January 12, 2011

The Survivors

It's been a crazy couple of weeks in Australia for tennis stars, with some of sport's elite struggling to get their footing just ahead of the Australian Open. But while some sort of upset-bug seems to be claiming so many of their peers, a few ladies have stayed focused and still have their eyes on the prize.

The women's draw at the Medibank International boasted a solid roster of talent with seven of the top ten athletes -- twelve of the top twenty -- entered in the action. But almost immediately the seeds began to drop. Francesca Schiavone and Jelena Jankovic lost their first round matches while Caroline Wozniacki, Vera Zvonareva and Sam Stosur all failed to get out of the second round. And now with only four players left, we're starting to see who might be the real threat in Melbourne.

Na Li, the eighth seed in Sydney, has battled through some tough matches -- she lost sets to both Virginie Razzano and Svetlana Kuznetsova before advancing. The diminutive Chinese has been a bit quiet recently, making a mark at really only one tournament in the back half of 2010, but let's not forget her inspiring run to the Australian semis last year. She had powered through Caroline and stunned Venus Williams before taking Serena to two tiebreakers in defeat. She might fly under the radar, but the twenty-eight year old vet certainly has the talent to again advance deep into the draw.

More center-stage is Kim Clijsters, the top seed remaining in Sydney. She's only lost a handful of games this week, and is the clear-cut favorite to take the title. Of course, this might not mean much -- after winning Brisbane last year, she went on the suffer an uncharacteristic, and somewhat embarrassing, drubbing in Melbourne. I doubt that will be the case this time around, though, as the 2010 U.S. Open and Doha champion is producing some of the most accurate and powerful shots on tour. As long as she stays healthy, you have to count her as one of the favorites for another Major.

It's never easy to stay calm when you see so much frenetic action going on around you, but both Li and Clijsters have kept their heads while so many others have seemed to lose theirs this week.

And with the Australian Open beginning in just a few days, it couldn't happen at a better time.

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