Well, this is a hell of a thing. I find myself playing Anya to the editrix’s Giles, and I mean that in a wholly specific season 6 sort of way. And in fact I always thought that they should have slept together in season 6, so … this metaphor has now ended up in a totally different place to where it began. So. Let’s look at the women’s qualifying draw – because the editor won’t. For he is a massive SEXIST!!!

But I am not. In fact, some days I think I prefer women’s tennis to men’s tennis, and that’s borne out by my totally geeky thrillgasm in looking at this beautiful draw. Ninety-six ladies, twelve main draw spots up for grabs. It’s on.

FIRST QUARTER

It’s hard to say that any part of this draw is easy, but honestly, this might be the most loaded quarter. Top seed Coco Vanderweghe has never qualified for a Slam and is traditionally vulnerable to more experienced players. Usually the player to watch in this eighth would be Sesil Karatantcheva, formerly of Bulgaria, but Karatantcheva has failed to make it through qualifying in the last three Slams and doesn’t have a great record in Australia. This could be Vanderweghe’s moment; otherwise I look to Olga Savchuk.

British no. 2 Anne Keothavong is still working her way back from injury and doesn’t have the easiest draw, facing Kustova of Belarus in the first round followed by a probable second round against Ioana Raluca Olaru, a player with a very pretty game, while Tatjana Malek awaits in the third. Still, I have faith in Keo and her smile made of sunshine.

Go ahead, punk, make her day.

A Pliskova sister and Yung-Jan Chan lurk in the bottom quarter, but make no mistake, the qualifier will be the winner of the first round clash between Sabine Lisicki and Michaella Kraijcek (yes, that Kraijcek). These two ladies are friends and both train at the Bolletieri Academy, and neither is a stranger to a career ravaged by injury, but I’d put my money on my Licky. As a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist, she’s a class above her current ranking and worked some of the kinks from her enforced absence in 2010 out in Auckland recently. She’ll be in the main draw when Sunday rolls around.

Move, bitch, get out of her way.

SECOND QUARTER

Now here’s a quarter which is tough to predict, containing as it does a number of players who can do anything or nothing depending on their mood and the phases of the moon, and a number of players about whom I know actually nothing. Where do they find these people? Fourth seed Zuzana Kucova has a promising name, but I say Luxembourg’s finest, Mandy Minella, should double-bagel Great Britain’s Katie O’Brien and go from strength to strength, as Brit-beaters are wont to do.

Anastasia Yakimova is usually a good bet, but she has to contend with Stephanie Dubois and a possible meeting with Severine Beltrame. A couple of random Australians and Vitalia Diatchenko – bless her – don’t pose much of a threat, but the wildcard in this section is Sania Mirza. I recently watched her lose in the final round of qualifying to Lisicki, and formed the same conclusion that almost any Mirza match leaves me with; if she ever learns to keep her forehand inside the court more than, say, 40% of the time, she’ll be a solid pick. That  hasn’t quite happened yet, though, and her fitness doesn’t look superb to me. Yakimova to qualify from this group.

Truly funky headband notwithstanding.

And at the bottom, finally an easy segment to call. Ekaterina Bychkova may have the name, Oksana Kalashnikova may … also have the name, but Masa Zec Peskiric saunters through this draw.

 THIRD QUARTER

Another player who has struggled with injury throughout her young career, Anastasia Pivovarova, sits on top of this section. Currently ranked 124, she’s been grimly working her way back towards the fringes of the top 100 and had a decent showing last week in Brisbane, and this draw shouldn’t cause her any problems at least until she faces off with fellow Russian Nina Bratchikova in the third round. Look for one of these two “ova”s in the main draw.

This is why they call her the Scorpion. They don’t, but they should.

It’s hard to look beyond the experienced Mariana Duque Marino of Colombia in the next section; she’s experiencing something of a career renaissance, taking her first WTA singles title in 2010. I don’t know much at all about the young American fourteenth seed, Jamie Hampton, but I find it difficult to take her seriously based on her name. I think that if it comes down to a meeting between Duque Marino and the German Anna-Lena Groenefeld – sort of a substandard Lisicki – that Groenefeld will serve her off the court, but Hampton is a more unknown quality. I’m not calling this one at all.

Jamie Hampton, according to google.

The bottom eight contains two players I’ve been hearing about for a long time, Petra Martic and Alja Tomjanovic. Both have been tipped for success for some time and the older Martic picked up some nice wins on the WTA tour last year, but is very inconsistent. It will be interesting to see if either of these two young talents can upset the more experienced Nuria Llagostera Vives, who is very short. True story.

FOURTH QUARTER

The talented Dutch left-hander, Arantxa Rus, immediately catches the eye in the top section. Having ended 2009 just on the edges of the top 100, she rather fell away in 2010, but is still someone to watch. With only the likes of New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic and a couple of Australians in between, this segment is likely to come down to a battle between her and Japan’s Kurumi Nara, who has been going great guns of late. In terms of a winning attitude, I’m going to give it to Nara.

She’s also sweet as a little pie.

I’m going to be daring in my final two picks, I give you fair warning. I will look beyond the fickle charms of Heidi El Tabakh, Stephanie Voegele and Petra Cetkovska, to two young up-and-comers; the USA’s Sloane Stephens (my personal pick of the crop of the young Americans), and Great Britain’s next small thing, the adorable Heather Watson, who recently made it all the way to the second round of Auckland and is sitting inside the top 150 at the tender age of virtually nothing (18, if you must know). I’d tell you my reasons, but then I’d have to kill you.

Like her namesake, she’s small and pretty, but tough and wiry. You have been warned.

Like my predictions? Have some of your own? Please let me know in the comments …

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