by Bobby Chintapalli, Contributing Writer
Never underestimate the motivation of a woman just getting out of a relationship or hitting a milestone birthday. If she’s at Wimbledon and happens to be one of the two best tennis players in the world, watch out. This year, even more than in recent years if that’s possible, talk about the ladies’ singles title often ends with Venus and Serena Williams. Yet the quest for the Venus Rosewater Dish really starts with 128 players. Let’s take a look at a few of the 64 matches they’ll play in the first round, one quarter of the draw at a time. (The data referenced here is mainly from WTA information and the Wimbledon website. Also the ‘Players’ section under each quarter lists Grand Slam singles winners, former Number 1s, current Top 10 players and a few others.)
QUARTER 1 (SERENA WILLIAMS)
Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Li Na
A Few Notes
This quarter has two of the draw’s three former Wimbledon winners in Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
Sharapova, for her part, has a shot here to reach 100 major match wins (along with Svetlana Kuznetsova and Patty Schnyder). Active players who’ve already done this are Venus Williams (195), Serena Williams (192), Justine Henin (136), Elena Dementieva (116) and Kim Clijsters (104).
Also in this quarter is the evergreen Tamarine Tanasugarn, whose first-round match here will be her 100th main draw grass-court match. She’s played more matches on grass than any other active player and has won more too (66 versus 65 for Venus). Hopefully she’ll find a way to “wow wow wow” us again this year.
A Few Good Matches
*Serena Williams vs Michelle Larcher De Brito
*Dominika Cibulkova vs Lucie Safarova
*Melinda Czink vs Agnieszka Radwanska
Born just six months apart these two are at different places in their careers, and the rankings illustrate that. Andrea Petkovic, ranked Number 36, hit her career-high ranking this month. Anna Chakvetadze, ranked Number 111, hasn’t had a season-ending ranking this low in seven years; just three years ago she was ranked as high as Number 5. This is Petkovic’s first main draw singles appearance at Wimbledon, while it’s Chakvetadze’s sixth.
They don’t need any help scouting since they played each other last week in Birmingham. Chakvetadze won that match 6-4, 6-4. For Chakvetadze another win here should help take her ranking and confidence in the right direction.
As for Petkovic, the highest-ranked unseeded player, you have to wonder what her loss yesterday against Justine Henin in the 's-Hertogenbosch final took out of her. (If you’re a Petkovic fan, as so many are these days, do not seek out pictures from that match. Trust me on this.) The pressure’s on her to show she can get the win this time, and winning this one might help her get over those losses. (If you need more information google ‘Aravane Rezai and Madrid’ or ‘Svetlana Kuznetsova and French Open’.) If Petkovic loses we can likely look forward to an entertaining tweet; if she wins she can likely look forward to Serena Williams.
QUARTER 2 (CAROLINE WOZNIACKI)
Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Stosur, Victoria Azarenka, Zheng Jie
A Few Notes
This is the only quarter of the draw without a former Grand Slam singles winner or a former Number 1. Not surprisingly none of the five players with the best odds of winning the title is in this quarter. The player with the best odds from this quarter is Sam Stosur followed by Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka.
Also hanging out here is a woman who played her first Wimbledon before Wozniacki, Azarenka and 21 others in the draw were even born. I’m talking about Kimiko Date Krumm, the oldest woman in the draw. (You didn't think I'd pass up a chance to mention her, did you?)
Aravane Rezai is here too. How will she fare on grass? And more important what will she wear? The word from Eastbourne is that Wimbledon deemed a white and silver dress she planned to wear was too… silver.
A Few Good Matches
*Sorana Cirstea vs Petra Kvitova
*Magdalena Rybarikova vs Aravene Rezai
*Kaia Kanepi vs Sam Stosur
*Flavia Pennetta vs Anabel Medina Garrigues
*Alexandra Dulgheru vs Kimiko Date Krumm
After reading about Mirjana Lucic’s background, you know Victoria Azarenka isn’t the scariest name she’s ever seen across from hers on a Wimbledon draw. This is a woman who, at 17, reached the 1999 Wimbledon semifinals, where she lost to Steffi Graf but not before taking a set off her; this was after she beat Monica Seles in the third round. Soon after she went through personal and financial issues and took an extended break. This is her first Wimbledon main draw appearance since 2000, and she went through qualifying rounds to get here.
If Lucic is trying to make a comeback, Azarenka is trying to find her form and her way back from injury. After getting a thigh injury in Marbella she won two of seven matches – until this week. Yesterday she reached the Eastbourne final, where she lost to Ekaterina Makarova.
