The first tennis Major of the year is upon us. In anticipation of the coming fortnight of action at the Australian Open, I thought I’d give a few thoughts on the top 4 women’s singles seeds and their quarters of the draw leading to the semifinals, starting in reverse order.
Womens Singles Draw (click for link)
#4 LI NA
Li Na has been a force down under in recent years. She reached the semifinals in 2010. It would be the next year where she would really show promise, falling to Kim Clijsters in a very tight, competitve 2011 final that went the three set distance. A few months later, Li Na won Roland Garros. Last year, she once again finished runner-up in a close three-setter, this time to Victoria Azarenka. For the second consecutive year, Li Na comes in off a title at Shenzhen. But Li Na is streaky. When she plays well, she plays very well. However, she can go on walkabouts in matches. This could lead to trouble with Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Sabine Lisicki and Ekaterina Makarova lurking in her quarter. First, she has to make sure she gets by a potentially tricky match with Kimiko Date-Krumm in the second round. Actually, Li Na better not overlook Ana Konjuh in the first round. Ana won the singles and doubles junior titles at the 2013 Australian Open. She also won the junior title at the 2013 US Open. The 16-year old Konjuh also upset top seeded world #14 Roberta Vinci at the 2014 ASB Classic a week ago. If Li Na wants to reach another semifinal, she needs to come out firing from the first match on. Her draw demands it.
#3 MARIA SHARAPOVA
With Serena Williams being so dominant, it’s easy to say whatever draw she’s in is the easiest. While acknowledging no draw is ever easy, I’d say that if Maria Sharapova is healthy, the 2008 Austraian Open champion’s road to the semifinals is the easiest of the four top seeds on paper. Jelena Jankovic is lurking, but all the way on the other side of the quarter. Simona Halep could make some noise, but she still has to prove she can do so in a Major. I don’t see anybody in her quarter that Masha shouldn’t beat…wait for it…IF SHE’S HEALTHY. Masha looked good opening the season in Brisbane, reaching the semifinals. Still, she hasn’t played a lot of match tennis recently, so let’s see if her body holds up. Like Li Na, Masha has an intriguing opening match against the always colorful Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Again, Sharapova should handle her, but Bethanie has been known to pull off some magic, at least for one match.
#2 VICTORIA AZARENKA
Victoria Azarenka has been the Queen of Melbourne the last two years, winning back to back Australian Open titles in 2012 and 2013. It wasn’t without a degree of drama last year, particularly in her semifinal match with Sloane Stephens. A questionable medical timeout seemed to change the momentum of that match, turning the crowd against her not only in the remainder of the semis, but the final as well. I didn’t have a problem with it, but many commentators and fans did. Once again, Stephens is a potential opponent if the seedings hold up, this time in the round of 16. Other possible roadblocks in Vika’s quarter include Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and Svetlana Kuznetsova. A third straight title will be tough in what might turn out to be the most competitive quarter.
#1 SERENA WILLIAMS
There are a few strong names in Serena Williams’ quarter of the draw. Samantha Stosur, Ana Ivanovic and Roberta Vinci. Maybe the comebacking Vera Zvonareva might find her old form. But let’s face it, right now for anybody to beat Serena in this quarter Serena will have to be injured, have an unusually off day or the opponent will have to play the match of her life. Still, isn’t that what was said coming in the last couple of years? And what happened? Ekaterina Makarova played out of her mind to upset Serena in 2012. Sloane Stephens upset an injured Serena last year. So it can happen. Williams is a 5-time Australian Open singles champion (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010). She comes in having gone through Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka to win in Brisbane. It’s difficult to see anybody derailing the Serena Express in Melbourne.
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