With 16 nations competing in Fed Cup action this week, the women of the WTA Tour will be looking ahead to the Open GDF SUEZ in Paris starting on Feb. 9 and the prestigious Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships on Feb. 15.
With these Premier-tier events carrying a higher purse and more ranking points than the coinciding International events in Thailand, Tennessee, and Colombia, expect fewer top 16 players to make the cut in the next edition of the power rankings.
Looking at what has transpired in the early weeks of 2010, it comes as no real surprise that the top eight women in the power rankings were the eight quarterfinalists at the Australian Open. With just five tournaments so far in the calendar year, the AO takes precedence both as the biggest tournament of the year as well as the most recent.
Here's a look at how the rankings have shaped up through January.
1) Serena Williams (WTA ranking 1)
Williams stands alone at the top of the power rankings, and there's every indication to think she could be here a while. She improved to 34-2 at the Australian Open since 2001 with her win over Justine Henin on Saturday, and she has not lost in a semifinal or final at Melbourne Park.
Victories over Victoria Azarenka, Na Li, and Henin were considerably harder than anything she faced in the first week of the tournament, and she showed a combination of determination, patience, and raw ability in each of her last three contests.
After a strong run to the final in Sydney two weeks ago, Williams has started 2010 well. She will be the stand out seed in Paris next Tuesday, with only Elena Dementieva really standing in her way of another romp. There are only three of the world's top 16 women taking part, so a rematch of the Sydney finals looks likely on the hard indoor court at the Open GDF SUEZ.
2) Justine Henin (No WTA ranking)
Because of the emphasis a Grand Slam has on the power rankings, Henin debuts back at No. 2. I'm not saying she will be there all year, but it's hard to argue with her impressive start to the year.
Two tournaments, two trophies, two finals defeats. She is already 8-2 against players in the top 32 this calendar year, and she looked in breathtaking form against Dementieva and Wickmayer in Melbourne and against Nadia Petrova and Ana Ivanovic in Sydney.
With back-to-back clay court tournaments coming up in South America in two weeks, Henin could keep rolling into March. Then she would only have to weather the storm for another month before the European clay court season kicks off in earnest in early April.
3) Jie Zheng (WTA ranking 20)
Zheng made it into her second Grand Slam semifinal with an inspired run in Melbourne last week. Unseeded Zheng (ranked No. 36) is looking to rediscover the kind of form that propelled her to No. 15 in the world just eight months ago, and a second consecutive trip into the fourth round at the Australian Open does nothing to hinder that progress.
While she was dominated by Justine Henin in Thursday’s semifinal, Zheng has enjoyed a positive start to 2010. She defeated three seeds at Melbourne Park (Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, No. 24; Marion Bartoli, No. 11; and Alone Bondarenko, No. 31) and she served well throughout the tournament.
The 26-year-old also made it to the quarterfinals in Hobart three weeks ago, where she lost to eventual champion Alona Bondarenko 7-5, 7-5.
4) Na Li (WTA ranking 10)
Na Li finally broke into the world’s top 10 with a fantastic Australian Open which saw her push Serena Williams to two tiebreakers in their semifinal last week.
While Li is yet to experience a Grand Slam final, she showed over the last fortnight that she has the skills and temperament to challenge some of the best in the women’s game.
She defeated No. 4 Caroline Wozniacki twice in the space of a week, and she also got the better of both Daniela Hantuchova and Venus Williams on her way to the semis in Melbourne Park.
Li lost to Kaia Kanepi in Auckand at the start of the year and was defeated by Flavia Pennetta in Sydney, but her spot at No. 4 in the power rankings is fueled almost entirely by her Aussie Open successes.
To read about Li making history by becoming the first Chinese player to make the top 10, click here.
5) Victoria Azarenka (WTA ranking 6)
A semifinalist in Sydney and quarterfinalist in Melbourne, Azarenka finds herself in No. 5 which is about right considering she entered the Australian Open as the seventh seed.
The 20-year-old screecher beat two top-32 players in Sabine Lisicki and Dominika Cibulkova in Sydney before falling to eventual champion Dementieva 6-3, 6-1 in the semis.
With a nice amount of momentum going into the Australian Open, Azarenka’s chances of making the second week were improved when her likely third-round opponent Elena Vesnina lost in her opening match to Tathiana Garbin.
Azarenka proceeded to power past Garbin 6-2, 6-0. The Belarusian then showed strength and resilience to claw her way back from a set down against world No. 9 Vera Zvonareva—who she had never previously taken a set off—to book her place in the quarterfinals with Serena Williams.
For what it’s worth, Azarenka should have been battling Na Li for a place in Saturday’s final, but she melted under the intense pressure before being blown away. Azarenka was leading by a set and 4-0, and Serena was on the ropes serving to save a break point. Serena, of course, went on to win the game, the set, and eventually the match.
Azarenka has still not appeared in the final of a Grand Slam and this was her best chance to date. But she’s up here near the top of the power rankings for a reason and, at age 20, there’s every reason to think she will get there soon.
6) Maria Kirilenko (WTA ranking 37)
Don’t expect Kirilenko to stay inside the top 10 of the power rankings for too long. Her charge up to No. 6 here was fueled by a run to the quarterfinals down under which saw her defeat Maria Sharapova and Safina.
Her preparations were not the best for the Australian Open, battered by Shahar Peer in Auckland a fortnight earlier, but a favorable draw allowed her to forge into the last eight.
Take nothing away from Kirilenko, she played well to get as far as she did, but she’s barely a top 50 player anymore and it’s unlikely that she’s going to play in enough of the Premier-tier events over the coming six weeks to earn enough points to stay here. By the time March rolls around, don’t expect to see her inside the top 16.
She normally makes the trip to Dubai, but if past results are anything to go by, an early exit could be on the cards.
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