Sunday, 13 January 2013

Australian Open Preview: Women's Singles Draw

It is now less than two hours away from the start of this year's Australian Open.  So let's not beat about the bush here.  This year's Women's Singles Draw has, probably since about the time of the Wimbledon final, been all about Serena Williams.  That this incredible performer, undoubtedly the greatest player competing in the WTA in this generation, added 2 Slam titles, 1 Olympic Gold Medal and the Year End Championships to her already sizable trophy illustrated that the desire to win and the ability to win were very much still present within her.  With one title already to her name in 2013, it would seem that the first Slam of the year is entirely within Serena's grasp once again.  The Australian Open is Serena's to win .... but it is also Serena's to lose.

Breaking down the draw, here are where the bigger stories of the tournament could be written.

QUARTER 1:  Top 8 seeds - Victoria Azarenka (1) and Sara Errani (7)

Lifting the Daphne Akhurst memorial trophy last season is the crowning moment so far of Victoria Azarenka's young career.  But that she saw through the majority of the season as the World Number One and was one of the most consistent tournament performers over the 11 months of the season revealed her as the player most likely to add to those accolades in 2013.

Defending her Slam title should be relatively straightforward during the first week of the fortnight competition.  Her quarter of the draw contains very few realistic obstacles with the seeded players Urszula Radwanska, Roberta Vinci and Varvara Lepchenko dotted throughout the first three rounds, and her opposite seed (Sara Errani) is equally unlikely to trouble the top seed on a hard court.

Errani's section is more interesting, containing the struggling Caroline Wozniacki, surprise Brisbane finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Su-Wei Hsieh as her seeded opposition.  The Danish #10 seed (Wozniacki) has been handed the nightmare opening match of this section, facing the unseeded German Sabine Lisicki, another player whose 2012 season is best forgotten and has seen her drop out of the top 30 in the world.  Should Lisicki be on form, Wozniacki's Australian Open could be extremely short-lived.

Likewise, the former top 5 Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova floats around the draw and could play Errani in R3.  As she proved at the '12 French Open, the power of her game, when it's clicking, is too much to handle for a tactical returner such as Agnieszka Radwanska or Sara Errani.  Should she make the third round, Kuznetsova could make short work of the #7 seed.

Advancing from this section: Victoria Azarenka (without the loss of a set)

Dark horses in the draw: Sabine Lisicki, Christina McHale and Svetlana Kuznetsova

R1 matches to watch:
Jamie Hampton vs Urszula Radwanska
Caroline Wozniacki vs Sabine Lisicki

QUARTER 2:  Top 8 seeds - Serena Williams (3) and Petra Kvitova (8)

As hard as it is not to look beyond Serena as advancing from this quarter, her potential third round opponent of Maria Kirilenko being the biggest test she may have to face, the opposite side of this quarter is stacked with potential stumbling blocks for Williams' opposite number, Petra Kvitova.  Opening against the ageing Italian Francesca Schiavone, Kvitova will need to be on particularly precise form to prevent the former French Open champion from deconstructing her game and battling to a memorable victory.  Floating around this section of the draw are also two of the predictions for 2013 success, Laura Robson and Sloane Stephens.  Both have proved capable of bringing a seed-slaying performance to a Slam, and an out-of-form Petra Kvitova could be exactly the kind of player that such promise can build its confidence from by defeating.

Likewise, one of the comeback stories of 2012, Nadia Petrova, could prove the player more likely to progress from this section to a quarter-final match up with Serena Williams.

Advancing from this section: Serena Williams (without the loss of a set)

Dark horses in the draw: Francesca Schiavone, Laura Robson, Sloane Stephens and Yaroslava Shvedova

R1 matches to watch:
Vania King vs Maria Kirilenko
Nadia Petrova vs Kimiko Date Krumm
Laura Robson vs Melanie Oudin
Francesca Schiavone vs Petra Kvitova

QUARTER 3:  Top 8 seeds - Agnieszka Radwanska (4) and Li Na (6)

Quarter 3 of the Australian Open draw is perhaps the most interesting, containing as the top seed in its section erstwhile Slam under-performer Agnieszka Radwanska and ever-inconsistent Li Na.  The Chinese player would be the obvious choice to advance from this section of the draw, having previously been to a final here.  Her pedigree suggests that given the right set of circumstances (and no Kim Clijsters) she could put in an equally strong performance here after some schlumpy excuses for Slam campaigns in 2012.

