The extra week between the French Open and Wimbledon this year has given a few more opportunities to evaluate the form of the main contenders for the women at Wimbledon. Unfortunately as some of the main players haven’t played any of the warm-up tournaments things are again tricky.
The obvious starting point for any preview of Wimbledon is Serena Williams. She is the hot favourite to regain the title and win the third leg of a potential calendar grand slam of singles titles. She is rightly the favourite but there have to be question marks over whether she should be considered the near certainty some assume. Her win in Paris was frankly bizarre and unconvincing. She appeared to be ill for some of the time yet produced typically fearsome tennis at others. She could easily have been knocked out in three consecutive rounds and didn’t have to face a single Top Ten competitor on her way to the title. However, one can never doubt her will to win which got her over the line. With no matches for her between then and Wimbledon we don’t know how she will have recovered. The other question mark is her recent Wimbledon form. She hasn’t made it as far as the quarter-finals on her last two appearances and in the early rounds she can be vulnerable to an on-form opponent. Should she get as far as the quarter-finals she will be in the groove and I would expect her to go on and win the tournament but those early rounds could be her downfall again and she represents no sort of value at the prices the bookmakers have her.
The defending champion Petra Kvitova is another one who is difficult to assess, especially as she withdrew from the Eastbourne tournament with illness. I expect her to be recovered for Wimbledon but it may take her a few rounds to get up to speed. With a reasonable draw she should get through week one and is another who tends to get stronger as we get further into the tournament. Grass is her best surface and if it hadn’t been for sickness two years ago in her quarter-final she could be going for her third successive Wimbledon title. Her performance in last year’s final was as good as you will see and if she gets anywhere near that level she will be a major threat again. I expect another strong showing.
Maria Sharapova is another Wimbledon champion who hasn’t played any warm-up tournaments. I think it is a mistake for any player to forgo matches on grass before Wimbledon but especially so with Sharapova. Before her shoulder operation she was a fearsome player on grass but over the last few years she seems to have lost her way on the surface. That’s why I really think she needs matches on grass. She can get through early matches against weak oppostion but when she comes up against a determined player, especially on one of the outside courts where she seems to have developed a fear of the footing at the back of the court, Maria struggles. The extra week since Roland Garros may help her grass court preparation but until I see some of the old Sharapova on grass I am reluctant to tip her.
The fourth former champion in the draw is Venus Williams and I think she has a great chance of doing well. She has gone under the radar somewhat but after years of health problems she has had more matches this year than for some time. Last year she came to Wimbledon with very little preparation and came within a whisker of beating Kvitova early in the tournament. In fact she gave the Czech her hardest match of the tournament and it isn’t being too ridiculous to say that had she won that game she could have gone a very long way indeed. Venus loves the grass and I think that this year she could surprise many people by having a good run.
The next group of contenders to look at are last year’s successes. Eugenie Bouchard reached the final but has had a very poor year since. I thought that she was a little fortunate at Wimbledon last year in that the draw opened up so nicely for her. In the latter stages each time she would have come up against a power hitter such as Serena, Sharapova or Lisicki they were knocked out in the round before. The first time she met one was in the final and she was blown away by the brilliance of Kvitova. There are signs that she may be finding a little form but I don’t see her having a great run. In the semis last year she beat Simona Halep. Halep was in terrific form last year and although grass isn’t her best surface she was able to do well. This year she isn’t playing so well and I don’t think she will get as far. Lucie Safarova lost to Kvitova on the semis last year and since then her form has got better and better culminating in an appearance in the French Open final. It remains to be seen whether that run has any effect on her form at Wimbledon. She lost in her first match at Eastbourne but I still think she is a dangerous opponent with her lefty serve and wristy forehand. It wouldn’t surprise me to see her do well again.
The biggest grass-court specialist is Sabine Lisicki. She reached the final in 2013 and has reached the quarter-finals or better five times. She has a huge serve and at Edgbaston last week set a world record of 27 aces in one match. She will always be a dangerous opponent on grass who can beat anyone, including Serena, on her day. However, her serve has to be on top form for this to happen for the rest of her game isn’t good enough at the moment. The serve is in a better place than at last year’s Wimbledon where she was serving lots of double-faults as well but the consistency hasn’t been there. I would never count her out at Wimbledon but I don’t think she will be on her A game throughout the fortnight.
