Saturday, June 27, 2015
Williams and Kvitova lead the field at WImbledon
Wimbledon play begins Monday, and the first round has the potential for some early drama. The draw is anchored by the top four seeds--Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep, and Maria Sharapova--three of whom have won the tournament in the past. Kvitova is, of course, the defending champion.
Either a successfully returning Dominika Cibulkova or Caroline Garcia appear likely to be Williams' third round opponent, and either is capable of issuing her a challenge. If Williams reaches the round of 16, she's likely to have to face off against five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams. If she makes it to the quarterfinals, she could have to deal with Victoria Azarenka, but she could also have to deal with Kiki Mladenovic, who now appears at home on any surface laid out in front of her. And then there's Ana Ivanovic, who--on a good day--is dangerous, though less so on grass than on other surfaces.
If Williams wins the tournament, she'll be 3/4 of the way to a Grand Slam (not a "calendar Grand Slam"--there is no such thing). A determined Williams could be unstoppable; an anxious Williams could be beatable. The world number 1 has won Wimbledon five times.
Sharapova's draw is quite difficult. Right off, she has to play Johanna Konta, who was scary-good in Eastbourne until she met up with eventual champion Beinda Bencic. Konta has a wild card, and is very likely going to be a free-swinging, hard-hitting nuisance for the Russian. Sharapova can't afford to have a bad serving day against the Brit.
But there's probably more trouble in store for the 2004 champion. Daria Gavrilova (assuming she isn't too hampered by the abdominal strain that forced her to withdraw from Eastbourne and miss her quarterfinal) is her probable third round opponent. Gavrilova defeated Sharapova in Miami, and is improving as the season goes on.
There's more. Flavia Pennetta is in Sharapova's quarter, and is always capable of making a deep run. Big server and improved future star Karolina Pliskova is there, as are Barbora Strycova, Alison Riske and Sloane Stephens. And finally, 6th seed Lucie Safarova, who took Sharapova out of the French Open, is in the Russian's quarter. It won't be easy for Sharapova to fight her way out of harm.
The Halep quarter is a bit calmer, but contains its own hazards. One of those hazards comes in the form of Halep's back, which has been troubling her again lately, and which caused her to withdraw from Eastbourne. But even if Halep should stay healthy (we hope), she could have to contend with the likes of 2013 runner-up Sabine Lisicki, Caroline Wozniacki, Camila Giorgi, Timea Bacsinszky, and Svetana Kuznetsova. And Angelique Kerber. Kerber, who is having a very fine 2015, recently won her first grass court title, and could be this quarter's nightmare.
That brings us to the Kvitova quarter. Kvitova has been suffering--yet again--with a viral infection (someone please get Petra some help with her immune system!), but--assuming she's fine for her Wimbledon run--she nevertheless has some work to do. One wonders what the psychic health of Aga Radwanska is after the first half of this season, and after today's loss in the Eastbourne final. All the same, Radwanska is always to be feared on grass, and the 2012 runner-up could suddenly turn right back into The Ninja when she most needs to do so.
Big danger often lies on the racket of Ekaterina Makarova, and she's in Kvitova's quarter, too. Makarova retired from the Eastbourne doubles competition with an injury, however, so she may not be at her healthiest. Madison Keys is in there, too, as are Elina Svitolina and--wouldn't you know it?--2014 runner-up Genie Bouchard. Bouchard could face Tatjana Maria in the second round, and that might be interesting. Since switching to a one-handed backhand, Maria has brought her best game ever.
Here are some first round matches worth watching:
Daniela Hantuchova vs. Dominika Cibulkova
Heather Watson vs. Caroline Garcia
Sara Errani vs. Francesca Schiavone
Belinda Bencic vs. Tsvetana Pironkova!
Alison van Uytvanck vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Maria Sharapova vs. Johanna Konta
Danka Kovinic vs. Sam Stosur
Barbora Strycova vs. Sloane Stephens
Alison Riske vs. Lucie Safarova
Ana Konjuh vs. Alize Cornet
Jelena Jankovic vs. Elena Vesnina
As for my feeings about Wimbledon--they remain the same as ever.