Saturday, 11 January 2014

Melbourne predictions: Serena, Azarenka, Sharapova or another surprise?

Serena seems to be heading towards another grand slam as 2014 commences with Australian Open. Let's see who are the players to look out for in the hot Australian heat to clinch the prestigious title.

1) Serena Williams

Showing no signs of slowing down, Serena stamps her authority as the favourite to win Australian Open with a convincing win in Brisbane. Her closest competitors, Sharapova and Azarenka, challenged her, but was unable to beat the 17 time grand slam champion. She should make the semi-finals unscathed with her kind draw, and win the title for the 6th time. Provided she's not too nervous with all the expectations on her.

2) Victoria Azarenka

The Belarussian is looking for a hat-trick here in Melbourne, having won this event for the past 2 years. She has been a bit wobbly late last year, but still is a favourite to win this title. Having beaten Serena twice last year, Azarenka is slowly solving the Serena mystery. But Azarenka is prone to concentration lapses and looked unmotivated last year. I am sure that she will be extra motivated to defend her title, but if Serena's her opponent in the final, it's tough to beat the American mentally.

3) Li Na

Li has been slowly gaining momentum from her final appearance last year in Istanbul. With the year-end championships in Singapore this year, I'm sure she's determined to make it to the event, being held here in Asia. Li's aggressive baseline game suits the surface of Melbourne, having made the finals in 2 occasions. The only thing weighing her down is the expectations of millions and billions of Chinese, including Asians, to win this title. She tends to get too tentative in big matches, and become an error machine. If only she can calm herself, she'll a big threat to win this title (provided Serena makes an early surprise exit).

4) Maria Sharapova

Sharapova has been plagued by a nagging injury last year and took the last part of the year off. In Brisbane, her performance was shaky, but she managed to overcome her rustiness and reach the semi-finals. The Russian's mental game is only second to Serena Williams, and her aggressive game can outhit almost everyone on tour. The only reason she's not placed higher is because of her lack of match play from late last year. She needs to be match ready in double quick time, and she should really take note of her first round opponent, Bethanie Mattek-Sands. If she's not careful, she might be an early round casualty.

5) Petra Kvitova

There's no secret formula to defeat the Czech's game, just retrieve and hope that she misses. Still, chances are the Czech will make another booming winner with her heavy groundstrokes set up by her swing serve. Kvitova endured a topsy turvy year and is showing signs of a revival in Perth and Sydney. Fatigue did set in in Sydney against Pironkova, but she should be recharged for the main event. She is drawn in a relavtively easy quarter with Li, but also has to deal with the pesky Kerber in the 4th round. If nothing goes wrong, she should be able to thump her way to the quarters and maybe upset the volatile Chinese.

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