The 2011 WTA tour has started in just the way punters like. The continued absence of Serena Williams makes the first major of the year a wide open affair, especially as the main challengers in Melbourne have generally started the season in poor form.
World numbers one and two Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva lost their first competitive matches of the season at the Medibank International. Both were dismissed in straight sets after receiving a bye in the first round, meaning both go into the Australian Open with minimal court time under their belt.
Sam Stosur is another who will arrive in Melbourne under-prepared having also lost in the second round at Sydney. Indeed, only three of the eight seeds made it beyond the second round in Sydney, meaning Kim Clijsters and Li Na should be followed closely in Melbourne by those placing emphasis on current form.
Clijsters is rapidly becoming a hot favourite to win her maiden Australian Open title. Her early season form is complimented by her victories in the US Open and WTA Tour Championships at the end of last season, as well as the inconsistent form shown by her competitors in those events.
Wozniacki was blown off course at a windy Flushing Meadows after starting the event in supreme form, the world number one also running out of steam in Doha, where the combustible Zvonareva lost the plot in losing to the Dane in the semi finals.
The weaknesses of her opponents make Clijsters the sensible bet, but punters looking value will not rule out Justine Henin – who reached the final on her comeback last year – Maria Sharapova or Venus Williams. Injuries have taken the edge off these players’ games, so it is worthwhile looking further down the Australian Open betting at the likes of Marion Bartoli, Yanina Wickmayer and Li Na, a Melbourne semi finalist last year.