The arrival of 2014 promises to bring with it a number of intriguing stories and sub plots in women’s tennis, with the major talking point sure to be the continuing dominance of Serena Williams and her quest to equal Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova’s 18 slams.
Among the sub plots will be the emergence of a number of bright young talents in the game, with America’s Sloane Stephens and Britain’s Laura Watson among those looking to push on from an impressive 2013.
But while there’s plenty of excitement being generated about the future of the game, it would be wrong to think of the current crop of players as simply the Serena Show. For that does a disservice to the contenders and outsiders who performed so well last season.
While Serena added two slams to her tally – now at a record-troubling 17 – wins for world number two Victoria Azarenka (at the Australian Open) and the now-retired Marion Bartoli (at Wimbledon), both competing in finals that did not feature Williams, proved that there was plenty more to the women’s game than simply the world number one.
And 2014 promises to further emphasise the point. Of course Williams remains a resolute force, and is unlikely to rest until she surpasses the record 24 slams held by Margaret Court (or the 22 held by Steffi Graf). She is the evens favourite for the first major of the year, January’s Australia Open, but there are a number of other contenders worthy of consideration.
China’s Li Na is a two-time finalist in Melbourne, and while she may have failed to add to her 2011 French Open win last season, she made the semi’s at the US Open and the quarter-finals of Wimbledon, with her second round loss at Roland Garros her only real failure.
Li Na is 12/1 fourth favourite to win Down Under, but those looking for larger odds should take a glance at the form of Petra Kvitova, who at 20/1 looks back in the sort of nick she showed when claiming a shock Wimbledon victory over Maria Sharapova in 2011.
The Czech struggled with health and injury at times last season with her only Grand Slam performance of note her progress to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
But despite threatening to fall out of the top ten, she rallied back at the end of the season to win a title in Tokyo and reache the semi-finals in Beijing, beating home favourite Li Na along the way.
Kvitova is known as being unpredictable at best but if she continues the momentum that saw her claw back into the top six in the rankings, and she manages to avoid any fitness issues, she has already proved she can outhit and often outlast the big guns – she won 25 of the 37 of her matches that went to three sets, the best in the whole tour. Kvitova is 20/1 to win the first Grand Slam of the season in Melbourne.
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All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.