The year's first major, played in intense heat, is a special kind of test for players who are just getting adjusted to a new season. Though a change in court surface has greatly reduced the number of ankle injuries at the Australian Open, the heat remains a major factor in how many players fare. The conditions are tough and require special preparation. Training in a hot climate is very helpful, and it is also essential that players hydrate even more than usual.
Partly because of the return of the Belgians, we are looking at a different mix among top players this year. Here are 10 questions worth asking before play begins in Melbourne:
1. Is Justine Henin ready to undergo the grueling conditions in Melbourne, or will her body need more time to adjust?
2. Now that Maria Sharapova has returned to using her original service motion, can she play freely without worrying about her shoulder, and can she acquire the momentum necessary to go deep into the tournament?
3. Despite her assurances that her knee injury is not serious, will Serena Williams be able to move as well as she needs to?
4. With new expectations on her, can Kim Clijsters continue to play aggressively and fearlessly?
5. Will Yanina Wickmayer be able to use her emotional fire to her advantage, and has going through her recent trials (including having to qualify in Melbourne) given her a push toward maturity?
6. Which Belgian--if any--will make it out of the "Belgian quarter"?
7. Literally, can Sabine Lisicki take the heat?
8. Will Caroline Wozniacki's psychological toughness at the Sony Ericsson Championships give her an edge?
9. Can Jelena Jankovic approach the Australian Open as a tabula rasa?
10. How will last year's emotional run affect Jelena Dokic on the Melbourne courts in 2010?