Contenders - Women

Belgians will take some beating at Melbourne Park

By Elliot Ball   Last updated: 14th January 2011  

Samatha Stosur Sydney International

Stosur: plenty of home support

 Maria Sharapova

Sharapova: champion in 2008

Justine Henin practice

Henin: comeback trail

 Caroline Wozniacki

Wozniacki: top seed but no Slam yet

Kim Clijsters Sydney 2011

Clijsters: bookies' favourite

Five-time champion Serena Williams may be out of the running for the first grand slam of the year, but there are plenty ready to claim her throne, not least Kim Clijsters who is many pundits' favourite.

At 2/1 with Sky Bet, the Belgian is certainly a strong candidate for the title and after claiming her third US Open crown last September, the 27-year-old will take some beating in Melbourne.

That said, the number three seed faces former world number one Dinara Safina in the opening round in what could prove a banana-skin clash. World number one Caroline Wozniacki may also have something to say over the two weeks.

Wozniacki is top seed at a major for the first time since arriving at the summit of women's tennis. The 20-year-old Dane has yet to break her grand slam duck and defeats to Clijsters in the 2009 Flushing Meadows final, as well as last year's season-ending finale suggests why she is 17/2 for the title.

Ahead of Wozniacki in the betting pecking order are Justine Henin and Vera Zvonareva and both players can argue a good case for this year's title.

Henin (5/1), who like Clijsters came out of retirement, heads into the opening slam of the year in fine fettle and the seven-time slam champion knows a thing or two about how to win a major and is one of two women in this year's draw to have won the Australian Open.

Zvonareva (8/1) arrives as the second seed after a career-defining season in 2010 that saw her reach the final of Wimbledon and the US Open. The Russian right-hander is in the form of her life but will it be enough for her to claim a maiden slam trophy?

Contender

Venus Williams (20/1) will always be a contender but the American is an unknown quantity this time around having not played since the US Open. However, the 30-year-old has seven slams to her name and an elusive Aussie crown will be close to her thoughts over the next fortnight.

Joining Henin as the only former champion in the field, Maria Sharapova (18/1) will be keen to enjoy similar scenes to her 2008 triumph in Melbourne. The Russian pin-up is seeded 14th for this year's event, meaning she will have her work cut out if she is to add a fourth slam to her resume.

Williams and Sharapova stand at longer odds than the next duo Sam Stosur and Victoria Azarenka, according to Sky Bet, so let's see why.

Fifth seed Stosur (16/1) returns to her native land and is sure to have the crowd on her side throughout the tournament as she looks to go one better than she did at the Frencj Open last year. Azarenka, meanwhile, is being tipped as a dark horse at 14/1 even though she has yet to make it past the quarter-finals of a major. Perhaps the Belarusian is ready to make her move?

The women's draw is usually harder to predict than the men's draw, so maybe one of these outsiders can be the toast of Down Under this January.

No 16 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (50/1) is the highest seeded teenager in the draw and it's safe to say the conditions in Melbourne suit her considering it was the scene of her junior successes in 2006 and 2007.

Also worth a shout is Petra Kvitova (40/1), who last week landed the Brisbane international title and has the experience of a Wimbledon semi-final appearance to draw on.

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