Leading Ladies: Aussie Open womens preview

It is now time to tackle the fairer sex in my Aussie Open previews. This is as wide open a major as we have had on the women’s side in quite a while. Despite not being the clear favorite, Serena Williams is certainly in the conversation. However, she has been far from untouchable at majors lately. This means Maria Sharapova, Aga Radwanska, Simona Halep, and Petra Kvitova all have a very real chance here. Let’s dive in. I will follow a similar, but not identical format to yesterday.

First Quarter- Serena, Wozniacki, and the young guns.

This section is loaded. Top seed, world number 1, and 5 time Aussie Open champ Serena Williams leads it. Look, we all know she has the weapons to win it. However, she failed to reach the QFs at 3 of the majors last year and hasn’t gone deep here since winning in 2010. She’s joined here by two rising stars that everyone should take note of. 26 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine and 24 seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain. Svitolina has a well-rounded game that looms for Serena in round 3. Muguruza is a massive hitter who I think will win majors someday. Also, she dismantled Serena at the French Open last year. She could oppose Serena in round 4.

If Serena gets through the young guns, she could run in to her good friend Caroline Wozniacki in the QFs. However, Wozniacki has a tricky draw herself and could run into Victoria Azarenka in the 2nd round. Azarenka has won this title 2 of the last 3 years, but injuries and losses have left her unseeded and ranked outside of the top 50, but she is still dangerous. This quarter could go MANY different directions. It will be fun to watch.

Sleeper: Muguruza

Matches to watch: Wozniacki vs. talented young American Taylor Townsend. Azarenka vs hot and cold American Sloane Stephens and any 2nd round match between the winners of these 2 matches.

Semifinalist: S. Williams (d. Wozniacki in QFs)

Second Quarter- Kvitova’s big chance?

Two time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova is the top seed in this section. The big hitting Czech lefty may finally be ready to breakthrough outside of Wimbledon after winning in Sydney last week. She is capable of beating anyone, but also losing to anyone. Young American Madison Keys may pose the first real test for Kvitova in round 3. Home grown Aussie Sam Stosur is also here, but she has never played well at home.

Aga Radwanska leads the bottom section here. Now being coached by Martina Navrátilová, what the Pole lacks in power she makes up for in speed and smarts. A resurgent Venus Williams is a real threat here after starting off with a title in Auckland. The other seeds in this section are very soft.

Upsets: Camila Giorgi d. 11 seed Flavia Pennetta (round 1) Kaia Kanepi d. 13 seed Andrea Petkovic (round 2). Kanepi d. 20 seed Stosur (round 3). Kanepi is a big hitter that will make noise here

Semifinalist : Kvitova (d. Radwanska in QFs)

Third quarter- Halep vs. Ivanovic?

2008 French Open champ Ana Ivanovic is on top here as the 5 seed. She has the biggest forehand in the world, but has struggled to peak at big events lately. Big server Karolina Pliskova is a trendy sleeper pick here. 32 seed, youngster Belinda Bencic and sneaky good 10 seed Ekaterina Makarova are also here.

The bottom half of this section is 3 seed Simona Halep’s to lose. The French Open finalist has sneaky power and speed. She is joined by 14 seed Sara Errani (winless on the year) and always erratic 28th seeded German Sabine Lisicki among others. I see no one who can really trouble Halep here. However, I really like unseeded German youngster Annika Beck and expect her to surprise people here.

Matches to watch: Julia Gorges vs. Bencic

Sleeper: Beck

Semifinalist: Halep (d. Ivanovic in QFs)

Fourth quarter- Maria’s to lose?

No one is coming in here in better form than 2008 Aussie champ Maria Sharapova. She started the year with a bang, taking out 4 top 50 players on her way to the title in Brisbane. 16th seeded Lucie Safarova always plays Maria tough and could await in round 4. Maria needs to NOT mess around early on.

