Power Ranking the Top 20 Women's Players After the 2014 Australian Open

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2014

Power Ranking the Top 20 Women's Players After the 2014 Australian Open

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    The WTA Rankings are soon to arrive following the 2014 Australian Open and there were plenty of surprising results with the top 20 in tennis.

    Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova were eliminated early in the second week. Meanwhile, teenage phenom Eugenie Bouchard danced along with loveable storylines and topnotch tennis.

    In the end, steady Li Na and resurgent Dominika Cibulkova stormed their way to the final. And all of China is celebrating once again with Li's second Grand Slam title and first Australian Open crown.

    The WTA rankings listed in this slideshow are calculated and updated to include the Australian Open tournament. These rankings will be official on Monday.

    The following power rankings strongly consider how the top 20 players look to build on their Australian Open momentum. Which players project to be prime contenders for 2014?

20. Flavia Pennetta

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    Aaron Favila/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 22

    Australian Open Result: Flavia Pennetta upset ninth-seeded Angelique Kerber to reach the  quarterfinals. She was routed by Li Na, 6-2, 6-2. The Australian summed up the match as a case of too much baseline power by Li. Pennetta's running and retrieving lasted only 67 minutes.

    Forward for 2014: The veteran is on a career-best Grand Slam streak since Wimbledon (fourth round) and the U.S. Open (semifinals). Can she pick up more points in the spring? At age 31, she is finding her zone.

19. Carla Suarez Navarro

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    Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 16

    Australian Open Result: The concern was the way Carla Suarez Navarro got annihilated 6-1, 6-0 in the third round. Of course, her opponent, Dominika Cibulkova, strung together several dominating sets in her Australian Open blitz. There is a real gap between the top 10 players and those bordering the top 20. She is a prime example.

    Forward for 2014: It's easy to forget that she landed in the quarterfinals at the 2013 U.S. Open. She has admirable tennis skill on all surfaces but can rarely stand up to the biggest stars. She is still searching to win a title.

18. Maria Kirilenko

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    Andy Wong/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 20

    Australian Open Result: Maria Kirilenko did not play in the Australian Open. She was sidelined with a knee injury.

    Forward for 2014: She is one of those players who can consistently penetrate the middle rounds to Grand Slam tournaments but has not advanced past the quarterfinals. She is a solid baseliner with the kind of quickness and endurance to play well for the spring tournaments but needs to find ways to combat more powerful players. For now, recovery and conditioning is her goal.

17. Sabine Lisicki

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    Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 15

    Australian Open Result: It's almost inexplicable that Sabine Lisicki lost in the second round to unseeded Monica Niculescu after hitting more than five times as many winners (43-8). The match statistics for that match are ugly. She had 56 unforced errors and her opponent only won nine of 28 second serve points.

    Forward for 2014: She will not return to the Wimbledon final without gaining control of her game. Impatience and errors must be conquered or she will soon fall out of the top 20. But the potential is there if she can channel her positive results to be a more consistent contender. Her game is well-suited for Wimbledon, but can she start picking up more points on clay? She's kind of the alter image to Sara Errani.

16. Samantha Stosur

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    Aaron Favila/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 17

    Australian Open Result: No shame in losing a tough third-round duel with Ana Ivanovic. She won a lengthy first-set tiebreaker but faded as the final two sets progressed.

    Forward for 2014: She is not the player she was in 2010-11 when she peaked with a French Open final appearance and U.S. Open championship. There are other young players passing her by, so it will be tough to bid for a top 10 slot. She has plenty of variety in her all-court game but needs even greater precision and control against the very top players.

15. Eugenie Bouchard

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    Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 19

    Australian Open Result: Just before the tournament's first coin toss, Eugenie Bouchard was tagged as one of Bleacher Report's under-the-radar players. Her most impressive feat was taking the pressure of each match in her stride. She won the matches she was supposed to, gained a signature win against Ana Ivanovic but fell hard to Li Na in the semifinals. All in all, an impressive, magical run, complete with stuffed Australian animals thrown her way by spectators. The wombat gets two thumbs up.

    Forward for 2014: Can she follow up this kind of effort at Masters 1000 and the remaining Grand Slam venues this year? Is she ready to compete for championships now or in a few years? She must learn to bounce back from tough and disappointing losses and endure the grind of the tour once the honeymoon wears off.

