Power Ranking the Top 20 Women's Players Heading into 2014 Australian Open
The Australian Open, the first big test of 2014, is upon us. The WTA season begins pretty much the way 2013 ended. Serena Williams remains far out front while everyone else fights for a chance to take her down.
Victoria Azarenka, ranked No. 2, appears to be in the best position to challenge Williams. Azarenka has won the last two Aussie Opens. Maria Sharapova arrives in Australia well-rested and with a new coach.
Several up-and-coming players seem poised to make a run at the Top 20. Canada's Eugenie Bouchard and Romania's Sorana Cirstea finished 2013 strong. They are among a slew of young players who could make some noise down under.
But neither makes the top 20 in the power rankings. That's because unlike the WTA rankings, which include points accumulated from last year, the power rankings are about who has the momentum rolling into Melbourne.
20. Kirsten Flipkens
WTA Ranking: 19
Kirsten Flipkens reached the semifinals in Auckland, New Zealand. She lost to eventual winner Ana Ivanovic. A versatile player, Flipkens broke into the Top 20 for the first time last season. She comes to Australia hoping to translate her grass-court success to the hard courts.
19. Dominika Cibulkova
WTA Ranking: 21
Dominika Cibulkova comes in at 19 because her speed on the hard courts makes her a tough out. Cibulkova suffered a first-round loss to Angelique Kerber in Sydney. But that was probably because she was coming off a tough quarterfinals loss to Serena Williams in Brisbane. The break between now and the Australian Open should do Cibulkova good.
18. Maria Kirilenko
WTA Ranking: 18
Maria Kirilenko often plays the role of worthy contender. However, she has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam. Although she withdrew from the tournament with an ankle injury, she's still among the best players on tour. Her best appearance at the Australian Open was in 2010 when she reached the quarterfinals. Hopefully she can get healthy in time for Miami.
17. Svetlana Kuznetsova
WTA Ranking: 20
Svetlana Kuznetsova is among the handful of women on tour who have won more than one Grand Slam title. Last year she reached the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open. Always a threat, the reason Kuznetsova comes in at 17 is that she has a championship resume.
16. Roberta Vinci
WTA Ranking: No. 12
Much like her doubles partner Sara Errani, Roberta Vinci is a consistent player who accumulates points by entering as many tournaments as possible. However, also like Errani, she is not considered a real threat to win a Grand Slam. She comes it below her WTA ranking because her game is not suited for the fast courts in Australia.
15. Sabine Lisicki
WTA Ranking: No. 15
Sabine Lisicki's stunning upset over Serena Williams in the quarterfinals at the 2013 Wimbledon was matched only by her disappointing meltdown in the final. That's the issue with Lisicki. When she's on, she's unstoppable. When she falls apart, she is inconsolable. Emotional and often erratic play gets in the way. Despite her inconsistencies, Lisicki lands at No. 15 because of her championship-caliber weapons.
14. Samantha Stosur
WTA Ranking: 17
You would think Samantha Stosur, winner of the 2010 U.S. Open, would perform well at the Aussie Open. It's in her own country and on hard courts, a surface perfect for her big serve. But Stosur has only reached the fourth round in Australia. Still, she's got one of the best overall games on tour.
13. Simona Halep
WTA Ranking: No. 11
Simona Halep was one of last season's biggest surprises. Only Serena Williams won more tournaments. She lost to American teen Madison Keys in Sydney. Still, Halep has developed a solid all-around game.
The reason she is slightly lower on the power rankings is that much of her success in 2013 came in second-tier tournaments. To take the next big step, she needs to perform better in the bigger tournaments.
12. Sloane Stephens
WTA Ranking: 13
Last year the Australian Open served as a breakthrough tournament for Sloane Stephens. Her win over Serena Williams caught the tennis world by storm and made her an instant media darling. No longer the new kid on the block, Stephens is parked just outside the Top 10. To drive through, she'll have to be far more consistent than she was last year.
11. Caroline Wozniacki
WTA Ranking: No. 10
Besides her engagement to pro golfer Rory McIlroy, the biggest announcement coming from Caroline Wozniacki was the move to hire a new coach. Wozniacki hired Thomas Hogstedt, Sharapova's old coach. Although Wozniacki is playing in Sydney, the Australian Open will be the first true look at Hogstedt's impact on her game.
