Women set to sizzle in Melbourne

Chris Tortise says clash of the comeback queens will make Australian Open one to watch.


    Just for starters: Clijsters beat Henin at the Brisbane International [GALLO/GETTY]
    The new tennis season has already produced upsets in both the men's and women's game, and in Justine Henin has also welcomed back one of the finest players to have graced a court in the last 10 years.

    But who has a chance at glory at the first Grand Slam of the year?

    Rafael Nadal had a disjointed season in 2009.

    As defending Australian Open champion, he will look to put his recent injury troubles and bad form behind him - and hope for better conditions than the frying temperatures at Melbourne Park last year.

    The Spaniard had a poor season-ending championships in London in November, but performed well in reaching the final in Doha, a final in which he looked to be cruising.

    Nevertheless, he has a very difficult draw to negotiate, with Andy Murray lurking in the quarter finals, and a possible clash with US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro in the semis.

    As the second seed, he will unlikely be challenged before facing the fifth-seeded Scot, which will be a high-class battle.

    Murray chose not to defend his Qatar Open title, resulting in his drop in the rankings.

    Apart from a bizarre loss to Tommy Robredo in the Hopman Cup, he has looked in fine fettle.


    Yet he is the only man in the top five not to have won a Grand Slam, and with a draw like his, it will take a monumental effort on his part to break that duck. Anything past the quarter finals will be a brilliant achievement.

    It will be interesting to see how Del Potro performs this year.

    There are certainly concerns over his fitness, and it will therefore be quite a surprise to see him lifting the trophy at the end. Yet he should certainly be featuring well into the second week.

    Serbian Novak Djokovic had a surprise defeat to Fernando Verdasco in the Kooyong Classic warm-up event, in which he was totally outclassed.

    He won his only Grand Slam title on the Melbourne Courts, and has had very favourable draw with only Robin Soderling in his path to a semi-final clash with Roger Federer.

    And what about the number one seed? Having lost to Nikolay Davydenko in the semis in Doha, he will be looking to avenge his defeat in Australia.

    Seeded to meet in the quarter finals, it will be mind-over-matter for the Russian, who will be looking for a third straight win over the Swiss master.

    The crowds in Melbourne will obviously be looking for a Federer-Nadal final, which is a distinct possibility.

    But there other players who could easily spoil the party, and the fathom between the top two and the rest is now almost indistinguishable.

    Watch out for how Verdasco performs, as well as Frenchman Jo Wilfried Tsonga.

    Defending her title, Serena Williams will have a fight on her hands.

    Despite the final in Sydney, her fitness is a concern, with a left knee injury causing her problems in that defeat.


    There's a dangerous lurker in Sabine Lisicki, seeded to meet her in the fourth round, but she will be very happy with her draw.

    The unlucky seed has to be Elena Dementieva, Williams' conquerer in Sydney.

    On sizzling form, including the destruction of Dinara Safina, she has been drawn to take on the legendary Henin in the second round, a fate nobody wanted.

    The Belgian, in only her second tournament back, will be looking to emulate the performance of her fellow countrywoman Kim Clijsters, by winning her first Grand Slam since returning to the tour.

    There's the potential for this second round tie to have more fireworks than New Year in Sydney, but with Clijsters, Kuznetsova and Wickmayer all in the same quarter of the draw as Henin and Dementieva, the winner will by no means be guarenteed a final spot.

    Safina will not win this. She may look spectacular when on her game, but when missing, it's amazing she's even in the top 10.

    The Russian sadly collapses with the pressure in major finals, and this will be no different.

    After a breakthrough run at the US Open, Caroline Wozniacki will be looking to continue her progress with a good performance in Melbourne.

    There has been very little to see of her so far this season, but the draw has been extremely favourable to her, and a first win over Venus Williams could beckon in the quarter-final stage.

    This entire tournament depends on just a couple of things:

    1) Will Serena be fit?
    2) Will a Belgian reach the final?

    The world of women's tennis needs this to be full of excitement and drama, but with Henin and Clijsters back, and Dementieva on hot form, you can count on it.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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