14. Sloane Stephens

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    Aaron Favila/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 18

    Australian Open Result: Forget about Stephens' drop in the rankings. She had a tough chore in getting back to the semifinals and can hardly be favored to defeat Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round.

    Forward for 2014: There is a lot to like about her potential to go deeper in other Grand Slam venues. She has the nice baseline topspin and plays well when in control but struggles when doing more of the running herself. She has plenty of power and foot speed but can be impatient in trying to get back into a point. This will likely improve this year with more experience and big matches to play.

13. Caroline Wozniacki

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    Aaron Favila/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 11

    Australian Open Result: It would look a lot better if Wozniacki had at least made it to the fourth round to face off against Agnieszka Radwanska, but she fell one match short. Give credit to young Garbine Muguruza who has been playing strong tennis recently.

    Forward for 2014: The former world No. 1 is a label that seems surreal at this point in her career. There have been questions, whispers and the kind of prodding usually reserved for therapy, so Wozniacki does not need more analysis about her gradual decline. Maybe coach Thomas Hogstedt can help her find her old groove and add more offense to boot.

12. Sara Errani

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    Daniel Munoz/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 7

    Australian Open Result: It really wasn't too surprising that Sara Errani lost in the first round on hard courts, but it was disappointing. To be fair, her opponent, Julia Goerges, can serve hard and hit more powerfully from the baseline. Errani was already dreaming of European red clay.

    Forward for 2014: The WTA rankings list her higher courtesy of the points she amasses on clay. It's unlikely she can muster up the power and style to succeed at a high level off clay, so staying in the top 10 is about her lot on the tour. There is hope that she can break through and win the French Open, which she nearly did in 2012.

11. Angelique Kerber

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    Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 9

    Australian Open Result: After taking care of three nondescript opponents, Kerber suffered a minor upset to Flavia Pennetta. At least this was not a German-Italian Euro cup final. The fourth-round defeat is a typical showing for Kerber who cannot break past this round since her 2012 Wimbledon run.

    Forward for 2014: She is just strong enough to beat most of the top 20 players but not a real threat to win a major. She works hard at grinding away from the baseline, but she needs to pick more spots to create winners. More variety and a better serve will be essential if she hopes to realize her Grand Slam dreams.

10. Ana Ivanovic

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    Aaron Favila/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 12

    Australian Open Result: Her triumphant moment was defeating the WTA's most dominant player, Serena Williams. Ivanovic deserves credit for her attacking nature and it's enjoyable tennis for fans. She lost in the quarterfinals to teenage star, Eugenie Bouchard, who was even more aggressive with 47 winners.

    Forward for 2014: A very strong start to 2014 could have been better. Maybe this could be the launching pad to win a few titles and challenge for one major title. The French Open figures to be her best opportunity, though it's now been six years since she won that trophy.

9. Jelena Jankovic

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    Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 8

    Australian Open Result: She didn't quite play up to her No. 8 ranking, losing to Simona Halep in the fourth round. Why? Halep is just better. Jankovic was shut out 6-0 in the third set. No excuses.

    Forward for 2014: Five years ago, she was entering her prime and held the No. 1 ranking after being a finalist in the U.S. Open. Now she is 28 years old and a solid second-tier player but not realistically considered a Grand Slam threat. Her best bet for 2014 is to keep putting in the work and hope she can catch lightning in a bottle. Could she have her Marion Bartoli moment by winning one major?

8. Petra Kvitova

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    Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 6

    Australian Open Result: Kvitova dished out the worst result of the first round, losing to 88th-ranked Luksika Kumkhum. She did not stand up well in the heat but fell back to her ugly ways with 40 unforced errors.

    Forward for 2014: The regression of her tennis has been apparent for the past two years. Right now, she looks more likely to fall out of the top 10 than to compete for a Grand Slam title. Can she control her power? Will she improve her footwork and defense? Does she have the mental toughness to bounce back from frustration? It won't be easy to move up with other young, rising stars such as Simona Halep, Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens looking to pass her by.

7. Simona Halep

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    Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 10

    Australian Open Result: Halep had her first excellent run in a Grand Slam tournament. She defeated Jelena Jankovic with an impressive third-set bagel to reach the quarterfinals. She was steamrolled by Dominika Cibulkova and forced to eat her own bagel in the third set. Poetic justice?

    Forward for 2014: Can Halep consistently become a top five player? We are giving her the edge at No. 7 because Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani, Angelique Kerber and Jelena Jankovic are either stalled or trending down. Halep has a better opportunity to grow into her game. She is still cutting her teeth in how she constructs points, when to be patient and when to show her aggression at the baseline.

