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Beyond the Baseline

Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki among players with slow starts to 2014

Petra Kvitova lost in the first  round of the Australian Open to No. 88 Luksika Kumkhum. (Andrew Brownbill/AP) Petra Kvitova lost in the first round of the Australian Open to No. 88 Luksika Kumkhum. (Andrew Brownbill/AP)

We're six weeks into the season, providing a good vantage point to analyze which players have started slowly. Here are three prominent WTA players who fit that category:

Petra Kvitova: The surprising part about Kvitova's slow start is the fact that she ended 2013 on a strong note. After a disappointing third-round loss to Alison Riske at the U.S. Open, Kvitova made the semifinals or better in her final three tournaments of the season. She was on her way to getting fitter during the offseason as well, having paired with a new trainer.

Instead of staying on that upward trajectory, she lost to No. 107 Tsvetana Pironkova in the semifinals of the season-opening Sydney International and fell to No. 88 Luksika Kumkhum in the first round of the Australian Open. Both losses left Kvitova reeling after what she says was a productive offseason. She has now gone seven straight Grand Slams without making it past the quarterfinals, but the WTA's swing through the Middle East could kick-start her season. She is set to play the Qatar Open and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships over the next two weeks.

Caroline Wozniacki: The Dane fell out of the top 10 after early losses at the Sydney International and Australian Open, where she was knocked out by Spanish youngster Garbine Muguruza in the third round. A preseason shoulder injury might help explain the losses, but her decision to part ways with new coach Thomas Hogstedt after just three months seems to indicate there was more to those results than just injury.

In the meantime, she's hired Danish coach Michael Mortensen, who coached Li Na to her 2011 French Open title. The spring hard-court season is vital for Wozniacki to climb back into the top 10. It's her best surface and she can't expect to earn too many points when the tour returns to Europe for the clay and grass season.

Victoria Azarenka: Azarenka came into Melbourne as the two-time defending champion, but was stunned by Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals. Now, she's reportedly suffering from a foot injury that forced her to withdraw from the Qatar Open and Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. That means Azarenka will slip to at least No. 3, allowing Li Na to rise to the No. 2 spot. She won't have a chance to regain her ranking until she returns to competition in March at Indian Wells, Calif.

The big question surrounding Azarenka is her health. Injuries have hampered her the last two years, and despite playing only 14 tournaments in 2013, she struggled with fatigue to end the season. The fact that she managed to hang onto the No. 2 ranking is a huge credit to her talent when she can play injury-free. But the complexion of the WTA changes immensely if Azarenka isn't routinely in the mix. She's the only legitimate threat to consistently challenge a healthy Serena Williams on hard court, and without her routinely challenging the American, the tour loses some of its edge.
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