With little opposition that she shouldn't have the edge over on paper, Li Na can expect a straightforward couple of openers, but may need to be on her game should she meet her projected seed in Round 3: Sam Stosur.

As much as it seems a lame effort to pick a top 10 player as a dark horse, Stosur's much-recorded appalling results on her home continent mean that very few expect her to make it out of her first round encounter with Chinese Taipei's Kai-Chen Chang.  However, precisely because of those struggles in Brisbane and Sydney and memories of last year's R1 exit in Melbourne, Stosur may be able to fly somewhat under the radar at the tournament.  She will need a good start against Chang, but if she gets over the difficult first hurdle she may gather enough momentum for a decent run.  Nobody is expecting her to do much, and this may suit Stosur's sensibilities enough to take her through to a R3 meeting with the #6 seed.  

For Radwanska, her draw looks simple enough, containing the Serbian duo of Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, who can both suffer from extreme bouts of underachievement.  However, should either player bring their A-Game to an encounter with Radwanska, you cannot imagine the Pole being able to keep pace with their superior power, despite her athleticism and patient analytical game.  Much could depend on the conditions on the court.  A fast court will obviously suit the Serbs, but should the temperature swelter to a +40 degree heatwave as it did in Sydney, the atmosphere may slow the pace enough to let the return game of Radwanska prove decisive.  The third round line-up may bring a few surprises in this section of the draw, but it is unlikely that the semi-final place will go to anyone other than Li Na.

Advancing from this section: Li Na

Dark horses in the draw: Sam Stosur, Jelena Jankovic,

R1 matches to watch:
Kai-Chen Chang vs Sam Stosur
Mona Barthel vs Ksenia Pervak
Johanna Larsson vs Jelena Jankovic

QUARTER 4:  Top 8 seeds - Maria Sharapova (2) and Angelique Kerber (5)

Having not seen Maria Sharapova play yet in 2013, her withdrawal prior to Brisbane a fortnight ago, may have left her seriously short of match conditioning.  But like Serena Williams, the Russian seems not to need tune-ups before playing a major tournament.  Although her first two matches will be against players that nobody expects her to lose to, tennis fans will be praying that Venus Williams makes it through her openers to face the #2 seed in a choice third round encounter.  Perhaps one of the most dangerous players outside the top 10, Williams senior is the kind of player who can expose a fellow-players weaknesses through her own strengths.  A shaky Sharapova service display, for example, is liable to be bludgeoned off the court by the 7-time Slam champion.

In addition, it is hard to really pinpoint a time last season other than at the French Open and the clay-court build-up to that event where Sharapova put in a truly memorable performance for all the right reasons against a top opponent.  She was bulldozed by Azarenka in the Australian Open final, lost out in Miami to Radwanska and could only find enough for a solitary game against Serena Williams in the Olympic gold medal match.  Someone lower down the draw will eventually also find a way through Sharapova, and it may be that Venus Williams can be the player with the weapons to have the best opportunity to do this.

For Angelique Kerber, her opening matches should be equally straightforward.  But a potential Round 3 match against Marion Bartoli could throw be one of those 3-hour encounters that sidelines her chances of advancing too much further into the event.  Bartoli, a frequent bit-part player, throws in the kind of performances every now and than that reveal why she has floated around the top 10 for the best part of 5 years.  While Kerber will be looking to prove herself after her breakthrough season lats year, and may find those pressures don't always translate very well to winning performances.

Advancing from this section: Maria Sharapova

Dark horses in the draw: Tamira Paszek, Ekaterina Makarova and Venus Williams

R1 matches to watch:
Chanelle Scheepers vs Klara Zakopalova
Dominika Cibulkova vs Ashleigh Barty


price per head services said...

I know that Williams has been doing great. but I hope that there are more competition in the Tournament.

random cloud said...

There was, but in the end she was let down by her physical frailties, rather than a moment of brilliance from an opponent.


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