Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Strawberries, grass, white dresses, and tone-deaf organizers--it's almost here!

Having just recovered from the drama of my favorite major, I now must prepare for the drama of my least favorite major. Wimbledon is almost here, whether I like it or not. I do like the looking at the lawns, at least for the first few days.

The powers that run the tournament have decided to seed Serena Williams as number 25. Whatever they decided would probably have upset people, and--in the end--does it really matter? Williams, the seven-time Wimbledon champion, wasn't really ready for the French Open, but fans have reason to believe that she's more than ready for the grass.

Another player who's ready is 8th seed and two-time champion Petra Kvitova. The Barking Czech has stormed through the 2018 season, winning five titles and generally looking as scary as she ever has. I thought she would do better at the French Open, since her clay season was excellent, and while she lost a very tight match in the third round to a very tough clay opponent--Anett Kontaveit--I was nevertheless surprised.

But this is grass, where Kvitova always feels at home. The bad news is that she withdrew from Eastbourne on today with a hamstring injury which she first noticed during her championship run in Birmingham the week before. The good news is that she has some time to tend to that injury.

Aside from Kvitova and Williams, are there other players who can contend for the Wimbledon championship? There are:

First, there's the defending champion, Garbine Muguruza, who is seeded 3rd, and who--as we all know--could romp through the entire draw, or crash out in the second round. There's simply no predicting the mercurial Spaniard, but if anyone could defend a big title, it's Muguruza.

Anyone else? I'm going to throw a couple more names into the mix. The first one is 11th seed Angie Kerber, who was the finalist in 2016, which was pretty much the Year of Kerber. The German's fortunes haven't been as good since that year, but lately, she's looked pretty good, and I think it's only fair to include her as a contender.

My other name is Alona Ostapenko. The 2017 French Open champion and former junior Wimbledon champion isn't very happy with her performance at Roland Garros this year. She has also changed coaches. And while this combination of occurrences might sound like a recipe for instability with any other player, it very likely isn't for the woman that Todd Spiker calls Latvian Thunder.

Ostapenko gets past negative emotions pretty well. The dancing upstart lets emotions out quickly and moves on quickly. Her fast, hard hitting can get her into trouble when she does what I call the "early Kvitova" routine. But it also blows a lot of opponents off of the court. And she's won a major and knows what it feels like to advance through seven big-stage matches.

I know that 2017 runner-up Venus Williams is a favorite among many fans. Her performances last year (finalist at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon) were astounding. And while that kind of thing could happen again on her best surface--she's won Wimbledon five times--I don't consider her as likely to win the event as I do others.

And what about world number 1 Simona Halep? I think her chances will be better at the U.S. Open, but--having taken a great load off of her back--nothing would surprise me, either. The same goes for Caroline Wozniacki--we don't think of her as a potential Wimbledon champion, but now that she has a major win and and a game that just keeps improving, we can never count her out.

Elina Svitolina has yet to show us that she can do well in majors, and grass is probably the last surface on which we'd expect her to break through, but stranger things have happened. Coco Vandeweghe has the game, but if she isn't playing in a Fed Cup competition, she can't be counted on to have the mental focus necessary to win.

Madison Keys has the game, but can she make her biggest breakthrough in London? I don't know. And then there's Sloane Stephens, who is now officially scary everywhere she goes. But she's also Sloane, and it just isn't like her to make two really deep runs in succession.

I wish I could say that there's Maria Sharapova, but the 2004 champion--while playing at a better level as the season progresses--doesn't appear to have reached the level that took her to five major championships.

I'll mention Karolina Pliskova, whose game has been uneven as of late. But the big-hitting Czech is certainly someone we'll all be watching. And finally, Jo Konta appears to be coming alive on grass after having had some rough months on the tour. It's her home tournament, and with the right draw, she could make her countrywomen and -men very proud.

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