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|Will Victoria Azarenka hold tight to the Australian Open trophy? Or will she be forced to kiss it good-bye?|
With Week 1 of the Australian Open in the books, which player has the best chance to win the women's title?
By Jane McManus
When you look at the way Serena Williams has played in the past year, it is extremely difficult to pick against her. True, she has the best return in the women's game on her side of the draw in a possible semifinal against Victoria Azarenka, but still. Azarenka played an excellent U.S. Open final against Williams, but has yet to prove she can beat Williams to win a Grand Slam championship.
Maria Sharapova sits on the other side of the draw and could be rested and ready to meet Williams if Azarenka takes Williams to three sets. But, really, Sharapova and her shrieks do not unnerve Williams at her best.
We are witnessing the utter dominance of Williams in the women's game right now. What could be Williams' undoing is not an opponent, but a foot injury or a rolled ankle. She is Mike Tyson before the face tattoo, Tiger Woods before the scandal, Annika Sorenstam in her prime and Katarina Witt on a hard court.
Play on, Serena.
By Kate Fagan
It would be so easy to say Serena Williams -- I can almost feel myself typing her name. (Well, I did just type her name; but she's not my final answer). First, Serena beats Sloane Stephens. No problem, right? Stephens is so young and seeded only 29th. Then she beats Victoria Azarenka in the semis -- we watched this happen during last summer's U.S. Open final -- then Serena finishes off the tournament with a straight-sets victory over Maria Sharapova.
Maybe this is exactly what will happen. But it's not my prediction.
I think we're in for an interesting last few matches on the women's side. My real prediction? An Azarenka versus Agnieszka Radwanska final. I think Azarenka beats Serena in three sets in the semis. And, coming from the bottom of the bracket, Radwanska earns what would be one of the biggest wins of her career -- defeating Sharapova in the semis.
I've been keeping my eye on Radwanska since spending some time with her at the 2012 U.S. Open. And although she is the No. 4 seed at the Australian -- not shabby at all -- she has the burden of still chasing her first Grand Slam title. (She was the runner-up to Serena at the 2012 Wimbledon, her only Grand Slam final appearance).
Radwanksa is on a hot streak entering this tourney, and I think she surprises people in Melbourne, claiming her first meaningful title.
By Graham Hays
To adhere to the specific wording in this instance, it seems like Maria Sharapova has the best chance to win the Australian Open. The No. 2 seed was dominant in the first week, even completely outclassing Venus Williams in the one match out of her first four in which she actually lost more than a game. But more than her level of play thus far, she has the best chance because she can't face both Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, while each of those could face the other and Sharapova en route to a potential title. That potential Azarenka-Williams semifinal might be the match of the tournament if it's anything like their U.S. Open final, but like the United States beating the Soviets in Lake Placid, it won't settle the title. So who has the best chance? Sharapova (the Russian who lives mostly in the United States and plays the role of Finland in my increasingly confused Miracle on Ice analogy).
But who would I put my money on if forced to choose? I'm never going to pick against Williams when she's on a roll, and her results from the first week suggest that's the case.
By Sarah Spain
I've been so caught up in football fever (the HarBowl!!) and the return of hockey (pretty nice 2-0 start for my Blackhawks!) I haven't had a chance to watch any of the Aussie Open. That being said, I'm gonna go with the gal I'm rooting for, rather than the one I think is most capable of winning: I'm hoping 19-year-old Sloane Stephens finds a way to get that trophy. Stephens was on a panel at our 2012 espnW Summit and she impressed everyone with her enthusiasm, energy and infectious giggle. I became an immediate fan and I've watched as her star continues to rise. If she's gonna advance, Stephens has to beat her mentor, Serena Williams, in the quarterfinals. A tough task, but boy would that be a big step toward joining the elite.
By Melissa Isaacson
It's tough to bet against five-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams despite her second-set struggles against Japan's Ayumi Morita in an eventual straight-sets third-round victory Saturday.
Going into the quarterfinals, Williams, attempting to win her third straight Grand Slam singles title, had not dropped a set and lost just six games in her first four matches. She turned an ankle early in the tournament but hasn't seemed particularly bothered.
Of course, top-seeded Victoria Azarenka looms as a semifinal opponent and Maria Sharapova as a potential championship match for Sharapova's second straight appearance in the finals. But with her fearsome serve and confidence seemingly overflowing, it all seems to be up to Williams.