Heading into the 2013 Australian Open the No. 1 ranking spot in the WTA is once again going to be up for grabs. As things stand, Victoria Azarenka is at the top of the pile following a superb 2012 season, but Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are both ready and waiting to take over from the Belarusian. Here’s a run-down of the prospects of the three competitors.
Victoria Azarenka – Rank 1 – Points 10595
Vika is out in front by over 500 points but this won’t necessarily count for a huge amount in Melbourne. As the defending champion she can only lose points or remain on the same total. This wouldn’t be a concern if Azarenka was miles ahead of the rest of the field, but Sharapova and Serena are both breathing down her neck and are likely to take over if she falls early.
We all know that Azarenka is capable of great things. Her hardcourt slam results were the best in the WTA last year and she came within a whisker of winning the US Open. The significance of that outcome is that she was agonisingly close to beating Serena in a final on one of the four biggest stages in world tennis.
However, whilst Vika came close in Flushing Meadows she didn’t manage to test Serena as much at the WTA Championships in Istanbul. The American seems to have a hold over her and this could be her toughest challenge to overcome. If this isn’t enough, Azarenka also has an infected toe to deal with right now, which could derail her title bid.
Maria Sharapova – Rank 2 – Points – 10045
As last year’s runner-up, Sharapova will also need to produce some great performances in order to improve on her ranking situation. Last year the Russian played superbly throughout the tournament before capitulating in the final. She went on to win the French Open in 2012 though, so it seems unfair to read too much into this. Masha isn’t what you’d call a choker.
Unfortunately, Sharapova’s chances also appear to have been hampered by injury. She had to pull out of the Premier tier Brisbane International at the beginning of the season due to a collarbone injury and her first match of the year will be in round one at Melbourne. This could turn out to be an issue for the Russian.
Whilst her preparations have not been ideal, Sharapova cannot be ruled out at this stage. She’s one of the most dedicated players on the tour and won’t need long to shake off the rust.
Serena Williams – Rank 3 – Points – 9750
After making a fourth round exit last season Serena has a major opportunity to pick up some points. 2000 are on offer for the winner and she only has 280 to defend. Heading into the tournament she’s won the last two slams, picked up two Olympic golds and won the season-ending WTA Championships. She’s undeniably the player to beat right now.
On hardcourts there are few who can test the world No. 3. Her serve is arguably the biggest in the WTA and her attacking game is usually devastating. Unforced errors can creep in on occasion but more often than not the American is a class above the rest of her peers.
If she doesn’t take the lead here there’s always the French Open. Serena suffered a shock loss against Virginie Razzano last year at Roland Garros and her points total is likely to rocket after her return.
My prediction is that Serena will return to the top of the pile at the end of the Melbourne fortnight. After last year’s French Open slip up she’ll be wary of complacency and harder to beat than ever.
Ian Horne writes for Live-Tennis.com, an award-winning tennis, news and live stream website.