Sunday January 15th, 2012

Caroline Wozniacki

Caroline Wozniacki may be looking up in the rankings after the Aussie Open. (Paul Miller/EPA)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Some final pre-tournament thoughts hours before the start of the Australian Open ...

Who’s No. 1?: The WTA’s top ranking is up for grabs again. Caroline Wozniacki has five players nipping at her heels. Depending on the results, Petra Kvitova (who missed an opportunity to overtake Wozniacki at last week's Sydney International), Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Samantha Stosur and Agnieszka Radwanska all have a chance of walking away with the No. 1 ranking in two weeks. If the Dane loses before the third round she'll relinquish the top spot, a significant amount of pressure for a player who didn't exactly inspire confidence during her practice session Sunday. Word is that she's still feeling pain in her left wrist, which affects her backhand, easily her best shot. If Wozniacki advances past the third round, she needs to do better than Kvitova in order to keep her ranking. The good news for Wozniacki is that Kvitova has not distinguished herself on outdoor hardcourts in the last several months.

All signs are go: Despite the rash of injuries leading into the tournament, it sounds as though the top players are ready to play. Rafael Nadal (shoulder), Roger Federer (back), Serena Williams (ankle), Kim Clijsters (hip) and Maria Sharapova (ankle) have all expressed confidence in their physical condition. With the Grand Slam format allowing for a day's rest between each match, they'll have additional time to recuperate. While it wouldn't be surprising if any suffer complications as the tournament progresses, for now the assumption is that they're healthy. That's the best news coming into the week.

Whither the weather: The Australian tune-up events have experienced unseasonably cool weather, which is great for spectators, but it means that players haven't had a chance to test themselves under the brutal heat that the summer can bring here. The forecast calls for a big jump in temperatures the first week, which could be quite a shock to the system for many. For some who have historically suffered in extreme conditions (I'm looking at you, Kvitova, Djokovic and Azarenka), this could be a major concern.

Are you not entertained?: Li Na commanded the microphone last year on her way to the finals, debuting the perfect balance of unassuming wit, honesty and charm. Who will be the breakout star this year? With the always-reliable Andrea Petkovic out with a back injury, who can we count on to give entertaining quotes? Serena is always interesting, Clijsters verbosely thoughtful, and most others reliable for a good, if not dry or clichéd quote. Given her draw, my money is on Svetlana Kuznetsova’s becoming the press-room star. She's a veteran but she has never been one to skew toward boring with the media. • Drama major: How much of the Australian Open will be defined by off-court storylines? Some of it is of the fun variety, such as Adam Scott being in attendance for Ana Ivanovic's matches, or the budding romance between Jurgen Melzer and Iveta Benesova, or spotting members of the Minogue family in the stands. Some of it is pure curiosity: How much traction will the protest against Margaret Court's anti-gay rights rhetoric get? Will fans really show up in numbers to display rainbow flags on Margaret Court Arena, or was it a lot of talk and no action? Meanwhile, some of the off-court intrigue will now center on a rift between Nadal and Federer over Nadal’s recent critical comments about his longtime rival’s lack of support in Tour issues. What do the other veterans, like Andy Roddick, think about it? Stay tuned.

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