Who’s Really at the Top of the Women’s Game?
Who should we be backing in the upcoming tourneys for our Tennis Picks?
Serena Williams sits at the top of the rankings largely because of the astounding run which saw her pick up the final two Slams of 2012 along with a few Masters titles and even an Olympic gold medal – just for good measure.
But 2013 didn’t start off in the best way for the 31-year-old American and a shock-exit in the quarter-finals meant that Victoria Azarenka had a clear path through to the final and ultimately her second Melbourne title in succession.
For me, Serena has always been able to turn it on in the matches that truly matter and her record against the closest rivals is close to impeccable. Serena Williams is always most likely to slip up when she’s playing an opponent who possibly tempts her into complacency. Her exit in the first round of last year’s French Open, along with the quarter-final defeat to Sloane Stevens in Melbourne this year are examples of matches which you’d expect Serena to win with her eyes closes. Unfortunately for her, she may well have tried doing just that in both matches.
With the French Open just weeks away, Serena will return to the place where she suffered that first round defeat almost a year ago and there’s no doubt she’ll be more focussed than ever to put that one behind her and clinch another Roland Garros title.
Of course, for one of Serena’s closest rivals – Maria Sharapova – Roland Garros 2012 holds an entirely different set of memories.
Sharapova stormed to victory in Paris last year and seemed to be so on top of her game that she even arrived at Wimbledon a month later as the clear favourite with the tennis bookies.
Whilst she hasn’t been able to capitalise on that success with another Slam, the Russian has show some impressive consistency across the last 12-months.
Sharapova’s main problem appears to be the opposite to that of Serena. She can brush aside the lower ranked opponents with such power and confidence that you can’t see how she ever loses a game against anyone, let alone a match. But when it comes to the really top opponents, Maria is frequently caught out. Just look at the Wimbledon final of 2011 when she was comfortably defeated by Petra Kvitova or even a couple of weeks ago in Miami when she took the first set from Serena in the final, only to eventually be beaten in three.
A semi-final appearance in Melbourne along with a championship at Indian Wells and a runner up placing in Miami definitely puts Maria Sharapova right up there in contention for this year’s French Open.
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The remaining woman who could truly stake her claim as the best female tennis player on the planet is Victoria Azarenka. Azarenka is the most recent Slam winner, after her success over Li Na in the final in Melbourne earlier this year and it was a highly impressive achievement to back up her maiden Slam victory by successfully defending it.
Since winning Down Under, Azarenka has suffered an ankle injury and was forced to pull out of Indian Wells at the quarter-final stage before missing out on Miami altogether. The young Belarusian is pencilled in for a return to action in Madrid early next month and that should give her plenty of time to be ready for the French Open.
Azarenka is still to win her first French Open title and has never been past the quarter-final stage at Roland Garros. However, she does have an ever-improving record over Serena and will certainly be in with a big chance.
For me, Serena Williams is still the toughest and best player on the women’s tour and she deserves to be at world no.1 at the moment. There is very little to choose between the three big names at the top of the game though, and as we warm up for the French and Wimbledon, I’d really struggle to pick any of the three with any great certainty.
French Open odds
Serena Williams – 10/3
Maria Sharapova – 5/1
Victoria Azarenka – 5/1
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Serena Williams – 6/4
Maria Sharapova – 7/1
Victoria Azarenka – 5/1