Commentary

Five players seeking a maiden major

Updated: January 22, 2011, 3:41 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- In the past five years, it hasn't been easy for players to break through and win a maiden Grand Slam title. Only two have done so in the men's game -- Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro -- and three in the women's -- Amelie Mauresmo, Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone.

Blame the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams for that.

Are things bound to change in 2011, perhaps even in Melbourne?

ESPN.com ranks the chances of five players who are most likely to surmount the Slam challenge.

1. Caroline Wozniacki: Is she a dominant No. 1 with huge weapons? No.

However, in her favor, the threats around her are either aging, injured or might be lacking in motivation.

Wozniacki gets a ton of balls back, which can take a women's player a long, long way. She's got a good tennis brain, owns a solid backhand and never quits. And as advisor Sven Groeneveld pointed out, it's not like Wozniacki isn't trying to develop. Dad and coach Piotr is especially proactive.

"A player of comparison is Rafa because you always see him work on something," Groeneveld said. "Caroline is the same. She has a father that really specifically is working on that."

With Justine Henin not hitting the heights since coming back, who knows, the French Open might be the place for Wozniacki.

2. Vera Zvonareva: She came close, and not so close, to winning a first Grand Slam title in 2010. The Russian ventured to the final at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- blown out both times.

Zvonareva, at this stage, packs a little more punch and variety from the baseline than Wozniacki, and you could argue she's a better mover.

Zvonareva, mimicking Wozniacki, did nothing but retrieve in the third round against Lucie Safarova.

So why is she less likely to win than Wozniacki, you ask? Zvonareva isn't as dependable mentally.

3. Tomas Berdych: Yes, Berdych is ahead of Andy Murray.

Here's why: Berdych has a much bigger game than Murray and doesn't seem to have a complex facing Rafa or Roger at Grand Slams. Unlike Murray, he's a factor at all four majors. Murray and the French Open don't mix.

Of course, the Czech is more prone to getting upset early.

Even if Berdych can't bag a Grand Slam title this year, going deep and being consistent means he'll be a possibility in the years ahead.

4. Andy Murray: From 2008-2010, Murray would have headed the list. He knew how to beat Federer and was coping with Nadal, too.

Last year, after Murray crushed Nadal in the Australian Open quarterfinals, the Spaniard thought he'd go on days later to become Britain's first men's Grand Slam champion since Fred Perry in 1936.

Murray, though, froze against Federer in the final. He didn't really recover.

If the drought continues for Murray this month in Melbourne, he's in trouble. Nadal and Federer aren't going anywhere quickly, Djokovic appears to be on the rise again, and del Potro will be back.

5. Robin Soderling: Mats Wilander, the retired seven-time Grand Slam champion, thought Soderling, his fellow Swede, would win a major in 2010. He wasn't the only one.

It didn't happen, and Soderling only really came close at the French Open, getting to the final, where Nadal triumphed.

You wonder if he's hit a wall. Soderling, like Murray, has mostly struggled against Federer and Nadal at majors. And how much more can he improve?

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.