Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesFebruary 1, 2010
With 16 nations competing in Fed Cup action this week, the women of the WTA Tour will be looking ahead to the Open GDF SUEZ in Paris starting on Feb. 9 and the prestigious Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships on Feb. 15.
Several big names including Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Yanina Wickmayer, Francesca Schiavone, and Virginie Razzano are scheduled to compete in both.
With these Premier-tier events carrying a higher purse and more ranking points than the coinciding International events in Thailand, Tennessee, and Colombia, expect fewer top 16 players to make the cut in the next edition of the power rankings.
Looking at what has transpired in the early weeks of 2010, it comes as no real surprise that the top eight women in the power rankings were the eight quarterfinalists at the Australian Open. With just five tournaments so far in the calendar year, the AO takes precedence both as the biggest tournament of the year as well as the most recent.
Here's a look at how the rankings have shaped up through January.
1) Serena Williams (WTA ranking 1)
Williams stands alone at the top of the power rankings, and there's every indication to think she could be here a while. She improved to 34-2 at the Australian Open since 2001 with her win over Justine Henin on Saturday, and she has not lost in a semifinal or final at Melbourne Park.
Victories over Victoria Azarenka, Na Li, and Henin were considerably harder than anything she faced in the first week of the tournament, and she showed a combination of determination, patience, and raw ability in each of her last three contests.
After a strong run to the final in Sydney two weeks ago, Williams has started 2010 well. She will be the stand out seed in Paris next Tuesday, with only Elena Dementieva really standing in her way of another romp. There are only three of the world's top 16 women taking part, so a rematch of the Sydney finals looks likely on the hard indoor court at the Open GDF SUEZ.
2) Justine Henin (No WTA ranking)
Because of the emphasis a Grand Slam has on the power rankings, Henin debuts back at No. 2. I'm not saying she will be there all year, but it's hard to argue with her impressive start to the year.
Two tournaments, two trophies, two finals defeats. She is already 8-2 against players in the top 32 this calendar year, and she looked in breathtaking form against Dementieva and Wickmayer in Melbourne and against Nadia Petrova and Ana Ivanovic in Sydney.
With back-to-back clay court tournaments coming up in South America in two weeks, Henin could keep rolling into March. Then she would only have to weather the storm for another month before the European clay court season kicks off in earnest in early April.
3) Jie Zheng (WTA ranking 20)
Zheng made it into her second Grand Slam semifinal with an inspired run in Melbourne last week. Unseeded Zheng (ranked No. 36) is looking to rediscover the kind of form that propelled her to No. 15 in the world just eight months ago, and a second consecutive trip into the fourth round at the Australian Open does nothing to hinder that progress.
While she was dominated by Justine Henin in Thursday’s semifinal, Zheng has enjoyed a positive start to 2010. She defeated three seeds at Melbourne Park (Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, No. 24; Marion Bartoli, No. 11; and Alone Bondarenko, No. 31) and she served well throughout the tournament.
The 26-year-old also made it to the quarterfinals in Hobart three weeks ago, where she lost to eventual champion Alona Bondarenko 7-5, 7-5.
4) Na Li (WTA ranking 10)
Na Li finally broke into the world’s top 10 with a fantastic Australian Open which saw her push Serena Williams to two tiebreakers in their semifinal last week.
While Li is yet to experience a Grand Slam final, she showed over the last fortnight that she has the skills and temperament to challenge some of the best in the women’s game.
She defeated No. 4 Caroline Wozniacki twice in the space of a week, and she also got the better of both Daniela Hantuchova and Venus Williams on her way to the semis in Melbourne Park.
Li lost to Kaia Kanepi in Auckand at the start of the year and was defeated by Flavia Pennetta in Sydney, but her spot at No. 4 in the power rankings is fueled almost entirely by her Aussie Open successes.
To read about Li making history by becoming the first Chinese player to make the top 10, click here.
5) Victoria Azarenka (WTA ranking 6)
A semifinalist in Sydney and quarterfinalist in Melbourne, Azarenka finds herself in No. 5 which is about right considering she entered the Australian Open as the seventh seed.
The 20-year-old screecher beat two top-32 players in Sabine Lisicki and Dominika Cibulkova in Sydney before falling to eventual champion Dementieva 6-3, 6-1 in the semis.
With a nice amount of momentum going into the Australian Open, Azarenka’s chances of making the second week were improved when her likely third-round opponent Elena Vesnina lost in her opening match to Tathiana Garbin.
Azarenka proceeded to power past Garbin 6-2, 6-0. The Belarusian then showed strength and resilience to claw her way back from a set down against world No. 9 Vera Zvonareva—who she had never previously taken a set off—to book her place in the quarterfinals with Serena Williams.
