Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - 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
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
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
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
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
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