In youth we learn; in age we understand. – Marie Ebner-Eschenbach
Even with the unfortunate absence of Venus Williams from this year’s Australian Open, the 2012 Women’s Singles event will be something of a referendum on which way the WTA is headed. Will the veteran players once again prove experience is the key to winning a Major or will a young player with a ’90 in their birth date show that a new generation is ready to dominate the game? Add in a battle for the No. 1 ranking and you have the makings of a memorable fortnight in Melbourne.
What of Caroline Wozniacki, born July 1990, who still holds on to her top ranking at least until the end of the month? Her semifinal run last year proved she’s got what it takes to possibly go all the way, but a wrist injury suffered in Sydney could hamper her quest for her first Major title along with a stiff side of the draw that might see her facing either Jelena Jankovic or young American Christina McHale who beat the Dane in Cincinnati. But it’s the other possible fourth round encounter between Kim Clijsters and Li Na, a rematch of last year’s final, that everyone is hoping for. Clijsters has indicated that this will likely be her last trip to Melbourne while the Chinese star has finally shown more of the stellar form that won her the French Open. Whoever wins that clash of veterans will be for many a sentimental favorite if they should meet Wozniacki in the quarterfinals, even if they already own what the current No. 1 doesn’t possess on her tennis resume.
A lot has been expected of Victoria Azarenka for some time. Perhaps too much too soon. 2011 saw the volatile “Vika” display a more measured, focused side that allowed her to reach her first Major semi at Wimbledon. With a decent draw this time, Azarenka is expected to plow through the early rounds until she could meet last year’s AO heroine Francesca Schiavone who again proved nothing is impossible especially if you play a near five-hour match and then come out the next day and almost beat the World No.1 Despite all of Schiavone’s guile, expect Agnieszka Radwanska to face Azarenka in the quarters. “Aggie” has been hyped beyond belief lately as being due to reach her first Major semi, but does she have the belief that Azarenka now possesses? Bottom line – youth should prevail on this side of the draw.
Despite her recent comments that she doesn’t love tennis, Serena Williams is back in Melbourne and it would be hard pressed not to pick the 30-year old veteran to reach another Major semi. She could meet Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round, but more likely Serena’s opponent will be the pride of Estonia, Kaia Kanepi, who after making a big splash at Wimbledon two years ago, appears to have found her hard-hitting game once again as evidenced by Kanepi blowing out the field in Brisbane. If Williams weathers that encounter, she might meet Maria Sharapova in the quarters, but with Sharapova’s ankle injury still a concern, it could well be Sabine Lisicki, fellow German Angelique Kerber or a resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova that squares off against the five-time AO champ. Serena might have a lot of interests outside the sport, but what she loves most is proving everyone wrong, especially on the tennis court.
All eyes (literally) will be on Sam Stosur as she tries to win her first AO title. Despite her U.S. Open success, the Australian summer swing proved once again to be too much off a pressure cooker of expectation that saw Stosur lose early in Brisbane and Sydney. Stosur, on paper at least, was given an easy enough draw in the early rounds that should help her find her range until she could meet Nadia Petrova who battled Stosur for three long sets in New York. But watch out for Marion Bartoli who could prove the spoiler to a nation’s hopes of having an Aussie champ. And if that isn’t a stern enough test for the Queensland native, she could then meet No. 2 seed Petra Kvitova, who took her out in the third round last year. Kvitova will be dealing with her own added pressure of trying to reach No. 1, but even with the likes of Ana Ivanovic and Maria Kirilenko in her draw, it’s hard not to see Kvitova reaching the quarters. Stosur might have an entire nation on her side, but the young Kvitova seemingly has destiny on hers, and that could be enough to postpone Australia’s hopes to award an Aussie the title, at least for another year.
Experience proved to be the deciding factor last year for the WTA, not only at Melbourne but also for the majority of the season with veteran players winning three out of the four Majors. The lone exception was a young woman from Fulnek, Czech Republic who is still getting used to all of the attention of possibly being the next No. 1, something she could still achieve and not win the AO. Wozniacki herself can hang onto No. 1 so long as she stays in the event longer than Kvitova. Perhaps it would be fitting then for both to meet in the final to decide it all. A long shot perhaps, especially with all of the veteran talent in the field. But as experience taught us from watching the WTA all last year, sometimes a player comes of age, no matter what numbers their birthdate contains, just when you least expect it.