For what it’s worth, Azarenka should have been battling Na Li for a place in Saturday’s final, but she melted under the intense pressure before being blown away. Azarenka was leading by a set and 4-0, and Serena was on the ropes serving to save a break point. Serena, of course, went on to win the game, the set, and eventually the match.
Azarenka has still not appeared in the final of a Grand Slam and this was her best chance to date. But she’s up here near the top of the power rankings for a reason and, at age 20, there’s every reason to think she will get there soon.
6) Maria Kirilenko (WTA ranking 37)
Don’t expect Kirilenko to stay inside the top 10 of the power rankings for too long. Her charge up to No. 6 here was fueled by a run to the quarterfinals down under which saw her defeat Maria Sharapova and Safina.
Her preparations were not the best for the Australian Open, battered by Shahar Peer in Auckland a fortnight earlier, but a favorable draw allowed her to forge into the last eight.
Take nothing away from Kirilenko, she played well to get as far as she did, but she’s barely a top 50 player anymore and it’s unlikely that she’s going to play in enough of the Premier-tier events over the coming six weeks to earn enough points to stay here. By the time March rolls around, don’t expect to see her inside the top 16.
She normally makes the trip to Dubai, but if past results are anything to go by, an early exit could be on the cards.
7) Nadia Petrova (WTA ranking 19)
Petrova has been a mystery to many fans for years. While she has been a regular fixture of the top 20 for seven years, she has been stuck on a plateau for the last three, never regaining the consistency that lifted her to No. 3 in the world back in 2006 when she won five Tour titles.
That inconsistency has been on show in the first month of the new year. She lost in the first round at Brisbane, as the No. 2 seed, to Justine Henin, and then in the first round of Sydney the following week to unseeded Kimiko Date Krumm.
With few people expecting much from the Russian, she turned in two of the best performances of the tournament: An embarrassing 6-0, 6-1 demolition of Kim Clijsters in the third round and a spirited three-set victory over world No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova in round four. If it wasn’t for too many unforced errors in her quarterfinal matchup with Henin, Petrova might have been on her way to the final.
8) Venus Williams (WTA ranking 5)
Venus should really be sitting pretty at No. 4, but she snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Na Li in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
Up a set and 5-4, Williams had a chance to serving for the match, but she was unable to come through. In a match that was strewn with errors, the American had numerous chances, both in the second set and the third, to see off Li, but she was found lacking every time she tried to consolidate the break.
There is something missing from Williams’ game right now, and it seems as much mental as it does physical. If she sits out Paris as is expected, she will have a chance to climb back up the rankings in Dubai in two weeks’ time.
9) Alona Bondarenko (WTA ranking 26)
Bondarenko has had a nice start to the year, winning in Hobert a fortnight ago and making it through to the fourth round of the Australian Open.
She defeated the top two seeds in Anabel Medina Garrigues and Peer on her way to claiming the title at the Moorilla International, and she followed it up with her best ever performance at a Grand Slam.
Whether she pushes ahead to crack the top 20 like she did in 2008 or slips out of the world’s 32 will remain to be seen, but she has proven early on that she deserves her spot inside this top 10 based on her early hard court successes.
She looked impressive in her third round match against No. 8 Jelena Jankovic at the Australian Open and only a barrage of unforced errors slowed down her progress against Jie Zheng when she was fighting for a place in the quarterfinals.
Had she beaten Zheng, we could have been looking at a top five spot in the power rankings. As is it, 8-1 is still a pretty nice way to start the season.
10) Yanina Wickmayer (WTA ranking 15)
Wickmayer has had a rollercoaster start to 2010, but her run down under is good enough for a place in the top 10.
Wickmayer won the ASB Classic in Auckland at the start of the New Year, but she was forced to enter the qualifying tournament for the Australian Open because of legal problems.
In November she was given a one-year ban by the Flemish Anti-doping for apparently failing to comply with rules about making herself available for drug-testing.
Even though a civil court overruled the verdict, the decision came too late for her to enter the Australian Open as a seed. When she was refused a wild card spot, Wickmayer had to go through qualifying.
After losing the first set of her first qualifying match to unseeded Yurika Sema of Japan, there were doubts about whether she would even make the main draw. But she cruised through the rest of the pre-tournament tournament dropping just one game, and eventually made it through to the fourth round of the Grand Slam.
She was ranked 15th in the world before the tournament and her run this fortnight won’t do anything to harm that. She is banging on the door of the top 10 and she could be there by the summer. She is the No. 3 seed in Paris next week, so another strong run to the semifinals looks possible.
11) Dinara Safina (WTA ranking 2)
Safina will no doubt climb back into the top 10 by the end of the month, but for now she’s stuck on the outside looking in.
She had to pull out of the season-opening event in Brisbane with a lower back injury and then lost in the quarterfinals in Sydney to eventual winner Dementieva.
