The beauty of women's tennis over the past couple of years is that there has been no run-away favorite. It seems like a new woman emerges at every Major, which makes each Grand Slam even more exciting. This holds true going into the 2012 Australian Open. There are numerous women who have great chances to hold up the trophy at the end of two weeks, and there figures to be even more women in the mix when it is all said and done. Now, a look at the draw, quarter by quarter.
This quarter can easily be called the toughest. Besides World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters, Jelena Jankovic and Li Na reside in this quarter of the draw. Na has played very well early in the year, and the health of Clijsters is still a question mark. For those hoping this is the tournament in which Wozniacki will bring home her first Major title, you might want to think again. The young Dane will have a very tough time making it out of this quarter. In other news, young American Christina McHale and young Aussie Ashleigh Barty are also in this quarter. McHale faces Lucie Safarova in the first round, while Barty draws Anna Tatishvili. If I had to pick one wildcard in this quarter, it would definitely be veteran Daniela Hantuchova. She has already pulled off a couple of upsets early in the year, and she can stay with many of the top players. If most of the seeds avoid upsets and a rematch of last year's final takes place in the Round of 16, I would give the edge to Li Na. Clijsters is definitely not 100%, and Na plays very well down under. Assuming Wozniacki is able to advance, she would play the winner of this match in the quarterfinals. Even if it is Kim Clijsters who advances to the quarterfinals, I just do not see Wozniacki making it to the semifinals.
Predicted Winner: Li Na
This quarter is perhaps the most wide-open of the four. The top seeds include Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Francesca Schiavone. Out of these three players, Schiavone is the only one with a Major Championship, but she does not play her best on the hard courts. Azarenka finished 2011 on a high note, advancing to the final of the Year-End Championships before losing to Petra Kvitova. Radwanska is always a tough-out, especially in a Major. Some players to watch in this quarter include Flavia Pennetta and Shuai Peng. The young American Irina Falconi also finds herself in this quarter. While Radwanska is the No. 8 seed, she faces a tricky first-round match against American veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands. While Mattek-Sands has always been more of a doubles player, she plays hard and is capable of the upset. When all is said and done in this quarter, I expect Victoria Azarenka to be the last woman standing.
Predicted Winner: Victoria Azarenka
Now for the bottom half of the draw. This quarter is where Serena Williams resides. Seeded 12, Williams is coming off an appearance at the Brisbane International, where she was forced to withdraw before her quarterfinal match because of an injury. Other contenders in this quarter are Maria Sharapova and Vera Zvonareva. Neither player should pose much of a threat to Williams if Serena is healthy. Sharapova is kind of a mystery, and Zvonareva has yet to break through when it has mattered most. Another player to look out for in this quarter is young German Sabine Lisicki. She hits with tremendous power and is capable of beating some of the best players in the world. I would not be surprised if she advances to the Round of 16, in which she would face Sharapova. Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova is also in this quarter, but she is simply not the player she used to be. Young American Sloane Stephens is in her first Australian Open and faces Silvia Soler-Espinosa in the opening round. Assuming she is healthy, Serena Williams will be the player to advance from this quarter.
Predicted Winner: Serena Williams
Australian hopeful and reigning US Open Champion Samantha Stosur resides in this quarter, along with the reigning Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova. Kvitova, the No. 2 seed, is playing at a very high level and seems more than capable of becoming the next World No. 1. Stosur will most definitely be the biggest threat to Kvitova in this quarter, but there are a couple of other women to watch. Former World No. 1 Ana Ivanovic is always tough in Majors, and while she is no longer a top-10 player, do not sleep on her. Marion Bartoli is a wily veteran who no one wants to face in the early rounds. Although she has only made it to one Major Final, she can still knock off some top players. Americans Vania King and Alison Riske are also in this quarter, but have very tough draws. It is no surprise that Kvitova and Stosur are the favorites to advance to the quarterfinals from this quarter of the draw. If these two women do play each other for a spot in the semifinals, I would have to give the edge to Kvitova, even though Stosur is playing at home.
Predicted Winner: Petra Kvitova
Semifinals: Victoria Azarenka d. Li Na; Serena Williams d. Petra Kvitova
Final: Serena Williams d. Victoria Azarenka