Google Down the Line!: AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2009 PREVIEW: The Ladies

Friday, January 16, 2009


The WTA Tour has been in flux ever since Justine Henin’s sudden retirement last season - no question.

Case in point: In 2008 four different ladies hoisted Grand Slam trophies while five different World No.1’s were anointed. Moreover, defending champion Maria Sharapova is still on injured-reserve (since last August) and won’t be making the trip to Melbourne. So the act of picking faves for the ladies’ crown is, uh, challenging to say the least.

But let’s try, shall we?

Without the afore mentioned lady ballers, all talk of non-clay Grand Slam championship runs begins and ends with the Williams sisters, and for good reason. The sisters own a combined 16 majors between them and have both been ranked No.1.

ReRe is a 3-time champ ('03, '05, '07) in Melbourne, owns a 37-6 record, and seems to thrive in the sultry Aussie summer heat whether her game is on and even more when it’s off. She fell in last year’s quarterfinals to Jelena Jankovic but with this being another odd numbered year and ReRe packing a new US Open title under her Nike belt (and a surprising albeit short return to No.1 afterwards) her confidence will be high – and that spells trouble for the entire field including…

V capped off the 2008 season in style with her first year-end WTA Championship and began 2009 by leading Team Americas to the title at the revamped JB Group Classic in Hong Kong. Surprisingly, the 28-year old’s lone trip to the Aussie Open final was in 2003 when she lost to her sister in a 3-set tussle. She’s traditionally a slow starter and doesn’t really get going until she steps onto her beloved grass at Wimbledon where she won her fifth title last summer. But her two US Open titles (’00, ’01) show she can win big on the hard stuff .

The WTA Penthouse's current resident, Jelena Jankovic, holds the distinct “honor” of being the first and only baller to end the year at No.1 without ever winning a Grand Slam. But the slidin’ Serb made her first major final losing to Serena at the US Open last year and will surely be hungry for more. The 22-year old spent time this off-season in Mexico and South Florida working on her fitness and endurance so the heat shouldn’t be an issue. What could be issues are her recent bout with the flu and a still yet-to-happen racquet switch that could distract JJ from the most important priority: winning her first major.

Sister Serb Ana Ivanovic, last year’s Aussie Open runner-up to Shrieka, already owns her first major defeating Dinara Safina for the Roland Garros crown and grabbing the top ranking to boot last spring. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there: she fell early at Wimbledon and then suffered a thumb injury that derailed the rest of her season (and seemingly her confidence along the way.) The 21-year old owns a blowtorch forehand (arguably the best in the game) and if she can consistently find it over the fortnight, a first Aussie Open crown will be within her grasp.

A breakthrough 2008 season, including runner-up finishes to Ana at Roland Garros and Elena Dementieva at the Beijing Olympics, propelled Marat’s lil' sis to a career high No.2 ranking last year. Her best result in Melbourne is the third round (I know!), and like JJ, has yet to prove she can take that next step. Dinara’s improved fitness and newfound confidence, not to mention a run to the final in Sydney this week, can only help her in that department so expect a much deeper run here.

Which lady ballers are dark horse candidates in Melbourne?

Elena Dementieva – This statuesque Russian has become the hottest lady baller on tour earning back-to-back titles in Auckland and Sydney. Last summer, she earned the biggest prize in her career when she won the gold medal in Beijing defeating Serena then Dinara in the final. And let’s not forget she also reached the finals of Roland Garros and the US Open in 2004 both without the improved serve she’s shown off recently. Let's hope she's not running on empty if she makes the second week.

Caroline WozniackiWozzy has future champion written all over her. This feisty 18-year old already has 3 career titles to her name and held 3 match points against Serena Williams before falling in a 3-set Sydney thriller this week. One to watch in any case.

Victoria Azarenka – This former junior No.1 has been touted as a future champion ever since hitting the professional ranks. The Belarusian’s powerful baseline game is rounding into form right on time as evidenced by her championship run in Queensland last week, Vika's first career title.

Alright, which lady ballers will you be looking out for in Melbourne?


(images via Getty)


  1. I would love to see JJ, Dinara or Wozzy (cute!) come out on top. All 3 def have the goods, they just need to put them to use at the right time. I guess same goes for Ana.

    Also, I'd add Zvonareva as a dark horse. When she's playing well she can be very dangerous. But if she lets her head get in the way, all bets are off. It'll be interesting to see where she is mentally at the start of the tourney.

