The oldest player to ever rank No. 1 is also the clear favorite starting Monday in Melbourne.
Thirty-two year old Serena Williams will start her 2014 Australian Open campaign against Aussie wildcard Ashleigh Barty in a top section of the draw that sees, if not some challenge, then certainly some colorful names.
Serena’s exit out of the top quarter into the semis would likely also go through No. 31 seed Daniela Hantuchova, then No. 14 Ana Ivanovic or No. 17 Sam Stosur, and in the quarters possibly the fast-rising No. 30 seed Eugenie Bouchard.
Also floating in the top quarter are American teen Madison Keys, Brit Laura Robson who has been battling a wrist injury, and the under-achieving big-hitting German Julia “Gorgeous” Goerges.
No. 4 seed Li Na heads the second quarter, joined by the mercurial No. 6 seed Petra Kvitova. Throw in No. 9 Angie Kerber and unseeded former No. 1 Venus Williams, and this is anyones quarter.
Venus starts against the No. 22 seeded Ekaterina Makarova, and No. 23 Elena Vesnina has a tough start against hot-handed American Alison Riske. Depending upon Venus’ fitness level and her ongoing battle with chronic fatigue, the American could be up to arranging a fourth round meeting with Li, with Kvitova looming for the winner.
The third quarter should be all about No. 3 seed Maria Sharapova. The Russian-American opens against American upset specialist Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who has struggled with injury entering Melbourne. After that her likely path of opponents would be Italian Karin Knapp, No. 25 Alize Cornet, No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova, and in the quarters either former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic or No. 11 Simona Halep.
Not exactly muderer’s row.
Floaters in the third quarter include Andrea Petkovic starting against No. 32 Maggie Rybarikova, and the No. 20 Cibulkova starting against former French Open champ Francesca Schiavone.
The bottom quarter will be all about No. 2 Victoria Azarenka’s quest for another shot at Serena after losing in an Aussie Open warm-up event.
The Belarussian starts against Swede Johanna Larsson, with a road to the semifinals likely including Su-Wei Hsieh, No. 27-seeded American Jamie Hampton, No. 13 Sloane Stephens or No. 19 Svetlana Kuznetsova, then in the quarters the wily No. 5 seed Aggie Radwanska.
Other threats in the bottom quarter include No. 24 Kaia Kanepi, and Yaroslava Shvedova who could give the No. 13 Stephens problems if the American come out with butterflies in her opener.
In the semis let’s go with Serena d. Kerber and Sharapova d. Azarenka, and in the final…wait for it…wait for it…Serena d. Maria, with no hug after the handshake.
See you in Oz.
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