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Open field could create drama for women’s Aussie Open draw

Posted: January 17, 2012 11:12 a.m.
Updated: January 18, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Women’s tennis may soon be in store for a new world No. 1 if current top-ranked player Caroline Wozniacki fails to reach the fourth round at this year’s Australian Open. While Wozniacki has been considered the world’s best for 65 straight weeks and is among the handful of favorites to take home the trophy in Melbourne, she will be going up against several notable players with stronger firepower and more impressive résumés.

Nipping at Wozniacki’s heels will be Petra Kvitova, last season’s Wimbledon champion. A win at the Australian Open would catapult the 21-year-old Czech to the top ranking and could create somewhat of a buzz on the tour. In addition to her win in London last season, Kvitova took home the end of the year WTA World Tour Championship, becoming only the third player in tour history to win the title in her first attempt. She also received honors as the WTA Player of the Year and helped the Czech Republic win the Fed Cup.

Oddly enough, the other two players to win the end-of-the-year title in their first attempts -- Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova -- will also be in the hunt for this year’s Aussie Open.

Williams, a five-time winner at Melbourne, obviously has the track record to bring home the trophy, but younger and more determined players may be able to spring past her. This will also be Williams’ first Grand Slam since her “I don’t love tennis” comment from earlier this year. Never one to hold back her emotions, it will be interesting to see how she will play under perhaps added scrutiny, particularly with a titleless streak dating back to Wimbledon in 2010.

Sharapova has somewhat gone under the radar as she has fought back from injuries, but she could be a force in this year’s tournament. Grinding her way back from a ranking outside of the Top 10 to begin last season, she will actually be the fourth seed in this year’s tournament. She may be able to capture her second Aussie title if her shoulder holds up and her serve remains somewhat consistent.

Similar to Sharapova in volume, but not quite in accomplishments, Victoria Azerenka will also be looking to get over the grand slam hump after finishing the 2011 campaign without reaching a Grand Slam final. She did, however, end the season with a third overall ranking and will be heading into Australia as the runner-up in last year’s World Tour Championships.

Li Na will also be a contender and will be among the surprise Grand Slam winners from last year hoping to regain success this season with a Grand Slam win at Australia. If she wins this year, she will add to her French Open title from last June. She will also be working off a finals appearance in last year’s Aussie tournament where she took a set off of defending champion Kim Clijsters.

Sam Stosur was a breakthrough winner last season, taking home the U.S. Open in a surprise win over Serena Williams and will likely put up a strong showing in Melbourne. Stosur, though, will be facing added pressure since she is a native Australian, but tasting Grand Slam success in New York will undoubtedly help her pursue the Grand Slam title of her home country.

Despite a somewhat disappointing and injury-plagued end to 2011, Clijsters should also be considered a favorite, particularly as the defending champ. As a three-time winner at the U.S. Open as well, Clijsters certainly has the maturity and composure to bring home a second Australian Open title.

(Michael Ulmer is a staff reporter for the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. Email responses may be sent to



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