13 January, 2013

2013 Australian Open Women's Bracket Breakdown

Dare we say it, for the first time in what seems like a decade, the best stories in Grand Slam tennis might just be on the ladies' side this year.   Who's going to win it all?  Here's our 2013 Australian Open Women's Bracket Breakdown:

First Quarter

The draw gods haven't done defending champion Victoria Azarenka too many favors.  We can be honest, Monica Niculescu and her 65 MPH first serves (I wish I was kidding) shouldn't trouble the Bella Belarussian, neither should Greece's one time top 20 player Eleni Daniilidou in round two, but presuming her pedicure injury has healed enough for her to give Melbourne a fair start, it gets tough from there.  Urszula Radwanska, yes, the other sister, surged in 2012.  She entered the year just outside the top 10 and closed it earning a seeding for the year's first major.  The 22 year old has never been past the second round of a major before, but if she can get past impressive young American Jamie Hampton and Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson, she could pull a major upset over the top ranked Azarenka.  There's a lot of talent in the next section, the class of which are crafty 16 seed Roberta Vinci and the 21st seeded American Varvara Lepchenko.  Lepchecnko has never been past the opening round in Melbourne, but she set new career marks in every other major last year and should be able to do the same here.  A talent laden opening rounder between Russian Elena Vesnina whose carry on luggage included the trophy she won in Hobart last week (her maiden singles crown) and promising  Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia (which we expect Vesnina to win) will decide Lepchenko's second round opponent.  Azarenka should ultimately through the section, but not without a few bumps and bruises

The bottom half of the quarter is headlined by Italian 7th seed Sara Errani.  Errani's 2012 was magical, after finishing four consecutive seasons just outside of the WTA Top 40, she ended 2012 ranked 6th. Considered a clay court specialist after reaching the Roland Garros final, Errani surprised us all by reaching the semifinals of the US Open.  What's to stop her from making another magical hardcourt run?  How about a nasty draw?  Errani opens versus 33rd ranked Carla Suarez-Navarro, a diminutive, clay-loving Spaniard in the mold of Errani herself.  Then there's the hard-hitting Jersey girl Christina McHale, WTA No. 36 and Errani's likely second round opponent.  26th seed Su-Wei Hsieh of Chinese Taipei (aka Taiwan) opens in the next section against one of the best names on tour Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, the winner will likely take on double-grand slam champ Svetlana Kuznetsova lurking as an unseeded floater after injury marred the back half of her 2012.  If she's in form, Kuznetsova could be the player to emerge from her toss up of a section.  On the other side, slam-less former WTA No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki faces a deadly opener in Germany's 37th ranked Sabine Lisicki.  Lisicki has won two of her three matchups versus Wozniacki, but only one match since the Olympics.  This is a tempting upset special, but it's really a toss up.  Another player worth watching in this section is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  The long-touted Russian is playing some of her best tennis since joining Serena Williams at the Mouratouglou academy.  If she stays in the form that took her to the Brisbane final (with wins over Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitova) it's hard to pick Wozniacki or Kerber to stop her.  Whoever makes it out of this crazy-tough bottom half would likely be rewarded with a meeting with Vika Azarenka.

First Round Five (matches to watch)

(7) Sara Errani vs. Carla Suarez-Navarro
(10) Caroline Wozniacki vs. Sabine Lisicki
(31) Urszula Radwanska vs. Jamie Hampton
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Lourdes Dominguez-Lino
Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino vs. Su-Wei Hsieh

Dark Horse: 

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova


Victoria Azarenka

Second Quarter

It's a cop out to say this is Serena Williams' quarter and leave it at, isn't it?  We don't say it to disparage ny of the other players competing here, but which of them are going to beat Serena?  First round opponent Edina Gallovits-Hall, Magdalena Rybarikova who she gets next?  How about golden set-woman Yaroslava Shvedvova.  She's the first opponent, Serena's likely third rounder, that we'll give a puncher's chance.  The 28 seed should have few problems making her date with the 15-time major champion and she even managed to take a set off her last year at Wimbledon  Do we see it happening?  Nope.  Maria Kirilenko will certainly compete like the top twenty player she is, but she's 0-5 versus the American and the tide won't turn in Melbourne...that's if she gets there.  Kirilenko has a tough opener against Vania King that, should the American win, could further roll out the red carpet for the Serena steamroller.