10. Ana Ivanovic
WTA Ranking: No. 14
Ana Ivanovic defeated Venus Williams to win the Auckland tournament. It was her first WTA title since 2011. More importantly it was a tough match against a multiple-Grand Slam winner. The reason Ivanovic comes in at No. 10 in the power rankings, way ahead of her WTA ranking, is that she is serving better. With an early title win behind her, Ivanovic enters Australia confident and playing well.
9. Angelique Kerber
WTA Ranking: No. 9
Angelique Kerber is the type of player who should be able to win more big matches. Another year on tour under her belt can only help the feisty German. She just reached the quarterfinals in Sydney with quality wins over Cibulkova and Kaia Kanepi.
8. Sara Errani
WTA Ranking: No. 7
Sara Errani, the little Italian engine that could, continues to hang around the Top 10 by sheer will. The reason she comes in at No. 8, instead of her WTA ranking of No. 7, is that her weak serve doesn't stand a chance against the big hitters. It will be like batting practice at the Australian Open.
7. Jelena Jankovic
WTA Ranking: No. 8
Former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic has always played well on hard courts. Her speed and agility force opponents to hit that extra ball. Despite an early exit from Sydney, Jankovic is in good form and poised to take on top players. After a strong finish in 2013, she played well in Brisbane. She took the first set, 6-1, before losing to Azarenka.
6. Agnieszka Radwanska
WTA Ranking: No. 5
Agnieska Radwanska has replaced Wozniacki as the feared counterpuncher on tour. She has just enough game to frustrate top players and sneak into a final, as she did at the 2012 Wimbledon.
However, it's unclear if Radwanska has enough weapons to play her way through such a power-packed field of heavy hitters like the ones at this year's Aussie Open. Defending champion at Sydney, Radwanska was upset by Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
5. Petra Kvitova
WTA Ranking: No. 6
Petra Kvitova is one of eight women in the Top 20 who have won a Grand Slam. She is also the youngest of the bunch. Kvitova is always a threat to win it all. It just depends on which Petra shows up.
4. Maria Sharapova
WTA Ranking: No. 3
Maria Sharapova passed her first test since returning from a shoulder injury. She reached the semifinals in Brisbane. Although she lost to Serena Williams, Sharapova clearly had added some new wrinkles to her game. She played more aggressive and moved in more. Long-term, the approach shots and taking the ball earlier will pay off for Sharapova. But right now, she seems unsure of this new approach.
3. Victoria Azarenka
WTA Ranking: No. 2
Victoria Azarenka returns as the defending champion. She reached the final of both the Australian Open and U.S. Open in 2012 and 2013. The reason she finds herself at No. 3 instead of No. 2 is that she finished the year rather weak. She has also lost a little of that edge she had in the later part of 2012 and through the Aussie Open in 2013. Perhaps the Aussie Open is exactly what Vika needs to get her swagger back.
2. Li Na
WTA Ranking: No. 4
Li Na reached the final of the Australian Open last year. She appeared headed for the upset win over Azarenka before a few misfortunate events, including hitting her head on the pavement.
The reason Li is at No. 2, ahead of Azarenka, is that lately she has played better than Azarenka. She won the Shenzhen Open title in China. Like Ivanovic, Li arrives at the Australian Open with a title already under her belt. She also reached the final of the WTA Championships, where she lost to Serena Williams. Fast and furious on hard courts, Li is one to watch.
1. Serena Williams
WTA Ranking: No. 1
Serena Williams enters the Australian Open as the undisputed No. 1 player. An Australian Open title would tie her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 Grand Slams.
The two biggest obstacles facing Williams are on her side of the net.
If Williams wants to win, she must conquer her emotions and stay healthy. During the tournament in Brisbane, Williams had her ankles heavily taped. It was an ankle injury that played a part in her loss against Stephens in last year's Australian Open. No matter how much tape is wrapped around her, Williams is No. 1 in the power rankings, the WTA rankings and in the mind of anyone playing against her.