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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pre-Australian Open: Luck of the Draw

At every grand slam, there are always a few players outside of the WTA's top 10 that no one wants to see too close to their name. This could not have been clearer than when Serena was ranked No. 28 at least year’s US Open, making a third round clash with someone in the top 8 inevitable. Last year, it was Victoria Azarenka, the 4th seed, who drew the short straw. Will she be so unlucky again, or will it be another one of her younger foes in the top 3 who have to try and defy the odds to grab the Aussie Open title? Here’s a look at our top 5 bracket busters for this year’s Australian Open.

5. Dominika Cibulkova (18th Seed)

Cibulkova certainly knows a thing or two about bracket busting. We only have to look back as far as Wimbledon 2011 to see what she’s capable of, when she took out world no.1 Caroline Wozniacki 7-5 in the third. She is one of the tours streakiest players, her matches against Wozniacki being the best examples. She lost the first set of their Wimbledon match 6-1 and barely clung on to her serve in the beginning of the second before catching fire and taking out the Dane. In Sydney this week, Cibulkova held a 4-0 third set lead before dropping the final six games and the match to Wozniacki.

Photo by SkySports
Although she is one of the shortest players on tour, she packs one of the biggest punches. At one point in last night’s match her forehand speed was over 30 kmph faster than that of Wozniacki. She also has the experience, with grand slam wins over 3 of the current top 4 women, including a 6-0 6-2 beat-down of Maria Sharapova in the 2009 French Open quarters, as seen in this clip.

The real question is, will Cibulkova’s form stay with her long enough to cause a stir next week? Only time will tell.

4. Sabine Lisicki (15th Seed)

Although she is not the tour’s most consistent player on a week-to-week basis due to nagging injuries, the German made quite a splash at the Grand Slams last year. After losing a heartbreaker in the third round of the French Open to then no.2 Vera Zvonareva, Lisicki gutted out a third round win at Wimbledon against no.3 Li Na 8-6 in the third, saving two match points down 3-5 in the third set (video below).

Lisicki rode her big serve all the way to the semifinals, getting another three set win in the quarters against Marion Bartoli. As the 15th seed, Lisicki will be matched up to face one of the top 4 seeds in the round of 16, a matchup that is certain to be a center court showdown. Lisicki holds a 3-5 record against the top, with only two of those matches being played since 2009. Although Lisicki has recently been injured, she is one of the most feared players because of her serve and blasting forehand.

3. Daniela Hantuchova (21st seed)

Another player who has struggled with injuries through her career, Hantuchova is a former top 5 player and has a strong history at the Australian Open. Hantuchova has made the fourth round several times and reached the semifinal in 2008 and even held a 6-0, 2-0 lead against Ivanovic before falling 6-4 in the third. More recently, Hantuchova is known for her 6-1, 6-3 thrashing of Wozniacki at least year’s French Open—arguably her best match of the year. She then unluckily drew Victoria Azarenka in the third round of Wimbledon and fell to her in three tight sets. Hantuchova has beaten many of the world’s top 10 and has had some good results recently, including a final last week in Brisbane and she is still in this week’s tournament in Sydney. Although she has a history of choking away matches at big points, she is now a veteran on tour and could be able to turn that around against the younger generation.

AP Photo
2. Kaia Kanepi (26th Seed) 

Perhaps the biggest third round match will be Kaia Kanepi against whichever top 8 seed she is drawn to play. Kanepi has also been plagued with injuries, but has burst back on the scene recently. Kanepi took out Wozniacki in Tokyo last year and tore through the draw at Brisbane last week, sweeping Hantuchova 6-1, 6-2 in the final. Although she did not have stellar results last year, Kanepi reached the quarterfinals of both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010. After a heartbreak loss to Kvitova in the quarters at Wimbledon after having match points, Kanepi backed that up with a run to the quarter and a win over Jelena Jankovic at the US Open before falling to Vera Zvonareva in two tight sets. After seeing her aggressive play and core strength last week, Kanepi definitely has the tools to make a serious run at this year’s Australian Open.

1. Serena Williams (13th seed)

Who else? No matter what seed, Serena is always the player to beat. Because she pulled out of Brisbane last week and Clijsters made the semifinals, Clijsters nipped Serena in the rankings and moved up to the 12th seed while Serena fell to no.13. Although one spot in the rankings is not usually this crucial, it makes quite a difference when it comes to the AO draw, because now Serena will play a member of the top 4 in the round of 16, instead of a player seeded 5 to 8 like Clijsters.

Which player will be unlucky enough to face her in round of 16? Will it be Sharapova, who has not beaten her since 2004? Azarenka, who always plays her tough but is beyond the point in her career where she can afford another “good loss” to Serena? Wozniacki, who did not even look like she belonged on the same court as her in the US Open semifinals? Or will we finally get the showdown everyone has been waiting for: Serena Williams vs. Petra Kvitova? Of course, the players need to play to their seeds in order to make this match happen, but I think it is safe to say that no matter who steps onto the court against Serena, they will be more afraid of her than she is of them. 

-Joseph Barkus, Contributing Writer


Mike Bishop7 said...

Thanks for the post Kedzie! Of course Serena was ranked number 1 and she definitely deserved it. I wish I could have gotten australian open tickets this year but I moved too slowly and missed my chance. Me and my fiance will definitely be attending in 2013 though, we already have begun planning.

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