Simon Reed

Belgian duo to dominate the WTA Tour

Simon Reed

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Obviously Serena looked good in her opening match of the season, and I don't know how fit Maria Sharapova is, but it looks to me like the Australian Open final could be a Belgian lock-in.

In fact, the whole year could be a Belgian lock-in unless Serena can keep her act going. None of the other players come within a country mile of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.

I'm a big Sharapova fan and I hope she gets fit. If she can play and do herself justice, then she does stand a chance. And with Serena we've learned too many times that we can't rule her out.

Venus is not going to be a real threat again, maybe at Wimbledon but nowhere else. I wouldn't look outside those girls though.

It says an awful lot that first Clijsters came back, and won three tournaments, and now we have Henin. It's not good news for the other players and it puts what we've been seeing over the past couple of years in its place.

The Belgians coming back takes the pressure of the likes of Dinara Safina, who has always been a good hunter but never good when being hunted. I wouldn't write her off, assuming she is injury free.

Ana Ivanovic seems to have dropped out of the leading bunch. If anyone can get her confidence back up, then they will have achieved alot. I like Ivanovic, but it'll take a really good effort to see her return.

The only problem with Henin and Clijsters is that they're from the same country. And it is a problem because it's difficult to pick a favourite, someone you want to win.

But in terms of overall tour standards, their return can only be good thing as it might force the other players to up their efforts. I hope that I'm not right and it's not a lock-in all year. As much as I like them, Kim particularly, you want a bit of variety.

When Kim plays Justine in major finals the head-to-head isn't good, although it's pretty even overall. Maybe there is an element now that Kim sees the pressure being off. But if she meets Justine in a Grand Slam final, does she believe she can do it? I'm not sure. It'll be fascinating to see. I don't think a leopard totally changes its spots but there are a whole different set of circumstances now and maybe Kim's more relaxed in those situations.

She always seemed so brilliant on court. You didn't think she'd get nervous, but she did. And now she's married, had a child and maybe she can take that in her stride. It certainly looked that way at the US Open, although Justine wasn't there.

Caroline Wozniacki's US Open run was obviously very impressive, although her performances in in Doha impressed me more. I really hope she can follow-up on that this year.

What I saw there was not just a good player but someone who was changing her game and introducing more variety - hitting the ball harder, much more positive.

If she's going to threaten the likes of Serena, the Belgians, and Safina, she has to continue that. What she was doing at the end of last year wasn't quite enough. She has to push it even further but things do seem to open up for her, draws open up for her.

I wouldn't write her off but I still need convincing that she can beat the like of Clijsters in a quarter-final of a Grand Slam or later.


Assuming Andy Murray stays injury free, there is a real chance for him to win a Grand Slam this year because of the way things are working out with the top players,

There's a great chance now for the likes of Marin Cilic, Murray and possibly Fernando Verdasco and Robin Soderling.

I see a real levelling off of the top players. Nadal was outstanding last week (in Abu Dhabi). I'm interested in what happened to Nadal because it surprised me.

But what I definitely saw at the end of last year was a dumbing down of the top players and a levelling up of the others. I saw a much more level playing field for most of the top 10 and I think the four Slams will be won by four different people this year.

Murray has got a great chance of being one of those players. He's looking in terrific condition, he's playing terrific tennis. For me he has an excellent chance.

The problem for Andy is that he still needs to prove that he's not susceptible in intense heat. If he gets lumbered with a very big match on a very hot day, I just don't know what he'll be like - not only in that match but also the next day.

It's not so much the draw but when and where he plays that will be crucial in Melbourne. Maybe my doubts are misplaced but he has to prove me wrong.

He and Nadal, based on the way Nadal played in Abu Dhabi, are probably the two favourites going into the Australia Open. I've had an outside bet on Cilic and he's just that - an outsider. I believe almost anybody inside that top 10 could win it.

Murray still needs to tweak his game towards offence in big matches. A good attacking player in whatever sport will always beat a good, or even a great, defensive player.

He has picked up his offence to a certain extent but it's interesting when you listen to him talk after he's failed. Invariably he'll say "I was aggressive enough at the crucial points". That says it all really.

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