Our guide to who to back in the women’s tournament at Melbourne Park.
When it comes to the women’s singles at the Australian Open, the general consensus seems to be that it is as open as it has ever has been. But I am not sure I agree and would reduce the potential champions to six, at the very most.
Now OK, that is more than in the days of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, or Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, but it is still a pretty closed shop. If it wasn’t for an injury concern about Serena Williams and for Kim Clijsters not having played that much since she returned from injury, I would have reduced it to those two but there are question marks as to whether either can be backed at absolutely 100 percent.
Having won the title here five times, there is no way Serena can be ignored even if the ankle injury she suffered in Brisbane may hamper her chances. When she’s fully fit and in the mood, there are very, very few players who can live with her power and mental strength, so it’s no surprise to see her as short as 4-1 for the title, but I don’t think she has had enough tennis lately to win it.
However, she is not favourite. That honour, or should it be pressure, goes to Petra Kvitova, the Wimbledon champion and a player I think will win many more grand slam titles. The left-hander has power to burn, is high on confidence and the bookies make her the favourite, at a top-priced 11-4.
The Czech deserves to be favourite but winning the title here will not be as easy as it was at Wimbledon, where her lefty serve is doubly effective and where her flat, hard groundstrokes go right through the court. In Melbourne, she will have to guts it out, perhaps in intense heat and I can see her falling short, this time at least.
Victoria Azarenka is third favourite at 7/1 but she has never reached a grand slam final and though her tour form has been good, she is prone to too many bad matches to win a big one yet. You can get 18-1 on the world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki, but the Dane has yet to win a slam and is also struggling with a left wrist problem. It’s unlikely to be her year in Melbourne.
Li Na, last year’s runner-up, is 12-1 but she has to play the defending champion, Kim Clijsters, in the fourth round. You can get an incredible 20-1 on the US Open champion, Sam Stosur, while former champion Maria Sharapova, who has a very tough draw and is coming back from injury herself, is 33-1.
And so we come down to Clijsters. For my money, on a hard court, especially in the warm conditions that are sure to greet the players more often than not, there is no one better than the Belgian when she is fully fit and in form.
There is always a fear, when someone’s been out for as long as Clijsters was last year (she didn’t play after the French Open), that another injury could occur but despite pulling out midway through Brisbane with spasms in her hip, she looks in great shape and was pounding the ball in practice. Li Na will be tough in the fourth round if they clash there but apart from that, Clijsters has a good draw and at 10-1 with Ladbrokes, she has to be backed.
And for a bigger each-way bet, look in the stronger bottom half and look for Stosur to build on her US Open success. She has a tough draw and has to cope with the hopes of a nation, but 20-1 is a massive price on the last grand slam champion.