6. Dominika Cibulkova

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    Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 13

    Australian Open Result: The way she dominated some of the best WTA stars was impressive enough to land Dominika Cibulkova a generous spot in our power rankings. She defeated Francesca Schiavone, Carla Suarez Navarro, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska. In the final, she fought a tough first set versus Li Na but then collapsed in the second set.

    Forward for 2014: Cibulkova has enough game to compete for more deep Grand Slam runs, and her belief from this tournament could pay huge dividends. Her feisty reactions to adversity can be good, but the year will be long and composure will be more important than short-term adrenaline. Let's see her respond with this kind of tennis more often.

5. Maria Sharapova

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    Aaron Favila/Associated Press

    WTA Ranking: No. 5

    Australian Open Result: She was never at her best in all four of her matches. The loss to Dominika Cibulkova was the simple fact of losing to a player in better condition. Her shoulder injury from last summer may or may not be OK, but her serving in Melbourne ranged from lackluster to atrocious.

    Forward for 2014: Can Sharapova regain her 2012 form? She and new coach Sven Groeneveld must improve her service game. By this point in her career, it may be asking a lot to do more than tinker with her game, especially because she only knows one way to win: Hit hard from the baseline and keep hitting harder. It's unlikely she will return to the No. 1 ranking this year, but winning one Grand Slam title would be a major success.

4. Agnieszka Radwanska

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    Michael Dodge/Getty Images

    WTA Ranking: No. 4

    Australian Open Result: The big win was her quarterfinals coup to defeat two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka. It was a triumph for tennis fans who appreciate the angles, changes of pace and cerebral play, a kind of young Martina Hingis performance. She could win big matches this way or so it seemed. Next match, she was rudely drilled by Dominika Cibulkova.

    Forward for 2014: While the semifinals appearance bodes well for Radwanska, there will be her continued pursuit to play near-perfect tennis against bigger hitters. It will take different strokes for different folks. Her championship aspirations will require mastery of her vision and talents. It will not be easy, but she certainly has the talent to pick off majors when she is at her best.

3. Li Na

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    WTA Ranking: No. 3

    Australian Open Result: She was the 2013 runner-up in Australia, but the veteran Li Na was pegged as a smart, determined contender who could win the tournament if things went her way. She figured to have a good draw to the semifinals, then would have the daunting task of facing No. 1 Serena Williams. Instead, she dominated Eugenie Bouchard to reach the final. Then she eked out the first set versus Dominika Cibulkova and slammed the door shut to the second set. She is the Australian Open champion and holder of two career majors.

    Forward for 2014: Li might be a rock star in China but has largely been underrated by tennis fans. She does not possess the domination of Serena or the glamor of Maria Sharapova. Instead she is steadiness. She hits the ball from one corner to the next, and with this approach to her career is finding that patience is the road to success and Grand Slam hardware. The French Open could be next.

2. Victoria Azarenka

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    WTA Ranking: No. 2

    Australian Open Result: It was going to be difficult to win a third straight Australian Open title and the pre-tournament talk was if she could defeat Serena Williams. She handled potential star Sloane Stephens in the fourth round. Then she played one good set that was sandwiched by two terrible 6-1, 6-0 disasters. She was frustrated and let it show with classless shouting, inciting a trail of boos from the Melbourne fans. Not exactly the way to go out after failing to defend her title.

    Forward for 2014: Azarenka is a tough competitor who has learned to stifle her urge to react when things go askew. She has targeted Serena for the No. 1 ranking  but will be looking over her shoulder at Li Na, Radwanska and several worthy challenges from the top 20. Her goal must be to win at least one Grand Slam in 2014. She has been close two years running at the U.S. Open.

1. Serena Williams

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    WTA Ranking: No. 1

    Australian Open Result: Bad luck with injuries or is Serena just more vulnerable in big matches Down Under? Any time Serena loses, it will be labeled as a big upset, but even she cannot be healthy and playing her best at all times.

    Forward for 2014: She is still the standard for women's tennis, but perhaps the gap is closing. If she appears vulnerable because of injuries or age, her competitors will play harder and find more victories. She must overcome her nagging back and other impending pains that will try to undermine her 32-year-old body. Can she win two more Grand Slam titles in 2014? It will be tougher now.