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Australian Open: The Future Is Now

At the start of the Australian Open, the hype centered around the three players who won Grand Slam titles in 2007: Justine Henin, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams. Shockingly, all three women were eliminated in the quarterfinals.

It seems not so long ago that the Williams sisters were raising the bar in women's tennis, unbeatable by the sheer force of their superior power. Didn't we all look at the Williams sisters then and envision the future they'd inspire, one where players could hit the ball equally as hard yet had more control of the ball and better footwork? That future has arrived and a new generation in women's tennis has staked its claim on 2008.

Twenty-year old Maria Sharapova is the leader of that generation, having already won two Grand Slam titles and now the heavy favorite to take her first Australian Open after a scorching display against No. 1-ranked Henin. Joining Sharapova in the semifinals are Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, the Serbians who have taken up on the WTA Tour where the Belgian tandem of Henin and Clisters left off. Ivanovic accounted for Venus while Jankovic took out Serena in matches that compensated in guts for what they lacked in artistry. Meanwhile, at the ripe old age of 24, Daniela Hantuchova is the veteran among the women's semifinalists. This Australian Open represents her first semifinal appearance in a major as she hopes not to fall between the cracks of a generational shift.

Certainly Justine, Venus and Serena will not quietly relinquish their reign. Yet judging from the tennis on display Down Under, they may have to wait their turn before returning to the Grand Slam winners' circle anytime soon. --Wyman Meers