Other older players who have done well at Wimbledon in the past are Aga Radwanska and Angelique Kerber. Radwanska’s form has dipped in the last year but she has had quite a good grass-court season. I remain to be convinced that she is near her best but she is quite a solid bet to reach the second week. Kerber is playing well having won the Edgbaston tournament last week. She is dependable and must have a good chance of going deep at Wimbledon. She should take care of lower ranked players to get to the last 16 and if the draw has opened up could make at least the semis. I do wonder how she will cope with the very top players if they are still in the draw.
Caroline Wozniacki has had some good results on grass but rarely seems to do well at Wimbledon for some reason. I wouldn’t rule her out of making a good run but I’m not sure that I would be confident of her reaching the final stages.
There are a number of up and coming players who I think will be worth watching at Wimbledon this year. Karolina Pliskova is probably the most improved player in the upper reaches of the sport this year. She is knocking on the world Top Ten and had a good run to the final in Edgbaston. She lost a marathon match to Kerber there and I suspect this had a knock-on effect that caused her to lose quite early at Eastbourne to Radwanska. That loss could be a blessing in disguise as she will have more of a break before Wimbledon. She has a powerful game which should be well suited to grass and I think she could make a real breakthrough at Sw19 this year. She would be my pick of the new players to really shake up the old guard.
There are a few other youngsters who have the potential to go a long way this year. Belinda Bencic has had a great grass-court season winning Eastbourne, reaching another final and only succumbing early at Edgbaston due to Lisicki’s 27 aces. She seems sure to go well. Kiki Mladenovic has reached the semis in two grass tournaments this year and Sloane Stephens has regained her form with a semi at Eastbourne and Madison Keys is a danger if fully fit. The youngest winner of a grass tournament this year wasn’t the 18 year old Bencic, it was 17 year old Croatian Ana Konjuh who won at Nottingham. On her way to the title she dropped only one set and had an impressive win over a dependable grass-court loving player Alison Riske. Riske provides a good benchmark and that win tells me that Konjuh’s powerful game will be a real threat.
Looking at the way the draw has fallen I have these thoughts:
The big names look to have been fortunate in the early rounds with Serena, Kvitova and Sharapova largely avoiding dangerous opponents. Serena may face Hantuchova or Cibulkova who could be a little tricky but she should make it to the last 16 and a meeting with sister Venus. That could go either way as meetings between the two can be strange affairs. Whoever wins that should go all the way to the final. In the other half of the draw Kvitova has an easy path to the last 16 where she could face Radwanska and by then should be warmed up. Sharapova is the one who has a tricky first round opponent in Britain’s Jo Konta who has had a fine grass season. If Konta holds her nerve she could well cause a big upset. Should Maria win that she should be OK all the way to the quarter-finals where she meets whoever emerges from a tricky section that includes Pliskova, Stephens and Safarova, who plays the tricky Riske in the first round. I take Pliskova to emerge and then beat Maria.
The other tough section of this half of the draw involves Mladenovic, Bencic (who plays the dangerous Pironkova in round 1), Ana Ivanovic, and Vika Azarenka who if fit can play well here. The winner of that lot would probably play and lose to a Williams sister in the quarters.
The other half of the draw seems easier with Kerber looking to have a nice run to the last 16. There she may play Wozniacki (if Wozniacki is fit and overcomes a useful grass-courter in Camilla Giorgi). The next section is another easy one which could see Lisicki emerge over Halep . Lisicki will be hoping Kerber doesn’t make it as she has never beaten her.
The bottom quarter features Konjuh who I think has a great chance of shocking Cornet in round 1 and going all the way to the quarter-finals. She may have to face Madison Keys or Bouchard in the last 16 but could win that one. That would probably bring her up against Kvitova who would be a step too far.
The quarter finals could be
Williams (S or V) v Bencic, Sharapova v Pliskova, Kerber v Lisicki, Konjuh v Kvitova
With the uncertainty about who would win out of the Willams sisters and with the ease of her draw if I was tipping someone to win I would go for Kvitova.
I fancy Venus Williams to possibly make it past her sister and reach the final beating Pliskova in the semis.
Kerber seems a very good bet to reach the semis.
Konjuh may give you a good run at long-odds.