Considering the warm-up period for the Australian Open is so short, the tournaments beforehand usually get great fields. Sydney's no exception—even Serena, known usually for going into the year's first major cold, was drawn out of hiberation the last couple years to play in the coastline city.
She'll be missed this year, as will two-time defending champ Elena Dementieva. But the packed draw is still mightily impressive—Caroline Wozniacki, Francesca Schiavone and Jelena Jankovic have already been eliminated, but Kim Clijsters, Vera Zvonareva, Victoria Azarenka and hometown favorite Sam Stosur are all alive.
Wozniacki was bundled out just a short while ago by pint-sized Dominika Cibulkova in straights—not a great sign for the world No. 1, especially after the thrashing she just suffered at the hands of Zvonareva in Hong Kong.
Clijsters, meanwhile, has rolled into the quarters—defeating a couple of counterpunchers in Dulgheru and Zahlavova Strycova, losing just eight games thus far. Next up could be a much different brand of tennis if Azarenka can defeat Shahar Peer. I'd love to see another match between the Belgian and the Belarussian. It'll be a good first test for Kim in the new year, a measuring stick to see how well and how consistently she's hitting the ball. You've got to think redeeming herself after last year's horrid performance in Melbourne, when she looked listless and unfocused in winning one game to Nadia Petrova in the third round, is absolutely crucial.
For Azarenka, whether she can topple Clijsters will answer a lot of questions about her chances in Melbourne. Last year, the Belgian—at 27—was the youngest Grand Slam winner on the WTA. The tour's been in severe need for one of the young girls at the top to step up and bring it at the Majors, and a lot of times the biggest factor in doing just that is gaining some much-needed confidence. I don't think Azarenka will beat Kim here, but if she plays her tough, it'll be a good sign for the Aussie.
Seconds before writing this sentence, live scores from Sydney confirmed that Flavia Pennetta just scored a huge win over Zvonareva in straights in the Russian's opening match. Pennetta's had Vera Z.'s number as of late, but the Italian pulled out of last week's Brisbane tourney with illness and was coming up against a woman who had demolished the world's top player only a few short days ago. I had picked Zvonareva to head to the final before writing this, but serving 11 double faults and getting broken six times was never going to take her there. Pennetta, though, now has a great shot to spar for the trophy—she's up next against streaky Aravane Rezai or newcomer Bojana Jovanovski, both winnable opponents.
Also in this bottom half is eighth seeded Li Na (or is it Na Li?), already in the quarters thanks to a pretty cozy draw. She'll play either Kuznetsova or Stosur, locked in a third set as I type. Both Stosur and Kuzy looked good in opening matches, but their foes weren't in top shape. Wickmayer, who fell to Stosur in a close two-setter, had just played the final in New Zealand; Dokic, schooled by the Russian 6-2, 6-2, said she's been sick for the past week or so. No matter who wins, I still like Pennetta's chances—particularly after today's great upset.
Top Half: (3) Clijsters d. Kleybanova
Bottom Half: Pennetta d. Kuznetsova
Final: (3) Clijsters d. Pennetta