Lurking in the Shadows: Australian Open Dark Horses
Having broken down each of the contenders in the Australian Open fields, we take a look at the leading dark horses set to appear in both draws. In a sentence apiece, read about why and why not each of these secondary threats could succeed in Melbourne.
Cibulkova: Although she lost her first match in Brisbane and never has reached a quarterfinal in Melbourne, an impressive series of victories en route to a Sydney semifinal included two top-eight upsets over Kvitova and Errani.
Kuznetsova: Forced to qualify in Sydney, the two-time major champion who had slipped to #85 launched a five-match winning streak that should boost her momentum, highlighted by a victory over Wozniacki in the scorching heat.
Ivanovic: The 2008 runner-up in Melborne sent mixed signals from Hopman Cup, where she juxtaposed two resounding victories over a fading veteran and a raw youngster with a three-set loss to Medina Garrigues that exposed her fitness concerns
Petrova: After a rousing finish to last season with fall titles in Tokyo (a Premier Five event) and Sofia, the Russian exited Sydney quietly with a loss to Vinci that revealed her familiar mental frailty.
Pavlyuchenkova: Rebounding from a disastrous 2012, the former junior #1 hinted at a resurgence by reaching the Brisbane final with victories over Kvitova and Kerber, admittedly both unimpressive in their efforts that week.
Venus: While she won every match that she played at Hopman Cup, two of those came in arduous three-setters against opponents whom she would have crushed in her prime, but Venus has a keen survival instinct that could reap rewards in the heat.
Shvedova: The comeback player of the year in 2012, she reached the second week at two majors before beginning a trend of three-set losses that continued this week in Hobart.
Young American women: Stephens and Keys reached one Premier quarterfinal each this month (Stephens in Brisbane, Keys in Sydney) before suffering creditable losses against Serena and Li, respectively, that showcased baseline arsenals suited well to Melbourne success.
Lisicki: A threat virtually anywhere with one of the WTA’s most formidable serves, this grass-court specialist played better than the scoreline showed against Azarenka in Brisbane.
Robson: She reached the second week of a major for the first time at last year’s US Open, ruthlessly sending Clijsters into retirement with a blizzard of shot-making, and an offense once erratic has evolved into a more coherent whole.
Dimitrov: Although he never has reached the third round at a major, the Bulgarian produced headlines beyond his associations with Federer and Sharapova by reaching his first career final in Brisbane, where he served for the first set against Murray.
Giants: Elephantine servers Anderson and Raonic will try to bomb their way past players of more versatile talents and human scale, not an easy task on this medium-speed hard court but perhaps within the ability of Anderson, who barely dropped serve at all in Perth and Sydney.
Janowicz: A surprise finalist at the Masters 1000 tournament after victories over Murray and Tipsarevic, he soared from anonymity and qualifier status to an Australian Open seed overnight, although he did not impress in an uneven Auckland loss to Baker.
Haas: Troubled by a toe injury in Perth, where he lost two of three singles matches, the German looked sharper in Auckland as he aimed to build upon a 2012 reawakening highlighted by victories over top-10 opponents from Federer to Berdych and Tsonga.
Aussie men: Despite his surprising victories over elite opponents like Raonic and Berdych in Kooyong, former finalist Lleyton Hewitt will arouse fewer expectations in his compatriots than the immensely talented Bernard Tomic, a bit of a prodigal son who redeemed himself for 2012 disappointments with a string of top-30 upsets in Perth and Sydney.
Klizan: The Slovakian #1 announced himself with a second-week appearance at the US Open that concluded a breakthrough summer, but he has struggled to win any matches at all since then.
Davydenko: A finalist in Doha, he upset world #5 Ferrer there in a vintage display of early ball-striking and audacious shot selection, strengths better suited to a best-of-three than best-of-five format.
Goffin: One of Federer’s most ardent Belgian fans vaulted into international awareness at Roland Garros last year with a game reminiscent of Davydenko before (like Klizan) fading sharply over the last few months despite some winnable matches.
Monfils: An odd melodrama swirled around his whereabouts over the offseason but did not prevent him from collecting a handful of confidence-building victories in the first few weeks of 2013 as he tries to reassert his relevance.
Bedene: The virtually unknown Slovenian reached the Chennai semifinals and won a set there from top-10 opponent Tipsarevic, an accomplishment that he backed up with a decent three-set effort against the much more established Anderson.
Rosol: Needs neither introduction nor explanation.