A few thoughts after a little more digging.
The game: Her serve has gotten much nicer, hasn't it? Even from earlier this year. I wonder if she's done some work on her footwork a little to help cut down the errors. Last season's videos that I have look a little sloppy in the footwork deparment, and my impression of her game currently is that she has very good footwork and balance.
Italians: I guess I had assumed Sandra Cecchini made it in at some point, and I mistake Virginia Ruzici (ROU) as Italian pretty much 50% of the time
Thanks for the information.
The rankings: It just seems to me that of the 6 players within 500 points of #10 (Schnyder, Chakvetadze, Petrova, Pennetta, Hantuchova, and Wozniacki) only Schnyder, Pennetta, and Wozniacki have demonstrated the game for good results early in the season. Petrova prefers the extreme surfaces, and we know Chakvetadze and Hantuchova will slip after the AO. With Sharapova's first two months so strong, there could be an actual OPENING in the top 10 as soon as 3rd week of February. Plus, Zvonareva and Radwanska have more points to defend in the first two months than Schnyder, Pennetta, and Wozniacki.
So yes, I think she'll have to do something drastic, but she's going to be a top 16 seed at the AO, and I can easily see her taking out pretty much any top 8 player besides Jankovic and Serena at the AO, and those would hardly be beyond the realm of possibility. She has a game you'd expect to translate well to the slower hardcourts early in the season. It'll be interesting to see if she plays the South American clay circuit or goes to Dubai. Either choice could have a huge impact on her ranking, in either direction. And roughly 3/4 of Pennetta's points are locked in until the French Open. I think she could be a sleeper pick to creep into the top 10 right around BIG clay season. A little like Sugiyama in '04. I certainly hope so, too! She's quite good looking, in a very Mediterranean way.