One of the busiest and most attention-grabbing weeks of the tennis year has just finished. With players returning from the off-season in need of match practice, the first week of 2013 saw all members of the WTA top ten in action. Most chose to kick-start their Australian Open build-up in Brisbane, but Shenzhen and Auckland also attracted some big names.
Here is a brief rundown of what the WTA top ten achieved last week, and where they stand leading up to the first Grand Slam of the year…
The world number one looked in sensational form during her first two matches in Brisbane, defeating the dangerous floater Sabine Lisicki and then thrashing Ksenia Pervak. Unfortunately, a toe infection – apparently the result of a bad pedicure – forced her to pull out of a semi-final against Serena. Azarenka says should be fit and ready to defend her Australian Open title, and the limited match practice shouldn’t be a problem for such a focused player, but if the going gets tough in the early rounds in Melbourne, the injury may become a factor in the latter stages of the tournament.
The French Open champion will be the only top ten player not to have struck a ball competitively before the year’s first Grand Slam, as a collarbone injury forced her out of her only planned warm-up event in Brisbane. The Russian is practising intensively, however, so the ailment appears to have been only a minor setback. Moreover, she didn’t play any lead-up tournaments before last year’s Australian Open, and made it all the way to the final.
The American legend is the hot pick for the 2013 Australian Open title, and her exploits in Brisbane last week only confirmed her status as the front-runner. Serena charged through all four of her matches without dropping a set, and looked focussed and intense throughout – a worrying sign for her competitors. The younger Williams sister remains favourite to not only win a 16th Grand Slam title, but also recapture the number one ranking.
Radwanska was the highest ranked player by far in Auckland last week, and she duly won the International title without dropping a set. Although the Pole did not test herself against the very best in the game, she did what she likes to do: play consistently, frequently and successfully. However, some wonder if Radwanska, obviously in good form already, risks overplaying by entering this week’s tournament in Sydney.
Kerber stumbled through a couple of tough three-setters in Brisbane, before losing narrowly to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarter-finals. She will aim to play herself into better form in Sydney, but after enduring a gruelling 2012 season, is she mentally fresh enough to do serious damage in Melbourne?
Like Kerber, Errani will be under pressure to prove that she can follow up her highly successful 2012. The Italian won only one match in Brisbane before being ousted by the big-hitting Daniela Hantuchova, the kind of player she often tends to struggle against. Amid soaring temperatures and a heavy singles and doubles schedule next week, it would not be a surprise to see the diminutive world number six run out of steam at the Australian Open.
Li opted to support the brand new International-level tournament in Shenzhen last week, and she thrilled her home fans by winning the title. While the former French Open champion wasn’t challenged by the WTA elite in China, she was pushed hard by Klara Zakopalova in the title match. Rather like Radwanska, she risks overplaying if she makes a deep run in Sydney this week, but Li is looking much happier on court since joining forces with Justine Henin’s coach Carlos Rodriguez, and is more than capable of reaching the business end of the Australian Open.
Kvitova made the semi-finals in Melbourne last year, and has the game and talent to beat anyone on a given day. Unfortunately for the Czech, she appears to be suffering from a lack of confidence, and still struggles to produce her best tennis in hot, dry conditions that exacerbate her asthma. Having won only a single match in Brisbane, the 2011 Wimbledon champion will need a good week in Sydney to rank as a genuine Australian Open contender.
As with Kvitova, confidence is key for Stosur, who is as capable of reaching the final rounds of a Grand Slam as she is of flopping in her opening match. Alas, the gifted Aussie never seems entirely comfortable when playing in front of her home fans, and she was dumped out of Brisbane by unheralded Sofia Arvidsson at the first hurdle. No one needs Sydney success as much as Stosur.
Wozniacki appeared to have made progress towards the end of 2012, after enduring a bitterly disappointing season that saw her tumble out of the top ten. But the Dane lost a knife-edge battle to Ksenia Pervak in Brisbane, missing out on a chance to hit peak form before the Australian Open. Wozniacki will feel much better about her chances in Melbourne if she puts together a few solid wins in Sydney this week.
The 2013 Australian Open is set to be one of the highlights of the tennis year, with some of the best players in the history of the game competing for the year’s first Grand Slam.
Steven Webb writes for Live-Tennis.com, an award-winning tennis, news and live stream website. Join this popular tennis community for latest news, exciting match previews and live streaming information for the entire 2013 ATP & WTA circuit, including all you need to know about Australian Open Live Stream details.
Photos by Tennis Buzz (Roland Garros 2012)