Not for nothing is Azarenka one of the most-touted young players. With Lucic having played only one tour tournament this year (but quite a few ITF tournaments), Azarenka’s more used to tennis at this level. She’s expected to win this one. Of course I haven’t seen Lucic play. One of the challenges for Azarenka is that she probably hasn’t either.
One last thing: Check out their WTA head-to-head page. Not for the matches (they never played each other) but for the pictures. I didn’t pick this matchup because Lucic looks like Barbie or because they happen to be a fetching pair of players, but take a look.
QUARTER 3 (JELENA JANKOVIC)
Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Jelena Jankovic, Nadia Petrova
A Few Notes
Once again the draw gods insisted that the Belgians stick together. All four Belgians are here, with Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters slated to meet in the fourth round.
The happiest person in this quarter has to be Stephanie Voegele. Last year in her first-ever Wimbledon Round 1, she played Venus Williams. This year in her first-ever French Open Round 1, she played Serena Williams. Now she gets to play one of the 126 people in the draw not named ‘Williams’. No offense to Maria Kirilenko (or her legion of fanboys and fangirls), but surely the sight of her name made Voegele smile?
A Few Good Matches
*Justine Henin vs Anastasija Sevastova
*Vera Zvonareva vs Nuria Llagostera Vives
*Yanina Wickmayer vs Alison Riske
When you have a former Number 1 who generally brings it (the tennis and the drama) playing the youngest player in the Wimbledon draw – a Brit living in London – you know the photographers will be jostling for courtside space.
Plus both are former Wimbledon champs. Jankovic won the mixed doubles title with Jamie Murray in 2007. Robson, who's just 16 and a wildcard here, won the girls’ singles title in 2008. (Other girls’ singles winners in the draw are Vera Dushevina, Kirsten Flipkens, Kateryna Bondarenko, Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and last year’s winner, Noppawan Lertcheewakarn.)
Jankovic brings experience. Don’t call her a veteran to her face, because she’ll ask if you really mean ‘old’. But she is... a veteran that is (and maybe to a 16-year-old, also old). She has 500+ tour matches on Robson, and she’s in form – only Sam Stosur and Shahar Peer have won more matches this year. Robson though has less pressure, the lefty factor and home-court advantage. And with these two players, if the match isn’t entertaining at least you know the post-match pressers will be.
QUARTER 4 (VENUS WILLIAMS)
Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Francesca Schiavone, Marion Bartoli
A Few Notes
What is it with Venus Williams and the golden oldies? At the French Open, her 14th, her first opponent was the only active player who's appeared in more French Opens, Patty Schnyder. Here she’ll face Rossana De Los Rios, the third-oldest woman in the draw. And let’s talk about some big round numbers and Venus herself: The five-time Wimbledon winner, who turned 30 this week, is playing in her 50th major. Let’s hope that means Wimbledon will let her play a few matches closer to Centre Court than to the parking lot.
This is the quarter that saw the sudden withdrawal of two seeds yesterday. Dinara Safina, the 20th seed, withdrew due to a low back injury. (That leaves the draw without both of last year’s non-Williams semifinalists. Elena Dementieva withdrew early last week with a calf injury.) Safina’s spot was taken by Melanie Oudin, who became the 33rd seed. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, the 22nd seed, withdrew with a knee injury. Her spot was taken by Kateryna Bondarenko, who became the 34th seed.
A Few Good Matches
*Francesca Schiavone vs Vera Dushevina
*Petra Martic vs Elena Baltacha
*Julia Goerges vs Marion Bartoli
*Ekaterina Makarova vs Agnes Szavay
*Melanie Oudin vs Anna-Lena Groenefeld
*Angelique Kerber vs Sania Mirza
*Venus Williams vs Rossana De Los Rios
Things aren’t usually black and white – there’s also boldface and brackets. And without those Ana Ivanovic is just one of 96 unseeded women in the draw who could meet anyone anytime. She won't face Venus Williams in the first round, but she didn’t hit the tennis jackpot either. Both are playing in their sixth Wimbledon, but while Peer’s at her career-high ranking, Ivanovic is… not.
For about two years Ivanovic has played tennis her fans likely watch with hands over eyes. It hasn’t been pretty. Yet you have to think she still has weapons she can summon, the ones that got her into some exclusive places (the Grand Slam club, the Number 1 club)? Plus earlier this year she started working with Heinz Gunthardt, Steffi Graf’s former coach, and also made a suprising run to the semifinals in Rome.
Peer though won their only tour meeting – a 2007 three-set match that the score suggests was close. She also won more matches this year than anyone but Sam Stosur, and her losses have been respectable. In fact, her last seven losses have been to a Grand Slam winner or former Number 1. Remind you of someone? This should be the best first-round match of all.