It's always hard for me to mentally prepare for Wimbledon, since my post-French Open letdown tends to last a while, and since Wimbledon is not exactly my favorite major. I wish there were more time between the two events (I know--me and and 20 busloads of players), but here we are, less than two days away from the big tournament in London.
It's common speculation that world number 1 Serena Williams is all set to win her sixth Wimbledon title. Another final between Williams and Sharapova is possible, and--considering the high quality of their French Open final--probably would be a fitting end to the tournament. But anything can happen, of course. And while there aren't many grass specialists left on the tour, there are enough women proficient on grass courts to make things interesting.
Williams' quarter contains several players who have done well on grass courts, including Zheng Jie, Tamira Paszek, Sabine Lisicki, and Urszula Radwanska, plus a few others who are fairly good on the surface. But with the exception of Lisicki, it's hard to imagine any of them making a deep run, and I have my doubts about the German.
And speaking of Germans, Angelique Kerber is also in that quarter, and she has a scary first-round draw against Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Considering how Mattek has been playing lately, if her recent injury proves not to be a big deal, she could make things uncomfortable for Kerber. Kaia Kanepi is also lurking in that quarter, and is very likely to get the winner of the Kerber vs. Mattek-Sands match.
2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska leads the second quarter, and while Radwanska went out in the first round of Eastbourne this year, she also went out in the first round last year, and the loss didn't appear to affect her at all. It's a tricky quarter, however. The mysterious Tsvetana Pironkova is there, and--while she won't have Venus Williams to kick around this year--she'll probably still come to life as soon as she sees the SW19 sign. Pironkova's love relationship with Wimbledon is one of the oddest phenomena in women's professional tennis. I, for one, hope that she sticks around for a while, because it just isn't Wimbledon without the bewildering Bulgarian.
Oh-Nadia Petrova is in Radwanska's quarter, and so are the clever Roberta Vinci, Daniela Hantuchova, Simona Halep, and Li Na. Halep will probably be tired; she just won two consecutive tournaments. But if she can find the energy, she could give just about anyone problems. Li plays Michaella Krajicek (remember Michaella?!) in the first round. The Dutchwoman is pretty good on grass courts. If the more-inconsistent-than-ever Li gets past her, she'll probably have to deal with Halep in the second round.
Also in that quarter, Heather Watson and Madison Keys play each other in the first round.
Next is Maria Sharapova's quarter, which contains 2007 runner-up Marion Bartoli and Petra Cetkovska, who has done well at Wimbledon in the past. Sara Errani is there, and so is Sloane Stephens (who plays Jamie Hampton in the first round). But there isn't anyone (not even Bartoli, given her recent travails) who really appears ready to knock out 'Pova. That is, until we get to the semifinals, and at that point, Victoria Azarenka might be able to do the job.
Finally, there's the Azarenka quarter, and an interesting quarter it is, too. Ekaterina Makarova, on paper, should be challenging, yet her Wimbledon history isn't impressive at all. Still, she's worth keeping an eye on. Keep an eye on Yaroslava Shvedova. Shvedova has a big game that could take her places on the Wimbledon courts. She'll likely get 2011 champion Petra Kvitova in the second round, and given Kvitova's decline, an upset is possible. (Ouch. I hate even writing that). Should Kvitova keep her wits about her, she's most likely to meet Makarova in the third round, and that has the potential to be a really fine match.
Both Serbian stars--Ivanovic and Jankovic--are in Azarenka's quarter, and so is the resurgent Yanina Wickmayer.
The Radwanska and Azarenka quarters look to be the least predictable of the four.
First-round matches of interest:
Sabine Lisicki vs. Francesca Schiavone: Schiavone has gotten as far as the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and if she has a good day (and Lisicki has a bad one--not an unusual event), things could get interesting.
Maria Kirilenko vs. Laura Robson: These two have never played each other, and while Robson has the "big" game and will be the runaway crowd favorite, she's vulnerable to the cleverness and consistency of the Russian.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Angelique Kerber: When Mattek-Sands feels well, she tends to play well. On a grass court, her aggression could get the better of Kerber. Mattek-Sands is already 2-0 against Kerber.
Klara Zakopalova vs. Daniela Hantuchova: This could be a very good match. When Zakopalova is "on," she can be a tough opponent.
Sloane Stephens vs. Jamie Hampton: Two up-and-coming players from the USA face each other right away. Hampton made it to the final in Eastbourne; could her lower back issue put her at risk?