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By Erik Gudris

Sharapova and Williams (May 3, 2013) -- Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have remained the dominant players on clay for the last 12 months. But even with the whole WTA crew back in action this week at the Mutua Madrid Open, the question remains if anyone can spoil yet another potential Serena vs. Maria final.

Worth noting is that Serena enters as defending champion from last year having ousted Sharapova in the quarterfinals. That means that if Sharapova, currently at No. 2, is to have any chance to retake the No. 1 ranking, she must first at least reach the third round and then go two rounds better than Williams from R3 to the quarters.

From that point on, Sharapova would then just have to go one more round than Williams through the finals. So if they meet in the finals, Sharapova would have to win it all to take back No. 1.

Got it? Good. Let's look at the quarters.

Serena's Quarter: Serena kicks off her title defense against a qualifier and then could possibly get Russia's Maria Kirilenko in an early round. While big sister Venus Williams looms in this section, Serena will more likely face China's Li Na in the quarters.

Li certainly proved her clay court prowess in Stuttgart last week and this could be a real battle if Li's big groundstrokes find their way in all day. But by then Serena should have her footing on the red clay and will likely find a way to scrape out a victory.

Pick: Serena

Azarenka's Quarter: Victoria Azarenka could be Serena's semifinal opponent but that's up in the air. The No. 3 seed hasn't played a match since Indian Wells and there's some lingering concern about how her ankle will hold up.

She gets a tough first rounder with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and then might get big serving Lucie Safarova. Not exactly two players you want to deal with if you are not 100%. With Sara Errani, Urzula Radwanska, Julia Goerges and Varvara Lepchenko all hovering here, don't be surprised if someone else other than Vika meets Serena in the final four.

Pick: Errani

Radwanska's Quarter: No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska will hope her new look gives her a bit of "Blond Ambition" as she navigates a tough section. She should get past grass court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova in her first round and then the struggling Laura Robson.

Radwanska could then play the winner of a possible all-Serbian matchup between Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic who both had an infamous match against each other in Madrid a few years ago. Jankovic is showing some of the old form that took her to No. 1 in the world, but it's hard to say if she'll bring it against Radwanska.

Angelique Kerber is the No. 6 seed here. She might get the always tough Svetlana Kuznetsova or the always feisty Zheng Jie early on. Kerber might be something of a dark horse next week, but I think she just might pull off the mild upset over Radwanska should they meet.

Pick: Kerber

Sharapova's Quarter: Maria Sharapova kicked off the rust and the dust in Stuttgart en route to defending her title there last week. And in the early rounds, it's hard to see anyone stopping her from reaching at least the quarters.

There's some intriguing opening round match ups that Maria is not a part of. Sam Stosur, still dealing with a calf injury, may get a tough contest against Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro. Sloane Stephens, who has been in a slump since Melbourne, is no guarantee against wildcard Daniela Hantuchova.

Petra Kvitova may be the biggest question mark of the whole event. She's a former champion and can certainly blow anyone off of the court. But she's also capable of producing a mountain of unforced errors. Kvitova might test Sharapova should they meet, but Sharapova appears to be finding her groove on the dirt just at the right time.

Pick: Sharapova

Semis: Williams d. Errani, Sharapova d. Kerber

Li Na may have what it takes to win it all, but with the No. 1 ranking in the balance that should provide Serena the added motivation she needs to push her past all opponents. A Serena vs. Maria final on clay could well be a treat if Sharapova lives up to her credentials, but it's hard to bet against the defending queen of "La Caja Magica". Especially when she may gotten some words of advice from none other than SeƱor Rafael Nadal himself.



Pick: Williams d. Sharapova
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

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