Australian Open 2011: Women's Draw Preview and Analysis
There comes a time where every top player has to prove their worth. A time where the naysayers need to be silenced, and a player's legacy can deservedly be edged in stone. For world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, that time appears to be now-or-never. Grinding her way to the top spot in the rankings, the Danish firecracker has yet the reach the finals of a Major event. Adding to the concerns of the current top seed, she recently changed racket companies to begin the season, and while that normally wouldn't be the greatest issue for a player, her new Yonex stick is a completely different head shape from her previous Babolat model.
Keeping that in mind, Wozniacki remains the ring leader in a hungry field of a 128 women. In the absence of defending champ Serena Williams, No. 2 seed Vera Zvonareva, No. 3 seed Kim Clijsters and No. 4 seed Venus Williams will attempt to pick up the slack of the five-time former winner. Although she'll be ranked No. 11 at the event, Justine Henin could be the most dangerous player in the draw. Apart from the confidence and experience of Clijsters, Henin remains the most adept hard-court player in the tournament.
In stark contrast to the top heavy dominated game on the men's circuit, the competition on the WTA remains wide open and full of great opportunity.
With seven Grand Slam winners in the draw, let's now take a look at the top four seeds and their path's to a possible semifinal appearance.
Handed a devilishly tricky draw to begin her title run, Wozniacki will face former top 25 player Gisela Dulko in the first-round, before locking horns in a potential third-round clash with No. 29 seed Dominika Cibulkova. Getting her clock cleaned by Cibulkova at the tune-up event in Sydney, Wozniacki will have to be extra careful if she meets up with the 21-year-old once again.
Yanina Wickmayer is also present in this quarter of the draw, and her previous Grand Slam results would indicate that she's ready for another march to the second week. Unorthodox Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli holds a great deal of power in her two-handed strokes, but her lack of reach on hard-courts has always been her downfall.
Henin's resume remains tops in this section, but let's not cast aside the formidable challenges of No. 23 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, and reigning French Open champ Francesca Schiavone.
Although hard-courts are not her favorite surface, Schiavone proved at the US Open that her slice-and-dice backcourt game can adjust well to the asphalt. Kuznetsova is beginning to descend into the twilight of her career, but she still possesses a wonderful forehand, and competitive spirit.
With that being said, I still feel pretty good about a Wozniacki-Henin quarterfinal match taking place, with the Belgium's backhand making the difference in the outcome.
Wozniacki will certainly have her work cut out for her this year in winning that elusive Major, and a final eight encounter with Henin would only add to that heartache.
Reaching the finals of the last two Grand Slams has pushed the feisty Russian into the No. 2 spot. Zvonareva has improved the placement of her serve to a great extent, and can now set up her deadly forehand and backhand more effortlessly. However, the 26-year-old has historically flourished on faster surfaces, and the medium paced hard-courts in Melbourne will not be ideal for her game.
Starting off against Sybille Bammer, Zvonareva could face either Bojana Jovanovski or Kai-Chen Chang in the second-round, with a more challenging affair against either No. 31 seed Lucie Safarova or Melanie Oudin awaiting in the third-round. While Zvonareva does look good in reaching the quarterfinals, a potential blockbuster against No. 5 seed Sam Stosur would be difficult to overcome. Trailing Stosur 5-2 in career head-to-head matches, Zvonareva owns the last two matches against the Australian, but has never prevailed on hard-courts.
Remaining one of the most serious players on the circuit. Stosur's no nonsense brand of Aussie tennis could be in line for the title run. Holding one the best serves in the women's game, look for Stosur's court craft and home advantage to win out against the extroverted Russian.
Aiming to win her first Slam title outside of New York City, Clijsters was dealt the most difficult first-round opponent in Dinara Safina. Although the Russian has slipped to No. 65 in the world, she still knows how to compete at the highest level and knows her way around a hard-court. Reaching one final in Australia, Safina defeated Clijsters at the Cincinnati event in 2009, but trails the Belgium 7-2 in head-to-head matches.
Apart from her first round struggles, Clijsers' draw opens up nicely until the quarterfinals. Facing the likes of either No. 13 seed Nadia Petrova or No. 19 seed Ana Ivanovic in the fourth-round—two players that she's owned historically—Clijsters would then look to a quarterfinal showdown against either No. 7 seed Jelena Jankovic, No. 12 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, or No. 24 seed Alisa Kleybanova.
With Jankovic showing flaky form as of late, and not advancing past the fourth-round of any Major last year, the power of Kleybanova's groundstrokes would become Clijsters' greatest concern. The 21-year-old Russian is not the best mover in the sport, but she can certainly give her shots some zip if they fall into her strike zone.
We must not forget Petrova's thrashing of Clijsters during last year's round of 16 affair, but I wouldn't put too much stock into that result considering the poor form that the No. 2 seed displayed.
There's a great opportunity for Clijsters to cruise into the second week of the event without losing a set, and when looking at the up-and-down results of the women in this quarter, I'd be shocked if that didn't happen.
Making perhaps her last stand on Tour, Venus Williams will open her campaign against Sara Errani, before facing either Sandra Zahlavova or Renata Voracova in round two. Williams won't have too much to complain about as her draw develops, especially if No. 14 seed Maria Sharapova continues her current form. Losing to Greta Arn in a tune up event, Sharapova's serve and break point conversions let her down.
The bottom half of Venus' quarter does contain some dangerous floaters. No. 9 seed Na Li is coming off a tournament victory, while Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai holds great power for her 5'5" frame. No. 7 seed Victoria Azarenka will continue to be the second favorite in this quarter after the American, and will look to rebound after her retirement at the US Open.
Azarenka is due for a breakthrough result at some point in her career, and the hard-courts of Australia would be a good place to start.
However, Williams does remain the most experienced player in this quarter, and that should be good enough to carry her into the final four.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: Funky style and continued improved for this American.
Rebecca Marino: Up-and-coming Canadian ended 2010 in great form.
Jelena Dokic: Not a new name, but a sentimental one if any.
Henin vs. Williams; Clijsters vs. Stosur
Henin vs. Clijsters
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