  2. I really want to see the seeds do well here; women's tennis needs some credibility right now.

    As for who I would like to see hoisting the trophy, Wozniacki is my "fingers crossed" option. I'm ready for a new player to make a big breakthrough and while the mainstream media might see her as a relative unknown, we tennisphiles know she is ready for her moment! (Plus she was so precious at the exhibition event with Serena, Roddick, and Isner!)

    She's the game's new face during this "identity" crisis moment that the WTA tour seems to be having right now.

  3. johanne: I love Vera as well - can be tough on court but tougher on herself. Too bad because if she overcame that, she'd be challenging for big titles. She never seems "afraid" of the power ballers like ReRe or V but more afraid of the moment.

  4. i would really love to see Jankovic do well!

  5. I'm really interested in seeing how Dementieva does. I always underestimate her, but then she seems to come through. It's too bad for her that she hasn't picked up a Slam yet. Maybe this is her time?

  6. No one's talking about Venus. She really wants to win here. She's never taken this title and she's played extremely well her last couple of tournaments on similar surfaces. I'll put my vote in for Venus but I wouldn't mind seeing Dinara take it either.


  7. I think that Radwanska deserves mention over Azarenka. After all, she is in the top ten, has more titles and has beat up on the top players more frequently.


  8. joan: I have to disagree with Aggie over Vika. IMO Vika is the better hard-courter and has the game for it. Aggie can still get overpowered on this stuff but she is crafty. I'd like her better on the clay or the old Rebound Ace.

    But you're right in that she's def a more accomplished lady baller at this point and has the experience.

    Unfortunately Vika has ReRe in her quarter but if she and Aggie were to meet in the semis that would be so cool!

  9. Van: I have a good feeling about Elena right now - obvs the two titles already show she's in a great mental space. My fear is she runs out of gas by late in the second week.

    But if she doesn't, I don't see why she can't lift the trophy right now.

    *sits in disbelief at what he just typed*

  10. hey rich, love your blog. about the ladies: i think your post is spot on about who to watch. i want to highlight a few that i'm most interested in looking at.

    i'll definitely look to dementieva - she's someone who has the groundstrokes and endurance to be strong the hardcourt and is finally getting over her difficulty pulling the trigger. she looks fit and confident and as long as she's not tired, she could really move. she has a pretty straightforward path to the quarters.

    i also like wozniacki's chances. finishing last year ranked a season-high 12 with three titles and the match points against serena, she is really gathering some steam. if she can maneuver shahar peer in the first round, she has a shot in her draw.

    as for venus: i've been a venus fan since her 1999 USOpen QF against steffi graf - by which i mean to say, there's no one i want to win the AO more than venus. but venus hasn't had much luck in sydney, and she faces a tough draw with flavia pennetta (who has stumped her a few times in the past two years) and elena dementieva (who is looking to be on fire). she had a great 2008 and looks strong - i'd like to see her stay consistent here, but she's going to have trouble.

    i want to see how petrova bounces back from illness - and see if her burgeoning comeback has traction. i'm also looking at hantuchova: having made the semis last year and really losing her footing, i think a tough first round match against casey dellacqua could be an important moment in her career.

  11. Of all the top girls I believe Venus Williams is playing the best most confident tennis with Elena Dementieva a close second. I still have my reservations about Elena's Grand Slam winning ability but I do think she will make it past the 4th round for the frist time this year.

    I think this is Venus' tournament to lose. She is on a role and has beaten pretty much every top girl she has played since Zurich, if she can get past Pennetta she will be extreamly tough to beat. If she is playing really well the only person who I see having a chance against her is Serena.

    I dont think Serena's loss in Sydney means very much. Like Venus, Serena is about the slams these days and is a different player in the big tournaments. Its an odd year and we all know what happens at the Australian Open on those years.

    As for the others I think JJ should make it to the final quite comfortably although her form is a little unknown she looks as though she has been putting in a lot of work. Safina will probably make the semis but I dont see her beating Jankovic if it gets to that. As for Ana unless she gets her act together I dont see her going beyond the 4th round.

  12. hopefully Venus can play good tennis here, she has had such bad luck here, i.e. the first round loss to some 19 year old a few years ago...but IF her and serena are on opposite end of the draws, I would prefer to see it a williams final..with henin gone, the only people I can see domninating in the sport are the williams the top of their game...the serbs and russians are too sketchy...

  13. I'm hoping Caroline Wozniacki will go far if not win the tournament. I think she is a great young player that plays all the right shots on and off the court. She has a cute smile and is really a class act, a great role model for young players


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