On the bottom half of the quarter, a still reeling Petra Kvitova opens her Australian Open versus Francesca Schiavone in what could be a major early upset.  If Schiavone wins against a less-than-full-strength Kvitova, the doors open for young American Sloane Stephens and veteran Russian Nadia Petrova to tangle in the Round of 16 for the chance to take on Williams in the quarterfinal.  Stephens has had a hot start to her 2013 reaching the semifinals in Hobart and pushing Williams hard in the quarterfinals of Brisbane.  Petrova, at 30, is a contemporary of Williams having faced her ten times throughout her career.  Petrova's last five contests against Serena have gone to three sets, Petrova's even won two of them.  So Petrova?  Stephens?  It's still all about Serena.

First Round Five (matches to watch)

(8) Petra Kvitova vs. Francesca Schiavone 
(14) Maria Kirilenko vs. Vania King
(20) Yanina Wickmayer vs. Jarmila Gajdosova
(29) Sloane Stephens vs. Simona Halep
Timea Babos vs. Kristina Mladenovic

Dark Horse: 

Nadia Petrova


Serena Williams

Third Quarter

No player in the third quarter looms as large as Serena does in the second quarter, but there are still title contenders afoot here, namely No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 6 Li Na/Na Li.  Now coached by Carlos Rodriguez, everyone is watching Li to see if she can become full-time, the extraordinary player she has been in fits and starts over the last couple of years.  Two years on from her surprise title at Roland Garros, she's ranked just two slots shy of her career zenith.  What's troubling for Li is that last year she didn't get past the fourth round of any major.  With the exception of Kim Clijsters in Melbourne a year ago none of those losses were to title contenders either.  That said, she opened the year winning the Shenzhen title, then fell to Radwanska in the Sydney semis but that's not exactly a bad loss.  Her first test of consequence should be Sorana Cirstea in the third round.  Cirstea ousted Li from Wimbledon last summer.  The other side of Li's section is home to ninth seed and top Aussie Samantha Stosur.  She has wilted so much in Australia, we almost can't take her presence in the draw as seriously here as we do anywhere else in the world.  Five straight losses in Oz, she may get past 86th ranked Kai-Chen Chang, but Jie Zheng who tumbled out of the top 30 the week prior to seedings, will likely get the best of the Aussie hope.

Radwanska, 9-0 on 2012 has her side of the draw is co-headlined by the Serbian "sisters," Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. Ivanovic and Jankovic are seeded to meet each other in the third round, but it'd be a mistake to consider either woman automatic.  Ivanovic imploded in plain sight at the Hopman Cup with only Novak Djokovic  on the doubles court to take the pressure off keeping her from falling to pieces.  A second round showdown versus the eternal Slovak Daniela Hantuchova is likely to be her D-day.  Jankovic should play to seed, but then fall to Hantuchova a round late. Mona Barthel and Ksenia Pervak will tangle in a tough opener, the winner of which is likely to succumb to Britannia's new hope, Heather Watson.  Radwanska should manage her opponent, whomever she is, well.

First Round Five (matches to watch)

(9) Samantha Stosur vs. Kai-Chen Chang
(13) Ana Ivanovic vs. Melinda Czink
(27) Sorana Cirstea vs. Coco Vandeweghe
(32) Mona Barthel vs. Ksenia Pervak
Tsvetana Pironkova vs. Romina Oprandi

Dark Horse: 

Julia Georges


Agnieszka Radwanska

Fourth Quarter

Maria Sharapova headlines the final quarter knowing that a title in Melbourne will return her to World No. 1 yet again.  Sharapova's a lot like Serena Williams in that her toughest opponent is often herself.  A collarbone injury that scuttled her preseason may preclude her from contending, but, depending on the severity of her injury she should get through her opening few rounds.  Round three could serve up Venus Williams.  While she doesn't have the same hoodoo over Maria that her little sister does, anything less than an in-form Sharapova will have trouble stopping Venus.  The winner of that matchup is scheduled to take on Dominika Cibulkova.  We'll put our money there on the winner of Sharapova and Williams.

With Angelique Kerber and Marion Bartoli the boldfaces on the top side of the quarter, we expect that section to play to form with Kerber taking on either Venus or Sharapova.

First Round Five (matches to watch)
(11) Marion Bartoli vs. Anabel Medina-Garrigues
(19) Ekaterina Makarova vs. Michelle Larcher de Brito
(23) Klara Zakopalova vs.Chanelle Scheepers
(25) Venus Williams vs. Galina Voskoboeva
Alize Cornet vs. Marina Erakovic

Dark Horse: 

Venus Williams


Angelique Kerber

Semifinals and Finals

S. Williams d. V. Azarenka

A. Radwanska d. A. Kerber


Radwanska is definitely positioned to win this title.  She's won nine matches in a row to start 2013 and if Serena Williams falters, we'd consider her the odds on favorite.  She won't, we'll make the call.

Serena Williams

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