Rising stars could make headway
Considering the way 2008 ended, our instincts say either Venus or Serena Williams will walk about from Melbourne victorious. But the women's field has a bevy of youngsters just waiting for the right opportunity.
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Unlike the men's field, there was the real possiblity of a lopsided women's Australian Open draw because two of the main contenders, Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams, are both ranked outside the top four.But the luck of the draw has seen the brackets turn out to be quite evenly balanced. The top half is flanked by the Serbs, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, with a Russian in between -- Dinara Safina. The bottom half is flanked by the Williamses, Serena and Venus, with another Russian in between -- Elena Dementieva. But it's not just at the top that the field is crowded. A host of young players are pushing their way up and look prepared to cause some damage in Melbourne. They have not been so evenly scattered, landing mostly in the bottom half, and could create a few strategically important upsets among the half-dozen or so favorites for the title. The group of rising stars includes Agniezska Radwanska, Carolina Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Alize Cornet, Dominika Cibulkova and is being expanded further by even younger players like Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Here's how the jostling women's field breaks down:
Top seeds include: Jelena Jankovic (1), Vera Zvonareva (7), Nadia Petrova (10), Marion Bartoli (16)Sybille Bammer, Lucie Safarova -- have tumbled precipitiously in the past year or two. Sania Mirza is also returning after an injury layoff, having missed most of last season after wrist surgery. In short, unless Zvonareva catches fire, Jankovic will have to beat herself to exit before the semifinals. This is the weakest quarter in another otherwise solidly packed draw.
First-round matches of note: Sybille Bammer (24) vs. Lucie Safarova
Quarterfinal projection: Jankovic def. ZvonarevaSecond Quarter
Top seeds: Ana Ivanovic (5), Dinara Safina (3), Carolina Wozniacki (11) Alize Cornet (15), Anna Chakvetadze (17)Daniela Hantuchova faces Casey Dellacqua in a battle between two of last year's Australian Open standouts who have been struggling to regain their confidence after injuries. We'll also learn the status of former top five Anna Chakvetadze, who hasn't been the same since an armed robbery in her Moscow home at the end of 2007. Then it's on to the serious business, with Ivanovic likely facing Safina in a blockbuster quarterfinal match. But Ivanovic, who had some very shaky outings in the past six months, might first have to survive a fourth-round encounter with fast-rising Dane Caroline Wozniacki.
First-round matches of note: Dinara Safina (3) vs. Alla Kudryavtseva; Daniela Hantuchova (19) vs. Casey Dellacqua; Jelena Dokic (WC) vs. Tamira Paszek.
Quarterfinal projection: Safina def. Wozniacki
Top seeds: Elena Dementieva (4), Venus Williams (6), Flavia Pennetta (12), Patty Schnyder (14)
First-round match of note: Alexandra Wozniack (30) vs. Sabine Lisicki
Quarterfinal projection: Elena Dementieva def. Venus WilliamsFourth Quarter
Top seeds: Serena Williams (2), Svetlana Kuznetsova (8), Agnieszka Radwanska (9), Victoria Azarenka (13)Anna-Lena Groenefeld continues her comeback from the effects of a traumatic coaching relationship and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova tries to build on the results that saw her go from the 200s to No. 45 last year. There's the extremely slim possibility of a fourth-round meeting between the Bondarenko sisters, Alona and Kateryna. Another thing to watch: Will Nicole Vaidisova flame out early again, or win a couple of rounds and start doing justice to her landmark talent?
First-round match of note: Nicole Vaidisova vs. Ayumi Morita
Quarterfinal projection: Serena Williams def. Radwanska
Jankovic def. Safina, Dementieva def. Serena Williams
Jankovic def. Dementieva
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
MORE TENNIS HEADLINES
- Oudin: Overtraining caused muscle ailment
- Serena, Azarenka to play exhibition in Thailand
- Serena is WTA player of year for 5th time
- Sharapova hires Groeneveld as new coach
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
2009 AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Women's singles: Serena Williams, United States
Rafael Nadal, Spain
Men's doubles: Bob and Mike Bryan, United States
Women's doubles: Serena and Venus Williams, United States
Mixed doubles: Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, India
Official scoreboard: Scores
Slam Central: Follow all the Slam action