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2010 Australian Open - Women's Preview
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For the first time in years it is safe to say that the 2010 Australian Open Women's draw is at par with the men's draw in almost all aspects of the game, the competition, the drama, the ferocity and above everything the variety. And what makes the difference we ask? The answer to it would be the return of one of WTA's most dominant players from the past decade, Justine Henin.
With an existing field regaled by names like Serena, Dementieva, Venus, Clijsters, Sharapova, the Serbians and newbies Azarenka and Woznaicki, Henin's 'coming-along' has given an entirely new and swashbuckling dimension to the draw at the year's first Grand Slam.
So let's talk about the bottom half of the draw first. A mere look suggests an absolute slugfest with Safina, Clijsters, Henin, Sharapova and Kuznetsova, all ready to face each other at different stages. Among all these names, Henin is one player who almost everyone is trying to AVOID. Although a possible quarterfinal clash between the Belgians may predict the champion in Melbourne, there is a huge possibility that Clijsters will be able to make it through this time too. Their last meeting produced some nail-biting tennis, and despite Clijsters nervy surrender in the second set, she is stronger of the two to atleast make the semifinals.
Similar predictions can be made about a certain Russian superstar, no it's not Kuznetsova, no, no, it's not Safina either (what made you think of her after all), well the woman in discussion is Maria Sharapova, the 2008 champion. Sharapova returned to good form in 2009 and even though she streamlined her preparations to just an exhibition for the year's first major, she is sure to go distance in the draw. Despite the presence of Safina and Jankovic in the same quarter, it's Sharapova, who is likely to make the last four, thereby announcing her 'Grand return' in the 'Major Arena'.
Before moving to the top half of the draw, we wonder what are the chances that arguably the best tennis player minus a 'Major' will clinch Grand Slam glory. Well, no preview can ever be complete without a mention of Elena Dementieva, who enters the Open with a straight sets destruction of defending champion Serena Williams in Sydney. The road to semifinals for Dementieva is paved with hurdles like Henin (2nd round clash) and Clijsters or Kuznetsova ( Quarters ). The biggest challenge for Dementieva has always been her mental toughness. Whether it's the heart-wrenching semifinal loss at 2009 Wimbledon, or the below expectation departure at Melbourne Park itself at the last year's championship, Dementieva has not been able to fend off the pressure that came her way in the past. And Justine, one of the most fierce competitors in the game, will hit where the Russian is the weakest.
So as we discuss the top half, we see that in stark opposition to so many Wimbledon finals, we cannot pit Serena Williams against Venus Williams in the semifinals. Infact, it is highly unlikely that Venus makes even the second week of the event. Despite a favourable second quarter headed by Wozniacki along with 'not-so-high-profile' names like Radwanska, Pe'er and Hantuchova, elder Williams will find it difficult to get past these hurdles, which makes sense given the multiple Grand Slam champion's history at the Melbourne Park ( remember Carla Suarez Navarro (09), Lisa Raymond (04), anyone? ) Against all odds, if Venus makes the semifinals, she will be a force to be reckoned with, and will emerge as the strongest contendor for the title.
The first quarter, that shines bright with defending champion Serena Williams will most likely give the four time champion an easy entry to the semifinal with the only hindrance in the name of Victoria Azarenka, who might give Williams some amount of trouble. Any exit before the semifinals will be, or should be considered one of the biggest upsets in the game's history. The best aspect of Williams personality, rather approach towards the majors is that she becomes stronger and more destructive, everytime she enters a Grand Slam event. Williams' strength lies in her ability to perform beyond expectations at grand stages, and that's probably the biggest factor in her successfully defending the title and create an open era record of five Australian Open titles (currently tied with Margaret Smith Court, Steffi Graf, Evonne Goolagong and Monica Seles).
For all it's worth, the fortnight at Melbourne is bound to produce an extremely high quality of tennis, coupled with never-before-seen slugfest, thanks to the prime form of some of the biggest names in women's tennis.
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