So far, and not surprisingly, it's Maria Sharapova who has come out looking fresh, confident and ready for trophy-holding at the All England Club. Defending champion Petra Kvitova was a bundle of nerves in her first round, Serena Williams carried obvious tension, and Victoria Azarenka muttered, sputtered and double-faulted her way to a straight-set win. None of it means much, though. First rounds are hard, and even great champions are anxious about them.
Sharapova's next opponent will Tsvetana Pironkova, who doesn't have Venus Williams to kick around this year. Pironkova had a back injury in Eastbourne, and at this point, I don't know the status of her pain or mobility. The injury looked like it might be more than a small one. But, assuming she's healthy for her second round, it's likely that she'll try to mess with Sharapova in her nonchalant, "Oh I'm just here because it relaxes me," grass court trickster way. Pironkova thrives on low bounces and sometimes plays an attacking game that seems to come out of nowhere. She'll have her work cut out for her, though; Sharapova might just stay loose in the way that someone who just won a career Slam might be very content and loose. Oh, and she's been playing really, really well.
Kvitova, who--after she failed to convert a match point--came back today from a rain delay as The Rock, will next play Elena Baltacha. Baltacha, though no slouch, should pose no serious threat to Kvitova, who, one hopes, will relax a bit and rely on some happy memories to get her through the first week of the tournament.
Williams probably got all the tension out of her in the first round, but these days, she's a little hard to predict. Her next opponent is Melinda Czink, and she should be able to handle the Hungarian without much trouble. After that, she gets either Aleksandra Wozniak or Zheng Jie, and things get a little more difficult.
As for Azarenka, she'll play Romina Oprandi in the next round, but with the world number 2, who is on the other side of the net doesn't really seem to be an issue. Azarenka goes from unsure and cranky to confident and explosive without warning. Winning a major really takes its toll on some of these players, apparently. There is, of course, a tremendous amount of pressure, but--on the other hand--they don't seem to make them like Chris Evert anymore.
If things go according to plan, Kvitova and Williams will meet in the quarterfinals, and that will be the match everyone will talk about, as well they should. In 2010, Kvitova played "The Serena" in the semifinals, and clearly (she even said so) had little hope of winning. But losing to The Serena seemed to light just the right fire under the Czech star, who went on to take the year 2011 by storm, winning six titles, including Wimbledon and the WTA Championships, and leading her team to the Fed Cup championship. 2012 has been a letdown, but sometimes a walk on the grass is just what one needs to feel good again.