MELBOURNE: Betting against one of the ‘Big Four’ lifting the Australian Open men’s crown would be foolhardy, but you’d need a crystal ball to predict the outcome of the women’s draw.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have exerted a stranglehold over the men’s game, winning 30 grand slams between them with a hungry Andy Murray lurking just behind them in the rankings.
In sharp contrast, the top three female players have a combined total of just one slam and last year there were four different champions in tennis’s blue riband events, as the women’s game waits for its next big thing.
The women’s draw is one of the most open in years and adding to the sense of uncertainty in Melbourne are recent injuries to superstars Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams, who share 17 major titles but are both outside the top 10.
Belgium’s Clijsters, the 11th seed, is defending champion at the year’s opening grand slam starting Monday, after beating Li Na in the 2011 Melbourne final, before the Chinese player went one step further at the French Open.
Second seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic won on grass at Wimbledon and Australia’s Samantha Stosur took the US Open title, upsetting home favourite Williams in the September 11 final in New York.
The name missing from the 2011 list of winners is top seed Caroline Wozniacki, yet to win her first grand slam, whose world number one ranking is under imminent threat from rising star Kvitova.
The two rivals have already clashed this year, with Kvitova of the Czech Republic winning in three sets at the mixed-teams Hopman Cup in Perth, which does not carry ranking points.
Wozniacki, who has a high-profile relationship with golf superstar Rory McIlroy, will be anxious to seal her maiden grand slam and silence critics who say she cannot be considered the world’s best without winning a major.
“Obviously every time you go into a tournament you want to try to win it. Yeah, I want to try to win here. We’ll see if that will happen,” said the Dane.
Kvitova, the breakout player of 2011 with six titles including Wimbledon and the WTA Championships, plus Fed Cup glory with the Czech Republic, said many players were in the mix.
Regardless of her relatively lowly seeding of 12th, five-time Australian Open winner Williams, still the biggest draw in the women’s game, remains a major threat to the likes of Wozniacki and Kvitova.