Kvitova on track for another Slam win
Is this going to be the year when women's tennis comes up with a real leader — someone who can actually win more than one Grand Slam and be No. 1 in the world?
Maybe the current uncertainty about who is going to win what and how adds a touch of intrigue and fascination. But there comes a time when a sport needs a strong story line — one that lasts for more than a couple of weeks.
Last year, Kim Clijsters won here at Melbourne Park and the got injured. Li Na popped up and won the French Open; Petra Kvitova blasted her way to a Wimbledon title and Sam Stosur won the US Open. And Caroline Wozniacki, even allowing for time on the golf course with Rory McIlroy, resolutely remained No 1.
Wozniacki has given up trying to defend her ranking and so she should. It's not her fault she's been No. 1 for the better part of 18 months. Talk to the WTA.
"Obviously every time you go into a tournament you want to try and win it," said the Dane. "You know I've been No. 1 a long time already. Now my main focus is just to try and win as many tournaments as possible. The ranking will get there; (it) will be there, if you play well."
Quite right. And the best news for Wozniacki is that the wrist she injured in Sydney a few days ago has given her no trouble in practice here and she is all set to try and grab hold of that elusive Slam.
Whether Serena Williams is ready remains to be seen. She seems up for it and no one is going to dare write her off. Having won the Australian title five times in the last nine years, she knows what it takes and will be nothing if not competitive. Take all the talk about not being in love with tennis with a grain of salt.
When Miss Williams gets out there on court, she wants to win very badly.
Serena's draw has her playing Austria's Tamira Paszek in the first round with the highly experienced Vera Zvonareva lurking as a possible fourth-round opponent. Then it could be Maria Sharapova and, in the semifinal, No. 2 seed Kvitova.
Now, if we were forced to pick one player who seems to have the game to emerge from the pack and finish the year at the top of the pile it would be Kvitova. This powerful Czech showed just what she could do at Wimbledon and, despite a big slump during the North American hardcourt season, she returned to form and dominated the WTA Finals in Istanbul and led the Czech Republic to its first Fed Cup in 23 years.
Czechs often take a while to overcome self-doubt before they start winning big. Jaroslav Drobny won Wimbldon at 34; Ivan Lendl lost in four Slam finals before winning one; Jana Novotna splashed tears all over the Duchess of Kent at Wimbledon on finals day before coming back a couple of years later to win it. Even Martina Navratilova needed time to get her act together. But Kvitova is ahead of the game. She is still only 21 and is the reigning Wimbledon champion. That's a good launching pad for a big move.
Wozniacki is likely to find herself up against Clijsters as early as the quarterfinals unless Li Na intervenes in Kim's quarter of the draw. But Clijsters says she has recovered completely from the hip problem that forced her withdrawal in Brisbane and says she had a positive vibe from having won here before as well as having spent so much time in Australia during her years with Lleyton Hewitt. "The people are so helpful and happy," says the player who has been adopted as an honorary Aussie by much of the country's sporting public. "Nothing is ever a problem, it seems like. It's nice to be around positive people."
American women are thin on the ground but it will be interesting to see if 18-year-old Sloane Stephens, who fought her way into the top 100 on the WTA rankings after her first full year on the tour and won a couple of rounds at the US Open, can build on that when she faces Spaniard Silvia Soler-Espinosa, who is ranked just a few places higher that Stephens at No 82.
The vastly more experienced Bettanie Mattek-Sands has a tougher task. Her first-round opponent is the No. 8 seed from Poland, Agnieszka Radwanska.