Things were not ideal heading into the Australian Open, but she had a lot of reasons to be positive. She would not have to meet another seed until the third round, or another top 10 player until the quarterfinals. When Elena Baltacha beat No. 30 Kateryna Bondarenko, the prospect of facing a seed in round three became moot.
Things were progressing nicely for Safina. Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova had been eliminated, and a fourth-round clash with unseeded Zheng awaited her if she could overcome Maria Sharapova’s slayer, Maria Kirilenko.
But a back injury forced a teary-eyed Safina off the court in the closing moments of the first set. We’ll never know how far she could have gone or whether she would have been able to avenge last year’s humiliating final’s defeat, but keep a close eye on her in Dubai to see if the problems linger on.
12) Elena Dementieva (WTA ranking 7)
Oh Elena! You have to wonder just who is conspiring against the Russian, who dropped from fifth to seventh in the WTA rankings, released today.
After beating five top players, including No. 2 Safina in the quarterfinals, No. 7 Azarenka in the semifinals, and No. 1 Serena Williams in the final (all in straight sets) in Sydney, things were going well.
She was ranked No. 5 in Melbourne and should have been relatively safe from an early-round upset. Then the draw got released three days before the tournament, and things weren’t quite so rosy for the 28-year-old.
Placed in the worst quarter of the draw, Dementieva would have to likely go through unseeded Justine Henin and one of either Flavia Pennetta, Wickmayer, or Virginie Razzano—all top-20 players—to even make the quarterfinals.
Dementieva was unable to get past Henin in round two. It was incredibly unlucky to get drawn against the most dangerous floater in the draw that early, but with Dementieva scheduled to play Dubai and Kuala Lumpur after Paris this month, expect her to be in the top 10 within the fortnight.
13) Francesca Schiavone (WTA ranking 18)
Schiavone is one of only three players inside the top 16 in this edition of the power rankings to have played in three tournaments this year (Li and Peer are the others) and that is what keeps her ahead of Kuznetsova.
She looked impressive in the first three matches of the year in Auckland until she looked out of her depth against Flavia Pennetta, and she almost took Dementieva to a third set in the first round in Sydney.
It would be wrong to say she overachieved in Melbourne when she defeated Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-2, although she did blow hot and cold throughout the tournament, much as she has done in 2010.
Consistency is a big part in tennis and you never really know which Schiavone will turn up: the one that dropped the opening set in her first-round match to Alize Cornet 6-0, or the one that looked like a top-10 player in the first half of her fourth-round match with Venus.
A solid run in Paris, where she is the No. 4 seed, will do nothing but help her confidence heading into the UAE.
14) Svetlana Kuznetsova (WTA ranking 4)
Kuznetsova has not had the greatest start to the new decade, and she finds herself outside the top 10 in the power rankings as a result. An unexpected second-round loss to Dominika Cibulkova, her only defeat to the Slovakian in four matches, in Sydney was not the greatest preparation for Melbourne, but pundits still expected to see her deep into the second week of the Slam.
Kutnetsova found her groove early against unseeded Anastasia Rodionova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkovain the first two rounds, but she struggled at times in her three-set win over Angelique Kerber.
She ran into scorching hot Petrova in the fourth round, and she was unable to hang on to the Russian’s coat tails when she ran away in the third set.
If Kuznetsova rests until Dubai, expect her to fall out of the top 16 here completely.
15) Shahar Peer (WTA ranking 22)
A win in the fourth round against Caroline Wozniacki would have been good enough to lift Peer up six spots to No. 9 on the power rankings chart, but instead she is fighting to hold onto her top-16 ranking.
She has won nine matches on the Tour in this calendar year which makes her one of the most successful in 2010 in terms of victories. Of course, she has played in three competitions, but still, it’s impressive to show consistency.
She made it to the semifinals of Auckland where she lost to eventual winner Wickmayer and she was runner-up in Hobart seven days later to Alona Bondarenko. While she then cruised through her early round matchups in Melbourne, she had no reply for the talented Wozniacki who blasted her off the court in one hour 20 minutes.
She’s a top 32 player, but she’ll need to step up her game to match the big hitters if she wants to challenge for a top 16 world ranking. A jump from 28 to 22 in today's rankings shows she is a serious contender.
16) Caroline Wozniacki (WTA ranking 3)
Wozniacki moves up a place in the WTA rankings despite a fairly disappointing start to the year for the Dane. She has won just three matches this season, and she lost twice to Na Li in the round of 32 in both Sydney and Melbourne.
Dubai is likely the next stop on the Tour for Wozniacki, so expect her to slip out of the top 16 after Paris but return by the end of the month.
On the bubble: Vera Zvonareva, Sam Stosur, Kim Clijsters, Flavia Pennetta, Sara Errani, Daniela Hantuchova.