Top half, first quarter: (draw)
Okay, let’s get the match we all want out of the way first -– Lindsay Davenport vs. Maria Sharapova. I pick Davenport to blow Sharapova out of the water much the same way Serena did last year. Davenport rides high on emotion, momentum, and motherhood into the quarterfinals.
Unfortunately she’s going to run into perpetual party-pooper Justine Henin. Expect the Belgian to coast through her first three rounds, dropping no more than five games total. She won’t even be challenged until facing Tati Golovin or Sybille Bammer. Tati will breeze through her early rounds just as easy as Henin, but’ll go down to Henin in two close sets.
Top half, second quarter: (draw)
The next quarter opens with the most interesting first round match-up in the women’s draw: Jankovic vs. Tamira Paszek. Despite Jankovic’s poor play at the Hopman Cup and the Tour Championships, she’ll make it to the quarters (with a few three-setters, I’m sure). Jelena’s biggest threat is the winner of the Mauresmo–Schnyder match in the the third round. Mauresmo’s ’06 Australian Open title means nothing now; I question her desire to win and compete. Schnyder takes this one.
Serena makes her way to the quarterfinals by beating Nicole Vaidisova in a tight match in the Round of 16. Serena takes out Azarenka on her way there while Vaidisova goes through Zvonareva and hometown favorite Alicia Molik.
The semifinals will feature yet another rematch between Henin and Serena. The stakes here are a little higher (this being a semi and all), and now these girls have a history. Serena’s hunger and drive (plus her trim bod) pushes her through to the finals.
Bottom half, first quarter: (draw)
The top quarter here comes down to Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic. As usual, Venus will struggle with her first round opponent (Yan Zi) but gains momentum as she goes deeper into the tournament. Gold Coast champ Li Na continues her excellent post-hiatus form and (barring injury) defeats Marion Bartoli on her way to the Round of 16. Ivanovic will go through Safina and Srebotnik with little difficulty to get to the quarters, but will hit the Venus wall for the third consecutive slam. (Why aren’t these two getting the same attention as Serena and Henin?)
Bottom half, second quarter: (draw)
The final quarter is a little more open. Kuznetsova is my only lock for the semis. On her way she takes out Dechy, and teenagers Radwanska and Szavay. Her quarterfinal opponent is a little more up in the air but I’m going to go with Dani Hantuchova. Chakvetadze needs more time to shake off the robbery (which left her hands injured, from being bound) and will go out to Krajicek in the third round, if not earlier. Krajicek, as my dark horse pick, will make the Round of 16.
I see a Venus-Kuznetsova semi and, despite her success this year at Sydney, I see Kuzie clamming up and going down in two disappointing sets.
Quarterfinals: Henin d. Davenport, Serena d. Jankovic, Venus d. Ivanovic, Kuznetsova d. Hantuchova
Semifinals: Serena d. Henin, Venus d. Kuznetsova
Final: Serena d. Venus. Yes, I am predicting a Serena and Venus final, their first since the 2005 US Open. This will be one of the sister’s better slam finals against each other. I expect Serena to win in three.
What are YOU thinking? What do you think of Chris’ picks? Who do you think is ripe for success Down Under? Who’s ready to get upset? Which match-ups are you looking forward to? Tell us!