The other seeds of note here are Canadian glamour girl Genie Bouchard (7), German Angie Kerber (9) and 2 time major champ Svetlana Kuznetsova (27) who has a way of randomly showing up at majors in the later stages of her career. I have to see Bouchard play before I make a judgment as to whether she can back up her breakthrough 2014. Also, I think Kerber lacks the firepower and confidence to do real damage here. So…

Matches to watch: Kuznetsova vs. dangerous Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia

Young gun who will make noise: Anna Schmiedlova

Semifinalist: Sharapova (d. Kuznetsova in QFs)

Semifinals: Kvitova d. S. Williams Sharapova d. Halep

Final: Sharapova d. Kvitova

Thunder down under: Aussie Open preview (men)

The first tennis major begins on Sunday evening from Melbourne Australia. Play begins nightly a 7:00 ET. Television coverage is split between the ESPN family of networks, including online coverage on ESPN3, and the Tennis Channel. This is the first of 2 previews I’m publishing between now and the start of play, I’ll start with the men. I’m breaking down each quarter of the 128 player singles draw. I’ll give my matches to watch, sleepers, and eventual semifinalist from each quarter.

First Quarter: The draw is headed by top seed, world number 1 and 4 time Aussie Open champ Novak Djokovic. A rock solid defender who can get to every ball and hit winners from anywhere, Djokovic has made Aussie land his personal playground over the years. However, poor form including an early loss to big serving Ivo Karlovic in Doha to start the year gives others some hope. Big servers surround the Serb in this quarter including American 21 seed John Isner, who looms in the round of 16, and Canadian 8 seed Milos Raonic. Isner has yet to breakthrough at a major. However, when you serve 140 mph no one wants to play you. The same can be said for Raonic, a Wimbledon semifinalist last year.

Matches to watch: Unseeded home crowd favorite Lleyton Hewitt starts vs a Chinese qualifier. Hewitt, a former multi time major champ and world number 1 will try to turn back the clock for one more good run down under in what could be his last Aussie Open.

It is great to see former U.S. open winner Juan Martin Del Potro back after a year of wrist issues. The big hitting Argentine starts against Jerzy Janowicz of Poland.

Sleeper: Isner.

Semifinalist: Isner (d Raonic in QFs). That’s right I like the American to wreck the draw and beat Djokovic in round 4. It is now or never for him to make a real run at a major.

Second Quarter: This section is wide open. 3 seed and defending champ Stan Wawrinka leads it. I love his game, a big serve and stunning one-handed backhand. The pressure of defending a major could eat him alive. However the other seeds here aren’t anything special. 9 seed David Ferrer is a pit bull who is tough for anyone to play, he could provide some resistance in the quarters, as could 9th seeded U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori.

Matches to watch: Former top 10 player Nicolas Almagro is a real threat to Nishikori in round 1.

Sleepers: Veteran American Sam Querrey won’t go deep, but could win a couple rounds.

Semifinalist :(nervously) Wawrinka (d. Ferrer in QFs)

Third quarter: 3 seed Rafa Nadal is the story here. He’s played just a handful of matches since the summer, due to a litany of injuries. He now claims he’s healthy, but no one really knows, including the 14-time major winner himself. He got an ok draw. His first match against veteran Russian Mikhail Youzhny will be his toughest early on. Youzhny has had success against Rafa in the past. Other seeds here include 7th seeded big hitting Czech Thomas Berdych and his compatriot Lukas Rosol, seeded 28th and always dangerous.

Sleepers: None

Matches to watch: Hot and cold 11 seed Ernests Gulbis vs. Aussie wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis who has a bright future.

Semifinalist: Berdych (d. Nadal in QFs)

Fourth Quarter: 2 time major champ Andy Murray and all time major title Roger Federer lead this loaded section. This may be Fed’s last best chance to win another major. Murray has rebuilt nicely this last year or so. Other seeds here include Maria Sharapova’s love interest, 10th seeded Grigor Dimitrov and big serving veteran Ivo Karlovic. Murray is slowly getting back to his best, but this is a death draw. Federer’s net game will be the difference in this section.

Matches to watch: Rising Aussie star Nick Kyrgios starting vs. lefty Fredrico Delbonis

Sleepers: Kyrgios

Semifinalist: Federer (d. Dimitrov in QFs)

Semifinals: Wawrinka d. Isner Federer d. Berdych

Final: Federer d. Wawrinka