Australian Open preview roundtable
SI.com's tennis experts take a look into the crystal ball ahead of the 2013 Australian Open, bringing you picks and predictions for what to expect in Melbourne.
Dark horses to watch
Li Na should go into Melbourne believing in her partnership with Carlos Rodriguez and what he's done to give her a winning mentality. She started the year on a nine-match win streak after capturing the title in Shenzhen and then losing in the Sydney semifinals, a blessing in disguise. The loss will give her more rest before she plays Monday. A finalist in 2011, Li has played well in Melbourne over the last few years, coming within a point of defeating Kim Clijsters in the fourth round last year in a nightmare draw.
And if she's healthy, Brit Laura Robson is going to make noise. Not enough to win, not yet, but plenty enough to make her a new star -- and Britain, at least, a nation on the rise.
For the women, Sloane Stephens has gotten so much these past few weeks, can she still be a dark horse? If not, how about Madison Keys? The American doesn't turn 18 until February but rides a wave of momentum into Melbourne. She booked a spot in the main draw via the USTA wildcard-a-thon in December. Last week, she qualified for Sydney and then took out Lucie Safarova in straight sets. What's that? There are talented players worth watching who
Top players to crash out early
I thought Kvitova would turn the page and come into 2013 in resurgent form, but she lost early in both of her warm-up events to eventual finalists. She doesn't look that much fitter. Her movement is sluggish, and she hasn't been able to get enough matches to get her timing down. She opens against feisty 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone and then possibly another lefthander in Laura Robson in the second round before a surging a Stephens in the third. I just don't see Kvitova getting very far.
Berdych gives new meaning to the voguish tennis word "erratic." When you are prepared to count him out, he suddenly looks like a world beater -- say, beating Federer at a major, something he has done twice. When it looks like he's about to turn the corner and max out his considerable talent, suddenly, he walks into the wall. When we last left Berdych, he was leading the Czechs to Davis Cup glory. Which -- if history is our guide -- means that the he's due to backslide.
And the winners are ...
Since that ghastly opening-round loss to Virginie Razzano at the French Open, Serena has won 35 of 36 matches with titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics, the U.S. Open and the year-end championships. A decade after completing the "Serena Slam" in Melbourne, Williams is the odds-on favorite to win her sixth Australian Open and become the oldest woman to hold No. 1. But Azarenka is the defending champion -- and still smarting from her come-from-ahead loss to Serena in the U.S. Open final. Look for Vika to resolve that unfinished business against Serena in a five-star semifinal en route to a second straight Oz crown.
We keep hearing that this is the year that the ATP "B-teamers" will ascend. Del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Berdych, David Ferrer, Raonic. They have to prove it first. Until then, how do you pick against the A-team? Murray won the previous hardcourt Slam and now competes free of the cumbersome never-won-a-Slam label. But Djokovic, ranked No.1, is a three-time winner in Australia and is going for a second successful defense. Says here he gets it.