Maria made a dual statement here in 2006 by showcasing a sleek, Bond girl-inspired outfit and by slashing her way to the final with the icy composure of 007.  She fell to her compatriot Kuznetsova (never thought of Sveta as Dr. No), now the top seed in a Serena-less draw.  Who is ready to capitalize on the absence of the five-time champion and make a statement of their own?  Quarter-by-quarter preview straight ahead!

First quarter:  It’s bookended by Kuznetsova and Li Na, both of whom lost their opening matches in Indian Wells.  This sparsely populated region either will give its slumping stars a chance to catch their breath or will allow a talented opportunist to break through.  The two outcomes seem equally possible, so I’m thinking that we’ll see a bit of both.

Quarterfinal:  Kuznetsova def. Wickmayer.  Yanina has more than enough game to trouble the top seed, but Kuznetsova has repeatedly enjoyed considerable success here over the years.

Potential second-round match to watch:  Molik-Szavay.  Both players are experiencing a mini-resurrection lately after one retired and the other completely vanished.

Second quarter:  Venus should have its denizens firmly under her thumb, unless a streaky power merchant like Sabine Lisicki (who’s beaten her before) catches fire unexpectedly.  Otherwise, players like Pennetta, Petrova, Ivanovic, and the sixth-seeded Radwanska could claim a set but not the match from the elder Williams.

Quarterfinal:  Venus def. Radwanska.  Even on a bad day, Venus simply has too much power for the crafty Pole to handle over the course of three sets. 

Definite second-round match to watch:  Ivanovic-anyone.  No explanation needed.  😉

Potential second-round match to watch:  Petrova-Chakvetadze.  Shocking winners.  Shocking misses.  Curses.  Rolling eyes.  Pouts.  Tears.  Enjoy the soap opera, and wear a helmet.

Potential second-round match to hear:  Venus-Larcher de Brito.  Tape a rally and play it instead of music during changeovers. (EDIT:  Larcher de Brito lost her first-round match to Cirstea today.  Stop the tape.)

Third quarterWith one notable exception discussed below, most of the early action happens here in the most brutal quarter.  Defending champion Azarenka will have to solve the riddle of Martinez Sanchez just to earn the right to play Clijsters in what should be a crackling fourth round; it’s not guaranteed that the Belgian will arrive there either, though, with a revitalized Peer in her own third round.  Jankovic probably awaits the winner in the quarters, but she’ll likely need to tackle Stosur for the second straight tournament beforehand.

Quarterfinal:  Jankovic def. Clijsters.  I’m backing Kim’s mature poise over the high-strung Azarenka, especially with the extra pressure of a defending champion on the Belarussian’s shoulders.  However, the Serb’s recent momentum should barely propel her past the Belgian in another tense thriller, parallel to their Rogers Cup meeting last year (also after Clijsters had defeated Azarenka).

Second-round match to watch:  Stosur-Suarez Navarro.  It’s a curious contrast of styles between a gritty baseliner and a serve-volley technician, both of whom recently dazzled in the desert.

Fourth quarter:  The agile assassin lurks here.  Just as in Australia, Dementieva has received the unenviable assignment of deflecting Henin’s daggers before settling into the tournament, and the petite Belgian rarely falls prey to consecutive clunkers.  The winner should navigate a tricky fourth-round against Kleybanova or Zvonareva before reaching the Indian Wells runner-up.  Should we be impressed that Wozniacki reached the final in the desert, or disappointed that she delivered such an uninspired performance once she arrived there?

Quarterfinal:  Henin def. Wozniacki.  The world #2 has proven that she can beat all of her contemporaries and most of her elders.  But is she ready to beat the WTA”s aristocracy–the Williamses, the Sharapovas, the Clijsterses, the Henins?  Her lackluster loss to Jankovic, more of a lady-in-waiting than an aristocrat, suggested that she isn’t.

Quasi-definite “second-round match” to watch:  Henin-Dementieva.  If Melbourne is any guide, it should be the WTA highlight of the first week by a substantial margin.  Craybas’ chances of derailing their convergence stand at 0.00000001%.

Potential second-round match to watch:  Zvonareva-Oudin.  The American could test the Russian should she play as she did in the Paris Indoors; expect engaging, extended baseline rallies and ingenious point construction.


Once the semifinal lineup is set, we’ll provide a more extensive preview of those specific matches (for both WTA and ATP).  And we’ll place the finals under the same microscope that we used for the Indian Wells championship matches, so you’ll have plenty of reading material late next week!

In the more immediate future, we’ll return tomorrow with the ATP draw preview (same format as above), and by the end of the week we’ll post a few key storylines to follow as both draws unfold.