game williams

AUSOPEN PREVIEW: THE LADIES

When was the last time the women’s game had this much depth? I’m not knocking the WTA Tour, which in fact has had more depth in recent years than the men’s Federer vs. Nadal show. When I look at the Australian Open draw though, I’m just floored with the amount of talent out there. This is a fantastic way to kick-off the 2010 Grand Slam calendar.

The Favorites:

Number one ranked Serena Williams has a pretty sweet ride to the quarter-finals from the looks of it. I don’t expect her to drop a set for the first week that’s for sure. There’s simply nobody in her section of the draw that can keep up with her power, experience and winning-attitude. If she truly did tweak something against Elena Dementieva in Sydney, this draw gives her some time before she has to bring out her ‘A’ game. Williams will be the favorite to add to her existing collection of four Aussie Open titles, the most recent being a year ago.

A nice third round match-up in the top-half could include Vera Zvonareva against Ana Ivanovic. Either one of these players could use a good Grand Slam showing to correct their career progress after a disappointing 2009. Zvonareva started strong in 2009 with a semi-final showing in Australia, but after missing two months in the middle of the year with injury she never returned to top form. Ivanovic’s season was a total disaster and it was hard to believe she was ever the number one ranked player in the world. One of these two should still be able to push through to the quarters.

U.S. Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki has a great path to perhaps a semi-final berth in Australia. Only Daniela Hantuchova may cause her some trouble before the quarters, although Hantuchova has not had a big win in quite some time.

Wozniacki may meet the winner of an intriguing fourth round match between Americans Venus Williams and Melanie Oudin. A Williams/Oudin match would give tennis fans a nice glimpse of the past, present and future of American tennis and perhaps that future is now. Oudin has some winnable matches early on while Venus has looked mediocre since Wimbledon and as she approaches thirty, is only a huge threat on grass.

In the bottom-half don’t get your hopes up for second-seeded Dinara Safina. The mentally fragile Russian attained the number one ranking for a period of time in 2009, but will most be remembered for tanking in two Slam finals in Australia and Paris, along with a brutal defeat in the semi’s at Wimbledon. A back injury hampered the last portion of her season and was acting up again at the start of 2010 to keep her out of Brisbane. Safina does not have enough match-play under her belt to be considered a major threat here in Australia nor is her mental game ready to compete in this first Slam of the season.

There are plenty of other top-level players ready to contend for the title in the bottom section of the draw however, and the Belgians are leading the charge.

Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin and Yanina Wickmayer are all in the same quarter of the draw, which is unfortunate because they could all have easily advanced quite far given their play of late. Clijsters has the most favorable path and should get past Svetlana Kuznetsova to make the quarter-finals. A second-consecutive Slam is a distinct possibility for her.

Henin, entered as a wild card, is not going to enjoy the same Grand Slam return that Clijsters had at the U.S. Open. After a first round match with up and coming Sorana Cirstea, Henin will most definitely face fifth seeded Elena Dementieva – the same Dementieva who just won in Sydney defeating Serena in the finals. Henin leads their head-to-head battles 9-2, but will have to fight hard to beat the in-form Russian. I think Henin can beat Dementieva, but expecting her to have a similar Cinderella-run like Clijsters did in Flushing Meadows is unlikely.

The third Belgian, and the future of tennis in that country, Yanina Wickmayer, has already fought through three qualifying matches in order to secure entry into the tournament. Wickmayer was not allowed to take the 16th seeded spot that she is due because of the timing of her return from a mishandled doping violation. She may face Italian Flavia Pennetta in the second round and either Henin or Dementieva in the fourth round. Regardless of how she fares here in Australia, the twenty year old has a bright future ahead of her.

In the very last quarter of the draw we’ve got the unpredictable Jelena Jankovic. Fairing no better than the fourth round of any Slam in 2009, Jankovic has much to prove this year. She has a nice section of the draw and should stay untroubled until the quarter-finals. Don’t expect her to move much farther than that however, as the Serbian is not the huge threat she used to be.

Do keep an eye on Maria Sharapova to have a big Aussie Open. The talented Russian has come back admirably from shoulder surgery last year and has the power game to defeat anyone on tour. If she can keep her serve consistent and free of double-digit double faults, then she is more than capable of winning this tourney. If she does come up against Safina in the round of sixteen, I see Sharapova advancing with ease. There are more Grand Slam titles within her and this could be the next one on her list.

Anticipated First-Round Matches:

Kimiko Date-Krumm vs Yaroslava Shvedova: The 39 year old veteran Date-Krumm has been very impressive since returning to the tour in 2008 and has worked herself back into being a dangerous player to face. Her return is even more impressive given the fact she was away from the sport for six years. She’ll face a difficult player in Shvedova, who impressed in the late stages of 2009 with victories over Daniela Hantuchova in Toronto and Jelena Jankovic at the U.S. Open.

Caroline Wozniacki vs Aleksandra Wozniak: It amazes me how often these two near-identical names get paired together in so many tournaments. Unfortunately for the Canadian Wozniak, it rarely ends up in her favor. The fourth seeded Wozniacki has won five of their six meetings although the pair have usually produced closely contested matches. Wozniak is ranked 34th in the world right now, so this is a fairly strong first rounder.

Jelena Dokic vs Alisa Kleybanova: While it was nice to watch Dokic have her fairy-tale run to the quarter-finals in last year’s edition, the same fate will be difficult to duplicate. Dokic faces hard-hitting Russian Kleybanova whom she defeated here in the fourth round last year by a tight score of 7-5, 5-7, 8-6. Kleybanova’s court movement is limited due to her stature, but she can really hit the ball and was able to defeat Venus Williams, Vera Zvonareva and Jelena Jankovic (twice) in 2009.