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I like sports....lots of sports...all sports!  Follow my blog as I talk about sports....if you like sports of course

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Women Shine in the Down Under Sun
2015 Australian Open Ready for Action

Ready for another WTA season to kick off?  Ready for some more upsets?  Ready for a few more Serena Williams temper tantrums?  Yup, I thought you would say yes!  The opening Grand Slam of 2015 is ready to begin and fans are salivating for some action...and trying to escape the bright blistering heat that will reign over the courts in Melbourne.

This year we have no defending champion as 2014 Aussie Open Champ Li Na announced her retirement last year from professional tennis.  As a fan, I am actually quite upset to not see her return.  Li Na was always a favorite to watch with her array of shots in her back pocket and her fighting spirit.  Plus, who didn't enjoy her press conferences?  But alas, she has set off into the Chinese sun (although rumors swirl she may pull a Clijsters and return some day).

With Li Na sitting on the sidelines, a new champ will be crowned.  But who are the favorites, who should we look at up and coming and can someone successfully play the role of dark horse?  Let's take a look....

Sidenote:  For a preview of the Men's draw, visit my post HERE

The Favorites

Serena Williams (1 seed/1 rank) - The best player in the world is a threat in every event she enters.  She lands in Melbourne fresh off winning another Grand Slam at the US Open last year.  She started her season at the team event Hopman Cup with some uninspiring results though.  She got blitzed her first set on the court only to take a coffee break (on court) and win her opening match.  She followed that up with her self-described "tired" defeat to Genie Bouchard.  She then was outplayed in the final by Aggie Radwanska.  Regardless of those results, Serena always shows up at the Grand Slams.  She lives for these events with the rest of the season really just being for fun.  Never discount her!

Maria Sharapova (2/2) - Many people are picking Maria to pull off another Grand Slam win at this event and why not?  The 27yo has won this event before (albeit way back in 2008) and did see a resurgence in her career last year when she won the French Open.  She is playing with confidence and, lucky for her, being seeded second means she avoids the dreaded Ms. Williams until the final.

Watch Out For

Petra Kvitova (4/4) - The 2014 Wimbledon Champion has also rediscovered her game and confidence.  When Kvitova won Wimbledon in 2011, everyone expected to see her go on a tear on tour.  The opposite occurred and she almost started to become an after thought at majors and a one-hit wonder.  Last year she finally lived up to what everyone has thought for years: Kvitova has the game to win every grand slam event she enters.  Never count her out!

Genie Bouchard (7/7) - Other than actually winning a major last year, no other player could say they had a more successful Grand Slam year than Canada's Bouchard.  A finalist at Wimbledon and SF at the Aussie Open and French Open, Genie let the world (and the tour players) know she has arrived.  Often considered cold and focused on the court, this demeanor works for her (see Sharapova as well).  It will be tough to replicate last year's success as she will no longer be flying under the radar this year.  Players will be familiar with her game so she is going to have to step up.  We know "Genie Army" will be in attendance though to support her with loud chants, stuffed animals and marriage offers.

The Dark Horse

Venus Williams (18/18) - Ok so calling a 7-time Grand Slam champion a dark horse may seem weird but come on, she really defines this category right now.  Is she a threat to win majors and tournaments at the age of 34 and battling injuries and illness?  No.  Is she a player nobody on tour wants to see in their draw? Yes.  Venus has been a comeback player over the past year and everyone on tour knows it.  No she probably won't be playing into the second weekend of a major again but she is quite capable of knocking off a few favorites and pulling a few upsets along the way.

Belinda Bencic (32/34) - The new Swiss Miss!  If you are not familiar with her, you better start.  She is the future of the sport.  Only 17 years old but already with a QF Grand Slam appearance under her belt (US Open 2014).  She made her tour debut in 2012 and is now seeded at Grand Slam events.  She is a former Junior #1 (2013) and has the game to defeat those ranked below her and scare those ranked above her.  This could be her big coming out party.  She was named WTA's 2014 Newcomer of the Year.

Onto the picks...

4th Round

(24) Garbine Muguruza over (1) Serena Williams
(8) Caro Wozniacki over (19) Alize Cornet
(4) Petra Kvitova over (13) Andrea Petkovic
(6) Aggie Radwanska over (18) Venus Williams
(32) Belina Bencic over (22) Karolina Pliskova
(3) Simona Halep over (14) Sara Errani
(7) Genie Bouchard over (9) Angelique Kerber
(2) Maria Sharapova over (21) Shuai Peng

Quarterfinals

(8) Wozniacki over (24) Muguruza
(4) Kvitova over (6) Radwanska
(3) Halep over (32) Bencic
(2) Sharapova over (7) Bouchard

Semifinals

(4) Kvitova over (8) Wozniacki
(2) Sharapova over (3) Halep

WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP

(2) Maria Sharapova over (4) Petra Kvitova in 3 sets - A battle of big serves, big grunts and Grand Slam champions.  This could be a finals match-up people talk about for years.  Both players have the weapons to keep one another off base.  If Sharapova can find her serving game in the early rounds and the confidence in her serve, she will be tough to beat.  If Kvitova can expose her serve and get Maria into a few tight service games and score a few freebie double faults, Kvitova could pick up her 3rd major and 2nd in just 7 months.

I mentioned this in my men's preview but would like to encourage it again here.  If you are a fan of tennis and/or looking to enhance your experience following the Australian Open, I encourage you to sign up and participate in the Aussie Open suicide pool.  Pick a winner each day and remember you can never pick the same player twice.  Can you beat the draw and your opponents?  Try it out and see how you do.  I play in this every year and it adds a new level of excitement to watching the action.  For more info, and to sign up, visit HERE