Australian Open: Wozniacki, Clijsters and the 5 Women Who Could Claim the Title

Candice Hare@@chare889Contributor IIIJanuary 15, 2011

Australian Open: Wozniacki, Clijsters and the 5 Women Who Could Claim the Title

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    With the absence of Serena and the seemingly lackluster play of many of the top women in the season's first few tournaments, it is clear that the Australian Open is wide open. 

    Will the top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki win her first major title? 

    Or will a veteran like Kim Clijsters use her experience and claim her first Australian Open championship and fourth major title overall? 

    Perhaps a darkhorse (a la Francesca Schiavone at the French Open) will come out of the woodworks and surprise everyone. 

    Stay tuned for the five women who have the best chance at taking the title. 

The Favorite: Kim Clijsters

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    Caroline Wozniacki may be the top-ranked player in the world, but Belgian Kim Clijsters is undoubtedly the favorite going into the Australian Open. 

    The veteran Clijsters has been the before, as she has previously won three US Open titles, whereas Wozniacki is yet to claim her first major championship. 

    Clijsters additionally finished last season by winning the US Open and the WTA Championships, and she kept the momentum in her favor by having strong showings in Thailand and Sydney. 

    Sure, she lost to Li Na in the Sydney final, but everyone has their bad days. Not to mention, the 11th-ranked Li is no slouch. 

    Experience can go a long way in major tournaments. Combine experience with talent and momentum, and you have a winning combination. 

The Princess: Caroline Wozniacki

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    Caroline Wozniacki is the top-ranked player in the world, but these days, after seeing several women quickly rise to the top, only to lose that spot just as fast, skeptics want to see women "justify" their ranking by winning a major title. 

    It's the majors that matter, and the top-ranked Dane is well aware of that. 

    While she has all the talent in the world and is perfectly capable of winning the title, she will need to navigate a brutal draw if she wants to ascend to the top of the tennis world. 

    For Wozniacki to relieve herself of all of the naysayers and solidify her spot as tennis' queen, she will have to defeat giant-killer Gisela Dulko, only to likely play Dominika Cibulkova, who recently beat the Dane in Sydney, and Yanina Wickmayer. 

    That's not even including her potential quarterfinal match, which could be against one of three former French Open champions: Svetlana Kuznetsova, Justine Henin or Francesca Schiavone. 

The Darkhorse: Justine Henin

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    It's weird to say that former world No. 1 Justine Henin, who holds seven major titles, is a darkhorse, but after an injury that forced her to be off the court for six months, nobody knows how Henin will fare in Melbourne. 

    Henin is still playing through pain, as a result of tearing a ligament in her right elbow and while she showed signs of life by winning all four of her singles matches at the Hopman Cup in Perth, it would be understandable if the Belgian was rusty after being away from the court for so long. 

    Keep in mind, though, that the 2004 Australian Open champion, Henin, made the final in Melbourne last season in only her second tournament back from over a year-long retirement from the game. She did, of course, lose to Serena Williams in the final, but she proved that she can play after being away. 

The Up-and-Comer: Petra Kvitova

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    Not many people have had a better start to the season than Petra Kvitova. 

    The 28th-ranked Czech won her second WTA title just two weeks ago in Brisbane, defeating the third-seeded Nadia Petrova and fifth-seeded Anastasia Pavyluchenkova along the way. 

    She received the WTA Newcomer of the Year Award last season, and remember that she has made a deep run at a major tournament before. 

    The 20-year-old made the semifinals of Wimbledon last season, where she lost to none other than eventual champion Serena Williams. 

    So, you don't believe in her yet? Well, maybe you will after you see a few of the players she defeated in majors and premier tournaments last season: Vera Zvonareva, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki. 

    With everyone's eyes on Clijsters and Wozniacki, Kvitova may very well slide under the radar en route to a major title. 

Biggest Beneficiary of Serena's Absence: Victoria Azarenka

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    There is no doubt that the woman who is the most relieved at Serena Williams not being in the field for the Australian Open is Victoria Azarenka. 

    The 21-year-old has not only faced, but lost to the younger Williams sister at the Australian Open for three straight years. 

    It won't happen this year, however, Azarenka will still have a battle on her hands. 

    The Belarusian is in a quarter that includes major champions Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova, as well as two of the hottest players in tour in Li Na and Andrea Petkovic. 

    If she can navigate that draw through the quarterfinals, the ninth-ranked Azarenka could be a real threat for the title.