Here’s a thing: no Russian woman has ever won the Australian Open. In fact, strange as it may seem given the recent major spree of Maria Sharapova (Wimbledon, US Open), Svetlana Kuznetsova (US Open) and Anastasia Myskina (French Open), until 2004 no Russian woman had won a grand slam singles trophy.

Unless Amelie Mauresmo can do something about it, it’s very nearly safe to say that that’s going to change in the next fortnight. Besides defending champ Mauresmo and Kim Clijsters, there’s nobody in the Open women’s draw you’d plonk your house on to make the quarters, let alone actually to win the thing.

Partly that’s to do with who isn’t lining up at Melbourne Park. Conspicuous by their absences are Justine Henin-Hardenne (mysterious personal reasons), Myskina (toe), Lindsay Davenport (pregnant), Venus Williams (wrist) and Mary Pierce (knee).

Then there are those past champions who perhaps should be favourites but aren’t for very good reasons. Martina Hingis’s comeback is generally considered successful, but really isn’t, unless you consider one top-tier trophy in 2006 a favourable comparison with the years when you had to prise the tetchy Swiss’s hands from the silverware.

Serena Williams is back from a knee injury, but hasn’t won a thing since January 2005 – although that was that little-known tournament, the Australian Open. She lost her second match at the fourth-tier Hobart warm-up last week to Austrian Sybille “no obvious nickname here” Bammer.

Back Serena if you think Mark Philippoussis is a chance for this year’s Davis Cup squad, or Naomi Robson for this year’s Logies. On second thoughts, if you think that, back Bam-Bam.

Clijsters’s motivation ought to be high to add to her lone grand slam title, as she will probably retire at the end of this year, having worn herself out at the ripe old age of 24.

Mauresmo has an inviting draw, with Elena Dementieva the only serious threat at quarter-final stage, but in the warm-ups she looked undercooked and admitted as much.

Serbian Jelena Jankovic is a smokey, having scalped Mauresmo, Hingis and Our Samantha Stosur at the Sydney International.

And then we’re left with the Russians: Kuznetsova (maybe), Nadia Petrova, who would be a long shot but broke through with two big wins in 2006, and Sharapova – top seed, bookies’ favourite, and far and away the strongest player in this field.

Which should be as good a guarantee as any that she’ll crash in the first round.

Peter Fray

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