Thursday, January 21, 2010

A look at Henin's Melbourne draw

How much harder is the Australian Open competition going to get for Justine Henin, now that she has defeated 5th seed Elena Dementieva and made it to the third round? Is there anyone waiting for her who can beat her?

Henin's third round opponent is the spirited Alisa Kleybanova, who is seeded 27th, and who isn't one to wilt away when things get tough. Kleybanova is a big hitter, and my understanding is that she has improved her fitness.

In her first round match against Jelena Dokic, Kleybanova hit eleven aces and double-faulted ten times; she wound up winning 84% of her first serves, as well as 43% of her second serves. In the second round, when the Kleybanova played Sorana Cirstea, she won 71% of her first serves and 53% of her second serves. Her winner-to-unforced error ratio is about even so far.

If Henin defeats Kleybanova, waiting for her will be either Sara Errani or fellow Belgian, Yanina Wickmayer. And while we know that Errani can wear out the impatient with her indefatigable baseline play, I'm going to assume--for the sake of this post--that Wickmayer will advance. If Wickmayer can raise her game to the level of her second set against Flavia Pennetta, the match could be a thriller. But "if" is the operable word here.

If Henin defeats Wickmayer, then she is most likely to face either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Kim Clijsters. In the past, Henin has served as both players' worst nightmare, so either match would be dramatic, despite all the attention being paid to a potential Belgian-Belgian clash.

Should Henin make it out of the quarterfinals, she could play Jelena Jankovic (the Worst Nightmare scenario makes another appearance here), Dinara Safina, Marion Bartoli, or even a surprise semifinalist. That part of the draw is hard to predict. If Henin then goes to the final, the general assumption is that she will face defending champion Serena Williams. Williams doesn't look especially vulnerable to anyone in her half of the draw, though--if she has an off day and "goes crazy," as she likes to put it--someone could take advantage and replace her in the final.

The commentators are all abuzz about Henin's service problems, but Henin has had these problems since returning from a lengthy illness many years ago. At times, she is capable of serving very well, too, and we all know how mentally tough she is. Her draw, however, is not necessarily a walk in the park, Melbourne or any other.

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