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DISSECTING THE 2006 WIMBLEDON DRAW - WOMEN

Injuries are keeping Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Nadia Petrova and Mary Pierce out of this year's Wimbledon. But with names like Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters still in the draw, there is certainly no easy path to victory for anyone. The depth of women's tennis is extraordinary, but only one can emerge on top. Who will it be?

First Quarter
Amelie Mauresmo is the top ranked player in the world, but it's hard to see her getting through the sister act of her quarter. To wit - Michaella Krajicek, Richard's sister, is a tough potential second round opponent, especially coming off her victory in a Wimbledon tune-up. And then there is Dinara Safina, Marat's sister, who is just now coming into her own. But for Mauresmo to reach Safina, she'd still have to get past Ana Ivanovic, who is a huge hitting Croatian with a game well suited for grass. Venus WilliamsThe bottom half of this quarter is thinner, except for one name - Venus Williams. I see Venus, the defending Wimbledon champion, making it through. 

Players to Watch: Anastasia Myskina, Krajicek, Ivanovic

American Watch: Mashona Washington, Jill Craybas, Vania King, Stephanie Mattek, Lisa Raymond, Venus Williams.

Pick: Venus Williams


Second Quarter
Maria SharapovaMaria Sharapova has to love her draw...the next highest seed is the soft serving Elena Dementieva, and she should have no trouble making it through to the semifinals. Veterans Elena Likhotseva and Francesca Schiavone are talented players, but Sharapova should glide through this quarter. 

Players to watch: Sania Mirza, Laura Granville
 
American Watch: Ashley Harkleroad, Amy Frazier, Shenay Perry, Meghann Shaughnessy
 
Pick: Maria Sharapova

Third Quarter

Justine Henin-HardenneJustine Henin-Hardenne will be entering Wimbledon after beating Anastasia Myskina in a Wimbledon tune-up. This bodes well for her - to go from the slow red clay of Roland Garros to a win on grass is tough - and Henin-Hardenne is only going to get tougher as Wimbledon progresses. Patty Schnyder is the next highest seed in the draw...but will have to get through countrywoman Martina Hingis to reach the quarters. Henin-Hardenne is clearly the class of this quarter.

Players to watch: Emma Laine, Jamea Jackson, Daniela Hantuchova

American Watch: Jackson

Pick: Justine Henin-Hardenne
 
Fourth Quarter
Kim ClijstersDefinitely the toughest of the quarters...with Kim Clijsters, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anna Lena Groenefeld and the huge-hitting Nicole Vaidisova are all legitimate picks in this quarter, though it's tough to bet against Clijsters. Note Clijsters has a scary first round match against Vera Zvonareva. Karolina Sprem and China's Na Li are up and coming players that could do damage in this quarter. In the end, I have to go with a healthy Kim Clijsters and her proven success on grass. 

Players to watch: Maria Kirilenko, Vaidisova, Groenefeld

American watch: Lilia Osterloh
 
Pick: Kim Clijsters

Semifinals:
Venus Williams vs. Maria Sharapova
Justine Henin-Hardenne vs. Kim Clijsters

Finals:
Justine Henin-Hardenne vs. Maria Sharapova

Champion:
Justine Henin-Hardenne

When healthy, Justine Henin-Hardenne is the best player in the world on any surface. She is playing with such confidence and strength, I take the Belgian to back up her French Open victory with a win at Wimbledon.
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