1. Victoria Azarenka (current WTA ranking: No. 8)
Last four events: Miami (winner); Indian Wells (semifinalist); Cellular South, Memphis (winner); Australian Open (R16)
As the women’s tour shifts to clay courts, now we’ll see whether Victoria Azarenka can build upon her stellar spring. She has won three titles so far this year and was leading eventual champ Serena Williams in Australia before having to retire.
Now, returning from three weeks off, it’ll probably take more than a change of surfaces to slow her down.
2. Serena Williams (current WTA ranking: No. 2)
Last four events: Marbella (R32); Miami (finalist); Dubai (semifinalist); Australian Open (winner)
With her 2002 Roland Garros win, we know the younger Williams can play on the dirt. Furthermore, the rising threat of Azarenka may motivate her to greater success.
However, her recent problems with injuries and with form make her a question mark for clay court events ahead.
3. Vera Zvonareva (current WTA ranking: No. 6)
Last four events: Charleston (R16); Miami (R32); Indian Wells (winner); Dubai (quarterfinalist)
If not the most severe injury on tour so far this year, the torn ligaments in Zvonareva’s ankle definitely came with the worst timing. Rankings aside, Zvonareva had been playing the best ball of any of the Russian women this spring.
Hopefully she’ll be back in form soon, but her results in the near future are bound to suffer.
4. Venus Williams (current WTA ranking: No. 5)
Last four events: Charleston (R16); Miami (semifinalist); Acapulco (winner); Dubai (winner)
Though she suffered an early exit in her last outing, she can take consolation in that A) it came from Sabine Lisicki, the tourney’s eventual champ, and that B) it was Lisicki’s most tightly contested match at the Family Circle Cup.
The elder Williams has shown fine form so far this year and may benefit from lower expectations during the clay season. Even if that’s not the case, at least Wimbledon’s not too far away.
5. Elena Dementieva (current WTA ranking: No. 3)
Last four events: Charleston (semifinalist); Miami (R16); Indian Wells (R64); Dubai (quarterfinalist)
Dementieva has two tour titles this year, but both came before the AO. After her strong start to the year, she of the erratic serve has put up consistently mid-week results.
She holds two career clay court titles, the last of which came two years ago, but her results on the dirt have not trending upward in recent years.
6. Caroline Wozniacki (current WTA ranking: No. 11)
Last four events: Charleston (finalist); MPS Group Championships (winner); Miami (quarterfinalist); Indian Wells (quarterfinalist)
One of the breakout success stories of this year’s WTA tour, Wozniacki continues to impress. She has put in several good performances in events this year, including two titles. Her straight set loss to Lisicki at the FCC can’t have sat well, though, and ought to motivate her to greater things.
7. Jelena Jankovic (current WTA ranking: No. 4)
Last four events: Marbella (winner); Miami (R64); Indian Wells (R64); Dubai (R16)
Winning in Marbella and leading the Serbian team in their victory over Spain have been positive signs for the former No. 1. However, her chances of finally adding that first major title haven’t been looking any better lately, and she desperately needs to find the form that propelled her to the game’s top ranking.
8. Ana Ivanovic (current WTA ranking: No. 7)
Last four events: Miami (R32); Indian Wells (finalist); Dubai (quarterfinalist); Australian Open (R32)
It’s getting closer and closer to the French Open, where the bulk of the points supporting the Serb’s current ranking must be defended. Perhaps she can obtain momentum both from her Indian Wells final appearance and from taking part in Serbia’s 4-0 throttling of Spain.
She needs momentum from somewhere if she’s to stay in the top 10.
9. Dinara Safina (current WTA ranking: No. 1)
Last four events: Miami (R32); Indian Wells (quarterfinalist); Dubai (R32); Australian Open (finalist)
Which is harder: To be known for your more famous older brother, or for having attained the top ranking when few think you deserve it? In either case, Safina has a lot to prove. She has no titles yet this year, and like Ivanovic will have quite a few points to defend in Paris.
10. Svetlana Kuznetsova (current WTA ranking: No. 7)
Last four events: Miami (semifinalist); Indian Wells (R64); Dubai (R32); Australian Open (quarterfinalist)
Currently the No. 3-ranked Russian, it’s easy to forget that Kuznetsova is the only one of her countrywomen in the top 10 to have won a major. That was nearly five years ago, however, and a repeat is looking unlikely. Her results have been lackluster ever since failing to close out Serena Williams in the AO quarters.
Outside Looking In
Marion Bartoli (current WTA ranking: No. 13)
Last four events: Charleston (semifinalist): Ponte Vedra Beach (R32); Miami (R64); Indian Wells (R64)
A viral illness derailed her in Miami and Indian Wells, but the 2007 Wimbledon finalist appears to be regaining her consistency. Too bad her potent double-fisted groundstrokes have carried her to little success on clay thus far in her career.
Nadia Petrova (current WTA ranking: No. 10)
Last four events: Charleston (R16); Ponte Vedra Beach (semifinals); Miami (R32); Australian Open (R16)
It is perhaps unfortunate for the fourth-ranked Russian that she drew Zvonareva at the AO and Aleksandra Wozniak in Charleston. However, those are the kind of players Petrova must defeat if she’s to live up to her top 10 ranking.
Sabine Lisicki (current WTA ranking: No. 42)
Last four events:Charleston (winner); Ponte Vedra Beach (R16); Miami (R64); Indian Wells (R128).
Her FCC title was her first, and being No. 42 means she’s not going to reach the top 10 next week. There’s little doubt, though, that if her form in Charleston continues she’ll get there soon enough.