Friday, June 24, 2016

The grass is always wetter on the other side of the net

I'm in my usual pre-Wimbledon bad mood. First, there's the letdown because the French Open (my favorite) is over, and now comes the dread of the underwear-inspecting, female player-dismissing, national press sexist female abusing, and all around horrible behavior the AELTC promotes in the name of "tradition." It's time to watch line officials sweat in ridiculous outfits, and listen to people rave about the extremely dubious claim that Wimbledon is the "greatest" of all the tournaments.

The tournament where it rains the most is, of course, the tournament that takes a day off, and that drives me crazy, too. But middle Sunday ranting will come later.

It's easy to say that 2016 is a "crazy" season, but really, every WTA season seems kind of crazy. What is interesting about this one, however, is that world number 1 Serena Williams has appeared in two major finals, and has lost both of them. The Australian Open used to be Williams' "bread and butter" event, but now, most of us--I think--are more likely to consider Wimbledon the place where she's most likely to prevail.

And while Williams may again be considered the "most likely" to lift the Venus Rosewater dish, there are some others who surely have their eyes on it.

I'll start with two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. Kvitova has dropped out of the top 10 and has fallen even father down the rabbit hole than last year. Things just aren't going well for her at all. But if there's one venue where the Barking Czech could get her act together in a big way, it's Wimbledon. Her 2011 and 2014 victories runs were things of great beauty. Eugenie Bouchard, in fact, hasn't been the same since the 2014 final when Kvitova smacked her down 6-3, 6-0. But this is Petra, and Petra is a mystery. She's also a contender.

Only a year ago, 2016 French Open champion Garbine Muguruza was the runner-up at Wimbledon, losing to Williams in straight sets. It's entirely possible that Mugu will wind up in the final again and this time, be successful. She has a tough first round against Camila Giorgi, and is in the same half of the draw as Madison Keys and Angelique Kerber. Simona Halep is in that half, too, but she doesn't seem near the threat that she used to, and especially not on grass.

2012 runner-up Angieszka Radwanska gets a shout-out here, even though her results have been on and off lately. But Wimbledon tends to bring out the best in The Ninja, and nice things could happen for her. At any rate, we know we'll see some stunning shot-making from her. With a little luck, we'll be seeing it throughout two full weeks.

Who can cause trouble at Wimbledon? Madison Keys, for sure. Keys just won Birmingham, which--these days--doesn't necessarily mean she'll do well at Wimbledon, but in her case, it just could. Keys has experienced slow momentum over the last couple of years, but is now looking more and more like someone set to meet her considerable potential.

Keys beat Barbora Strycova in the Birmingham final, and Strycova (who almost outshone The Ninja herself at the French Open) can definitely cause trouble--to anyone. Kiki Mladenovic isn't someone you want to see on the other side of the net, and--on grass--neither is CoCo Vandeweghe. Kerber is always a threat, Johanna Konta--with the crowd behind her--is to be feared, and Ekaterina Makarova is almost always ready to do major damage at a major.

Suddenly, Dominika Cibulkova is shining on grass, having won two matches today in Eastbourne, both against formidable opponents (Radwanska and Monica Puig). Five-time champion Venus Williams has the ability to go far, as does Karolina Pliskova (well, on paper), and even Halep. And then there's the original Wimbledon trouble-maker, the Bulgarian Woman Of Mystery--Tsvetana Pironkova.

Here are some interesting first-round contests:

Caroline Wozniacki vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Two of the endurance queens of the tour will most likely run each other into a frenzy to see who advances to the second round. Tough to see either of them lose.

Alison Riske vs. Roberta Vinci: This "should" be Vinci's match, but she's not having the best time of it lately, and Riske really likes grass courts.

Dominika Cibulkova vs. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni: Cibulkova has reached the final in Eastbourne. She might be tired next week, and Lucic-Baroni can be a very tough opponent. Chances are, however, that Cibulkova will advance to the second round.

Monica Puig vs. Johanna Konta: This could get intense. Both did very well this week in Eastbourne, both play well on grass. Konta, of course, is one of the two British hopes (the other being Heather Watson), and she'll need all the fan support she can garner against Puig.

Petra Kvitova vs. Sorana Cirstea: This probably isn't how Kvitova wants to start her Wimbedon campaign--against a player known for pulling big upsets. But it's what she gets.

Tsvetana Pironkova vs. Belinda Bencic: This would be more interesting if Bencic weren't just coming back from injury. But it's interesting nevertheless.

Simona Halep vs. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova: Schmiedy's season is still a shockingly poor one, but she's been doing better lately, and with Halep, you just don't know these days.

Camila Giorgi vs. Garbine Muguruza: Again, this probably isn't the way Muguruza wants to start, but she'll have to be in top form to deal with the hard-hitting Italian.

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