At the Net: 'Big Three' should produce another Aussie champ

3:13 PM, Jan 7, 2014   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA ( - It's Grand Slam time again, and that can mean only one thing ... Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka or possibly Maria Sharapova is about to win big.

The "Big Three" have dominated at the majors over the last few years, especially the amazing Serena, who is at 17 Grand Slam singles titles and counting. The 32-year-old superstar has won half of the last eight majors, including last year's U.S. and French Open titles.

The reigning world No. 1 is an Open Era-record five-time Aussie Open champ, with her last title coming back in 2010 (and she's missed the Aussie on four occasions due to injuries).

Note: Serena is an unblemished 5-0 in Aussie Open finals.

One more Grand Slam title would move Serena into a tie with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for second place on the women's Open Era list with 18 major championships.

The 11-time 2013 WTA titlist is already off to a fast start in 2014, having beaten her top rival Azarenka in a final in Brisbane last week.

Meanwhile, the former No. 1 Azarenka thinks she's the woman to beat in Melbourne, where she's captured the last two titles, having topped China's Li Na in last year's final and her fellow former No. 1 Sharapova in the 2012 title bout.

The 24-year-old Vika has appeared in four of the last eight Grand Slam finals, going 2-2, with both losses coming at the hands of Serena at the last two U.S. Opens. The Belarusian star reached the final four in three of the four Slams in each of the last two years.

Sharapova is on the mend from a season-shortening shoulder injury last year and now working with a new coach in Sven Groeneveld. Unfortunately, she succumbed to Serena in a tight semifinal at that Aussie Open tune-up in Brisbane last week.

The uber-competitive Maria, like Serena, is a career Grand Slam champion, including an Aussie Open title in 2008. The Russian superstar has reached at least the semifinals in seven of her last 10 majors, including a French Open title in 2012, and has appeared in the final in four of her last nine Slams. Talk about consistency.

Sharapova was last year's French Open runner-up to Serena and an Aussie finalist as recently as 2012, when she lost to Azarenka. The 26-year-old Russian has reached at least the semis in six of her 10 trips to Melbourne Park.

Unfortunately, again, for Sharapova, she's a dismal 2-15 lifetime against Serena, with her last win coming 10 long years ago in Los Angeles. Serena is 2-0 in their Aussie Open encounters and 4-1 overall in their Grand Slam matchups. And the tall Russian is 6-7 versus Azarenka, who prevailed in their Aussie final clash two years ago. Azarenka is 2-1 in their lifetime major meetings, but Sharapova won their last one in a semi at last year's French.

Note: Serena, Azarenka and Sharapova have accounted for six of the last seven and eight of the last 11 Aussie champs.

The aforementioned Li was last year's runner-up to Azarenka and also reached an Aussie Open final in 2011, which means the '11 French Open champ has appeared in two of the last three finals in Oz. Can she reach yet another final and hope that "the third time's the charm"? We'll see.

The world No. 4 Li, who opened her 2014 campaign with a title in Shenzhen in her native China last week, has reached at least the semis in Melbourne in three of her last four trips.

How 'bout Agnieszka Radwanska? The fifth-ranked Pole is arguably the best active player without a major title (see also Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki). The 24-year-old 2012 Wimbledon runner-up reached the quarterfinals in her last three treks to the 'Bourne, but has typically had trouble advancing beyond that round at the Slams. She's actually appeared in only two career Grand Slam semis, at the last two Wimbledons.

Petra Kvitova should be in the mix Down Under. The best women's lefty on the planet is a former Wimbledon champ and was an Aussie semifinalist just two years ago. The formidable Czech was disappointing at the majors last season, however, failing to get past the third round at three of the four Slams and bowing out in the quarterfinals at Wimby. This after a stretch from 2011 to 2012 when she reached at least the semis in three-of-four majors, including the big Wimbledon win in '11.

The women's Top 10 is rounded out by former French Open runner-up Sara Errani, Jelena Jankovic, German lefty Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki. None of these women will run the table in Melbourne, but don't be surprised if all four reach the second week. Jankovic is a former U.S. Open runner-up who reached the Aussie semis in 2008, while the her fellow former world No. 1 and fellow former U.S. Open finalist Wozniacki was an Aussie semifinalist in 2011.

Are there any dark horses among the women? Possibly surging Romanian Simona Halep or American Sloane Stephens, who shocked Serena in last year's Aussie quarters. Halep quietly piled up six WTA titles last year, but played poorly at the majors, with a fourth-round loss in New York, a second-round setback at Wimbledon, and a pair of first-round losses at the Aussie and French Opens.

Notes: The last Aussie woman to win it all at her home Slam was Chris O'Neil in 1978. Aussie women have had only one finalist since then -- Wendy Turnbull in 1980.

How can I pick anyone other than Serena to title in Oz in two weeks? Barring an unusual circumstance, it should be Aussie crown No. 6 for the powerful American.

Sorry, Vika.

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