Next comes Venus Williams, who has never won an Australian Open title in her illustrious career. She scarecly plays well in Melbourne, and was ousted in the 2nd round last year. Her play of late has not impressed, and I simply don't see the elder Williams doing any damage. That leaves us with Agnieszka Radwanska, Li Na, Francesca Schiavone, Daniela Hantuchova and Shahar Peer. Na and Peer both have great capability, but both frequently fail to come up with big-time performances at the majors. Schiavone doesn't have a game fir to make a run on the hard courts, and Radwanska is vulnerable to going out early, although she has had some quality victories. After reaching the final four in 2008, I see Hantuchova as the one in the best position to make noise here. And let's not forget Melanie Oudin, America's sweetheart, who made headlines with her impressive run at the' '09 US Open.
Quarterfinals: D. Hantuchova def. A. Radwanska
Let's just refer to this section as the "Ova's vs The Comeback Girls." The 3rd quarter is loaded with heavy-hitting Russians like Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova, but the real big-names are Clijsters and Henin. The two Belgians could possibly meet in a block-buster quarterfinal, but the latter won;t have an easy time doing it, as Henin could possibly clash with 5th seeded Dementieva in the 2nd round. Kuznetsova has never won in Oz, but one of her two major titles, the US Open, was on hardcourts, which means the 3rd seed can never be counted out. Petrova has made two quarterfinals at this slam, and Flavia Pennetta of Italy also boasts a solid resume fit for hardcourt success. This one'll play out just like we all want.
Quarterfinals: K. Clijsters. def. J. Henin
The final section of the bracket boasts a lot of talent, as Dinara Safina and Maria Sharapova are the headliners, followed by Jelena Jankovic and Marion Bartoli. All five of the ladies have put up extremely impressive results down under. Safina is the defending runner-up, Sharapova took home the big prize the last time she played, in 2008 and both Jankovic and Bartoli have reached atleast the quarterfinals. In exhibtions in Thailand, Sharapova has looked stellar, and it seems as though her shoulder issues are long behind her. Back to her old service motion, the Russian is ready for a deep run. Her compatriot, Safina, completely lost it in the last half of 2009 after beginning the year with 2nd place finishes at the 1st two slams of the year, and Jankovic has fallen to 8th in the rankings after holding the top spot just a year ago. The two Russians could unfortunately meet way too early, in the round of 16, and I'm not convinced Safina can out-grit Shazza. JJ and Bartoli could also meet in the 4th round, and the Frenchwoman has always had Jankovic's number.
Quarterfinals: M. Sharapova def. M. Bartoli
Semifinals: S. Williams def. D. Hantuchova; M. Sharapova def. K. Clijsters
Finals: M. Sharapova def. S. Williams
Take your own look at the draw here.