Commentary

Is Aussie Open Clijsters' title to lose?

Updated: January 26, 2011, 11:20 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Most expected a Spaniard to be in the semifinals of the Australian Open. They weren't thinking of David Ferrer, that's for sure.

But Ferrer took advantage of an injured Rafael Nadal to advance to the semifinals in Melbourne on Friday. So much for the "Rafa Slam."

The women contest the semifinals Thursday.

So now there are eight players left Down Under. ESPN.com ranks the elite eight, based on their chance to win it all.

1. Kim Clijsters: In the absence of Serena Williams, this has always been Clijsters' tournament to lose.

The three-time U.S. Open champion beat tricky Pole Agnieszka Radwanska to reach the semifinals without conceding a set. The few times she's been tested -- taken to a trio of tiebreakers -- Clijsters has upped her game.

In short, there's little to suggest that Clijsters won't win a maiden major outside New York.

Her leg injury, though, is worth keeping an eye on.

2. Roger Federer: He looked shaky against Gilles Simon in the second round and unsteady versus Tommy Robredo in the fourth.

But in the quarterfinals, the Swiss master knew he was facing a red-hot Stanislas Wawrinka and lifted his level. If he serves at almost 80 percent, as he did Tuesday, it'll be tough to stop him.

Sure, Federer lost to Novak Djokovic in New York, but he's been untroubled by the Serb in three meetings since.

3. Andy Murray: Yes, he is alive and well. With all the attention on Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Scot wasn't in Melbourne.

Murray has had a nice draw, but to his credit, he hasn't messed around. His draw got even nicer with the elimination of Nadal.

Although Murray's favorite Slam has always been the U.S. Open, he says the Aussie Open is catching up.

4. Novak Djokovic: Still on a Davis Cup high, Djokovic is serving well and hitting the ball great from the baseline. And we all know about his athleticism. Further, he overcame a little hiccup against Tomas Berdych, when his contact lens again gave him problems.

His match against Federer figures to be tight, but how many times has Djokovic flattered to deceive? Three of his four majors in 2010 were disappointing.

That said, you could really make an argument for Federer, Murray or Djokovic.

5. Li Na: She has reached the semifinals for the second straight year in Oz. She says she's not necessarily playing better than 12 months ago -- but is happier on court.

All the streaky play is gone. Li is unbeaten in 2011 and hasn't dropped a set through five matches.

She has the game to hit semifinal foe Caroline Wozniacki off the court, and she defeated Clijsters at a warm-up in Sydney.

6. Vera Zvonareva: She didn't look too good at the start of the tournament when she fell into a hole in the second round. The third and fourth rounds weren't smooth, either.

But the Russian, like Wozniacki and Li, is seeking a first Grand Slam title. She put in her best performance in the quarterfinals -- a good sign.

There's no doubting Zvonareva matured in the past year. However, Clijsters is a more seasoned big-match player, showing it versus Zvonareva in the U.S. Open final.

7. Caroline Wozniacki: She has had an eventful Slam. From monologues to tales of faux kangaroo encounters, it's all happening.

Yet the world No. 1 keeps winning, and in the end, that's the bottom line.

However, even if Wozniacki beats Li, she'll likely have to take out another big hitter in Clijsters in the final. And the Dane's leg might be bothering her, which is not good news for someone who makes a living by scrambling.

8. David Ferrer: He deserves credit for a few reasons: He revitalized his career in 2010, re-entering the top 10. Ferrer works hard at his game, is a great competitor and respects opponents.

Ferrer was striking the ball great against Nadal, too.

Now the bad news. He's 0-11 against Federer, 1-5 in six hard-court meetings against Djokovic and hasn't beaten Murray on a hard court.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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