Thursday, January 12, 2012
Updated: January 14, 1:18 PM ET
Can Kvitova keep up the momentum?
By Ravi Ubha
We're just over a week into the new tennis season, and drama already has descended on the women's tour. Two multiple Grand Slam winners who didn't play much last year are already ailing; the two top-ranked players went head-to-head in Perth; and the Aussie darling has hit a wall -- again -- playing at home.
It's all added more spice to the Australian Open, which starts Monday.
Serena: Banged up again
So Serena Williams says she doesn't love tennis. If she was being sincere and not kidding around, it's hardly surprising. Otherwise, Williams probably would be devoting more time to the game instead of dabbling in acting, rubbing up to fellow celebs, hanging out by the beach and selling her wares on TV.
But those other interests undoubtedly have prolonged her career. Without them, she would have lose interest a while ago and prematurely called it quits. Further, Williams doesn't need to love the sport to excel at it -- right, Andre?
Should Williams have kept quiet, bearing in mind that tennis has given her much? For those who think so, they might feel divine intervention played a role in Williams' subsequent ankle injury.
By now, Williams is accustomed to contesting majors at less than full strength. Last year's Wimbledon and U.S. Open -- her only Slam appearances in 2011 -- were examples, and Williams almost nabbed major No. 14 in New York with an ailing toe.
The severity of the ankle injury is obviously key. On Twitter last week, Williams said she hoped to "run to her room" after visiting a hotel pool, seemingly suggesting the ankle was coming along. Then Monday she practiced at Melbourne Park. That's a positive.
Williams worked hard in the offseason to better her conditioning, and you can bet she won't want to put all that hard work to waste. Time to make up for lost time, too.
Williams remains the tour's top competitor. And, with five titles, the Australian Open remains her most successful Grand Slam. Not since 2008, in fact, has she lost in Melbourne.
If she's going down, it won't be tamely.
Kvitova & Wozniacki: Battle of the 21-year-olds
Quality, contrast and longevity make for great rivalries. Look at Andre Agassi-Pete Sampras, Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert and Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal, to name but a few.
Caroline Wozniacki versus Petra Kvitova has the potential to head in that direction. Wozniacki is bubbly off the court and defensive on it, and the reigning Wimbledon champ is timid in her news conferences but highly aggressive when in action. When Williams and Kim Clijsters are long gone, these two will be around. Wozniacki needs to win a major, though, to really boost the intrigue and anticipation. She was, to remind, one point from reaching last year's final.
If they meet in the finale in Melbourne, Kvitova has the edge. Some would argue that Kvitova's win over the Dane in Istanbul was partly thanks to Wozniacki's being ill, but there could be no excuses after the Czech won their entertaining three-setter at the Hopman Cup this month. Including the Hopman Cup, Kvitova carries a 16-match winning streak into this week's stop in Sydney.
And now, Wozniacki has to worry about her left wrist. She needed treatment in a loss to Agnieszka Radwanska in Sydney on Wednesday.
Clijsters: Start of the Slam farewell tour
This is Clijsters' last season. And who knows, the Aussie Open might be her final Grand Slam. In a not-so-far-fetched scenario, injury-prone Clijsters could suffer yet another health setback, pack it in and focus on family. Bye-bye to the Olympics and everything else.
Her latest issues (hip, thigh) came in Brisbane, forcing a retirement, although reports now suggest Clijsters will be fit enough to compete in Melbourne.
Clijsters has suffered injury scares before majors and won -- see the 2010 U.S. Open -- but this time she goes in severely undercooked. When not at 100 percent last year at the French Open and short of matches, Clijsters lost in ugly fashion in the second round.
Her past two trips to Melbourne have yielded differing emotions. Clijsters won her first major outside the U.S. in 2011, but she was crushed by Nadia Petrova 6-0, 6-1 in 2010.
Joy or angst on this occasion?
Stosur: The Aussie hope
Aussie summers have never been kind to Samantha Stosur, which she freely admits.
The rot continued in Brisbane last week, when Stosur was downed in the second round by Iveta Benesova, not normally considered dangerous on hard courts. On Monday in Sydney, Stosur lost her opener to Francesca Schiavone, dropping to 4-7 overall in that Aussie Open tuneup.
A shy type, Stosur isn't the sort to shine when the spotlight is firmly upon her. She sneaked into the U.S. Open final, thanks in large part to a friendly draw, and benefited from being the heavy underdog against Williams. No pressure, and she played the match of her life in the final.
Even with the emergence of Bernard Tomic and with Lleyton Hewitt admirably lingering, Stosur will be the star attraction for the locals in Melbourne, so the longer the two Aussie men last, the better for her. She needs the company.
"The last few years, [the pressure has] got a bit bigger each time, and I know this year will be even more than any other time, but I'm looking forward to that challenge," Stosur told reporters in Australia -- before the losses in Brisbane and Sydney.
Vika: Waiting to pounce
All these injuries on the tour, yet Victoria Azarenka hasn't been struck down. Go figure. Last season, Azarenka retired in four matches and handed a walkover to another opponent.
With everything else going on, Azarenka has a chance to progress quietly -- or as quietly as her grunts allow -- before making a move deep in the tournament.
Azarenka progressed vastly in 2011, reaching a first Grand Slam semifinal (at Wimbledon, where she took Kvitova to three sets), reaching the quarters at Roland Garros and testing a surging Kvitova at the year-end championships. Whereas Vera Zvonareva has made only slight improvements in dealing with her negative emotions, Azarenka now seems serene on court.
In a good omen for the Belarusian, and her chum Wozniacki, the past three women's winners at Slams have been first-timers.
"Winning a Slam is definitely one of the goals this year," Azarenka told reporters in Australia.
But in Melbourne, the world No. 3 will have to contend with Williams, Kvitova and Clijsters.
Expect more drama during the fortnight.
|You know Woz's story. So why will the Australian Open be any different?|
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.