😀 @Petra_Kvitova is the #AegonClassic #Birmingham Champion - winning her 1st 🏆 since coming back from injury! 😀 pic.twitter.com/cspugfhMRM— British Tennis (@BritishTennis) June 25, 2017
When Petra Kvitova performed the amazing feat of winning Birmingham last week, it turned out to be just half of a Czech Republic bookended accomplishment. Today, Karolina Pliskova won Eastbourne, defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the final. And while it is extremely rare for a Wimbledon warmup event champion to win in London, this could turn out to be one of those rare years.
There is an argument to be made for Kvitova's standing to win Wimbledon, and an argument to be made against it. As someone on Wimbledon Radio said earlier this week--winning seven matches over a stretch of two weeks is different from competing in Birmingham. True. Kvitova hasn't competed in a significant way (she lost in the second round of the French Open) since the U.S. Open. She doesn't have complete feeling in her left hand. She has been through a very significant trauma.
On the other hand, she's back in slay mode. And then there's what I like to call the Squared Hat Trick variable: Kvitova won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014; do the math.
As for Pliskova, she's been on everyone's hot list for a while. It's coming--whatever "it" is. And "it" might be Wimbledon. The Long Tall One has to be a favorite to hold the Venus Rosewater Dish.
Serena Williams won't be there, of course, and--unlike some others--I don't see Venus winning the tournament (nor would it shock me if she did). Vika Azarenka is back, but it's going to take her a while to get her court and tour rhythm back, and anyway, Wimbledon has never been an event at which she could be favored to win.
Now it gets interesting. World number 1 Angelique Kerber, who was the runner-up in 2016, is not the same player she was a year ago. She "should" be on the very short list, but--alas--she isn't. Still, one never knows when the German is going to make another turnaround in her career, and it's possible she could go deeper in this tournament than we expect.
Garbine Muguruza was the runner-up in 2015, but her inconsistency makes her a tenuous short list pick. Nevertheless, Muguruza could cause a lot of trouble if she has her head on straight in London.
Pending a final assessment of her Eastbourne injury, I'm putting Jo Konta near the top of the list. Yes, there's the pressure of playing in one's home country, but Konta, I think, can handle that. Her serve alone is a confidence-builder on the worst of tennis days. Here's hoping the Eastbourne damage was minimal.
What of Jelena Ostapenko? Television commentators appear to have forgotten (did they ever know?) that she was a junior Wimbledon champion--they keep asking if she can do well on grass. Well, yes, she can. But first-time major champions don't repeat these days; rather, they go into a crisis over the pressure of being famous. Ostapenko could make a deep run, though, because she seems a bit removed from some of the external circumstances that bother some players. While others are trying to sort out their priorities, Ostapenko is in a large room doing the cha-cha-cha.
Top seed Kerber anchors the first quarter of the draw, which also contains Lucie Safarova, Muguruza, 2012 runner-up Aga Radwanska, Timea Bacsinszky, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Just as important, it contains Ekaterina Makarova. Kerber is 3-2 against the Russian on grass, but Makarova--when she's of a mind to do it--can be quite destructive on a grass court and has ruined many top players' dreams.
The second quarter is anchored by 3rd seed Pliskova, and danger does lurk in that quarter. It lurks in the form of 5th seed Caroline Wozniacki, Daria Gavrilova and Daria Kasatkina--and Alison Riske, by the way--is no slouch on grass. But it looms large in Kiki Mladenovic and CoCo Vandeweghe. Vandeweghe, though seeded 24th, could tear through this draw if her mindset is right. Of note: Tsvetana Pironkova, The Bulgarian Woman of Mystery, is in that quarter, and can never be counted out as someone who wreaks havoc at Wimbledon. It's possible she would face Wozniacki in the second round.
In the third quarter, anchored by 4th seed Elina Svitolina, there could be a lot of drama. Dominika Cibulkova is there, but she doesn't appear to pose much threat. Venus Williams and Jelena Ostapenko are there, as are Barbora Strycova, Ana Konjuh and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Madison Keys is in that part of the draw, too, but she's just returning from a second wrist surgery. Of note is Ash Barty, whom Svitolina plays in the first round: Danger.
The final quarter, whose anchor is 2nd seed Simona Halep, is also where Jo Konta and Petra Kvitova reside. So, in the words of Azarenka: Good luck with that. Halep made it to the quarterfinals last year, when she was taken out by eventual runner-up Kerber. Also of note in that quarter are Kristyna Pliskova, Elena Vesnina, Heather Watson, and Genie Bouchard.
Most eyes appear to be on Pliskova and Kvitova. I agree, and--assuming she'll be healthy enough following her recent injury--I'll put Konta in as a third.
As readers of this blog know, Wimbledon is my least favorite major (I wish they would move it to the Czech Republic), but even I look forward to Monday.