Serena Williams' out, so who's in?

With Serena Williams out, who do think will win the Australian Open?

Sharapova looks sharp

By Amanda Rykoff

I've been staying up until the wee hours of the morning watching the Australian Open. Just ask anyone who follows me on Twitter. I am obsessed. But I had a tough time answering the question of who the favorite is on the women's side. Perhaps it's because the women's game is so unpredictable these days. We have a No. 1 player in Caroline Wozniacki who has yet to win a Grand Slam, and arguably the best player in the game -- Serena Williams -- coming off a health scare. At any time, a qualifier can knock off a seeded player. It's the nature of the game. But ultimately, it came down to three players: No. 2 seed and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, No. 4 seed Maria Sharapova and No. 11 seed Kim Clijsters.

I was all set to write about Serena Williams as the favorite based not only on tennis ability (there's no question that Serena's ability is unparalleled if she's healthy) but also on the draw. But then Serena went out and played one of the worst matches of her career and lost to unseeded Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round. With that, Sharapova now has one of the biggest obstacles in her draw out of the way (though a potential semifinal match against Kvitova still looms). Until her fourth-round three-setter against Sabine Lisicki, Sharapova had dropped just five games in this year's Aussie Open. She's looking strong and aggressive. She's won 26 break points, third overall in the women's field. Most importantly, she's kept her service game under control and minimized her double faults.

I could have easily written about why Clijsters and Kvitova could be considered the favorites as well. Clijsters is the defending champion and playing inspired tennis, fighting off four match points and a nasty ankle roll in her fourth-round, three-set thriller against Li Na. She also benefits from being on the Wozniacki side of the draw (sorry Caroline). Kvitova also presents a strong résumé. The 21-year-old Czech had a breakout 2011 season and continues to impress with her power game. No less an authority than Martina Navratilova believes Kvitova could be the next dominant player on the WTA tour. A win at Melbourne would build on her list of impressive accomplishments and would likely give Kvitova the No. 1 world ranking.

If Kvitova and Sharapova do meet in the semis (and I hope they do), I'll be watching. Even if the match is at 4 in the morning. I can't help myself.

What, no Serena?

By Adena Andrews

My celebration of the Giants going to the Super Bowl was halted this morning when I discovered what happened Down Under. My mouth was agape over my cereal when I discovered Serena Williams was out of the Aussie Open. That left me wondering, Why exactly should I pay attention to the tournament now?

Let's face it, Williams is the most notable player in women's tennis. Whether you watch her to cheer her on or just to see if she has an in-game outburst, she is must-see television. Also, do you ever see Twitter light up for other players the way it does for Williams? I don't think so. The Aussie Open doesn't have the same draw for me now that Williams is gone.

Play will continue without her, but it will be a yawn-fest for me. If I must pick a favorite, I'd go with Maria Sharapova. Defending champion Kim Clijsters comes in a close second, but her nagging ankle injury could cause problems.

In the meantime, I'll be missing Williams' presence in Oz.

Wozniacki breaks through

By Michelle Smith

As the tournament's No. 1 seed and the world's No. 1-ranked player, Caroline Wozniacki might be the obvious choice. Except that her increasingly impressive career does not yet include a Grand Slam title.

The 21-year-old from Denmark is playing as if she'd like to check that off the to-do list, after dispatching Jelena Jankovic 6-0, 7-5 in the fourth round on Sunday night.

But a big measuring-stick match comes next: last year's champion, Kim Clijsters, who is playing on a sprained ankle, in the quarterfinals.

With Serena Williams out -- and with Wozniacki having a bit of a chip on her shoulder from some in the game questioning her status as the No. 1 player -- the path looks as though it leads to Wozniacki's finally breaking through.

Sharapova is rested and ready

By Sarah Spain

I'm gonna make things interesting and go with a gut pick.

It's just a hunch, but I think the ankle injury that sidelined Maria Sharapova for a few months may end up helping her in Melbourne as she enters the home stretch of the tournament fresh and rested.

Of course, the road to the title won't be easy.

Serena Williams' unexpected loss in the fourth round certainly opens things up, but top-three seeds Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka are still alive, not to mention last year's winner, Kim Clijsters. Sharapova isn't the easy choice to win, but something tells me she'll end her four-year Grand Slam drought. Stranger things have happened Down Under.

Once more for Clijsters

By Jane McManus

Serena Williams. Wait, Williams was dispatched by Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round.

What Williams' loss does is open the door a bit wider for Maria Sharapova, who is in her side of draw. And certainly you can't count out Kim Clijsters, a four-time champion in hard-court majors. She is the defending champ in Australia and has won three U.S. Open championships. The Belgian also has an ankle injury, which could shorten her longevity.

Sharapova has won two hard-court majors as well, one in New York and the other Down Under, but she hasn't won a Grand Slam since 2008. The event this year is an opportunity for a young player to make a name, but Clijsters is the sentimental favorite. She just doesn't get enough credit for the ground she breaks as a working mother. And for that, I like her chances.

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