Let's Do It Again
For the men's Wimbledon preview, click here.
EASTBOURNE, England—Until last season, every women’s Grand Slam was described as chaotic and wide open. Now, a little more than a year later, we seem to be heading 180 degrees in the other direction. You can be forgiven if you think the WTA draw at Wimbledon looks a little familiar. Or a lot familiar. With Serena Williams towering over one half, and Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka poised to duke it out in the other, this feels like Roland Garros redux.
Still, while there may be few surprises on the horizon, this draw doesn’t lack for quality at the top. You may know Serena, Vika, and Maria well by now, but there’s no doubting their legitimacy, or their ability to win Grand Slams. How long will we have to wait for the drama to unfold with the women? Only the draw will tell...
That sense of déjà vu extends all the way to Serena Williams’ quarter: Just as in Paris, she’s scheduled to play Caroline Garcia in the second round and Angelique Kerber in the quarters. But one thing is different, and it should make Serena feel better (as if the world No. 1 and five-time Wimbledon champ needs any more good news right now): Svetlana Kuznetsova, her temporary tormenter at Roland Garros, is not here, or anywhere—she pulled out of the event with an abdominal strain.
Is there anyone who can pull a Kuzzie and strike a little fear in Serena’s heart? Two names that stick out are Kerber’s—she reached the semis here last year—and Sam Stosur’s. The Aussie has beaten Serena before, but she has never liked grass. Sabine Lisicki can hit with Serena, but it’s hard to see the hyper-erratic German finishing off an upset. Jie Zheng, Serena's other possible second-round opponent, is probably the best bet; she’s a grass-lover who pushed Serena to 9-7 in the third set here last year.
First-round matches to watch:
- Angelique Kerber vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The American won their only meeting, on hard courts, in 2011.
- Sabine Lisicki vs. Francesca Schiavone
- Maria Kirilenko vs. Laura Robson
Potential second-round match to watch: Serena Williams vs. Jie Zheng
Semifinalist: S. Williams
Agnieszka Radwanska, in case you’re forgotten, reached the Wimbledon final last year and almost reached No. 1 in the process. That feels like a long time ago, and Aga is currently far, far away from today’s No. 1, Serena Williams. But while Radwanska lost her first and only grass-court match of this season, to Jamie Hampton, another deep run from her can’t be discounted. As the No. 4 seed, she avoids the Big 3 until the semis; she still likes grass; and she hasn’t been playing poorly—she made the quarters in Paris and played a fine match against Sara Errani in defeat.
Radwanska has to like her draw in general. Li Na is the next-highest seed in this quarter, and there's no guarantee she'll make it that far. She just lost to Elena Vesnina at Eastbourne, and might play a surging Simona Halep in the second round. After that, there’s Roberta Vinci at No. 11, Nadia Petrova at No. 13, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at No. 21. It seems like there will be time for Radwanska to find her grass-court game again.
First-round match that you will definitely hear about: The U.K.’s Heather Watson vs. the USA’s Madison Keys
Maria Sharapova edged Victoria Azarenka in the French Open semifinals, but she dropped below her in the rankings to No. 3. Now they’ve been drawn into the same half again, destined, it seems, for another showdown in the semis. Sharapova will face France’s Kristina Mladenovic in the first round; the two have never played. After that, she could get the winner between two players of faded notoriety, Melanie Oudin and Michelle Larcher de Brito. In the third round, Sharapova might play Lucie Safarova, and in the fourth Marion Bartoli. The Frenchwoman won’t be favored against Maria, but she may be the only woman with wins over both Serena Williams and Justine Henin at Wimbledon.
That might be as tough as it gets for Sharapova. The top seed in the other half here is Sara Errani; second is Caroline Wozniacki. Then again, few would have foreseen Sharapova, after winning the French Open last year, going out to Sabine Lisicki at the All England Club.
First-round match for Americans to watch: Jamie Hampton vs. Sloane Stephens
Young’uns to watch: Monica Puig, who plays Errani; Donna Vekic, a 17-year-old Croatian blonde who is already learning to live with the Next Sharapova label.
Azarenka sits on the draw’s last bracket line, as far from Serena as possible. That's not a bad place to begin. A semifinal loser to you-know-who here last year, Vika will open with Maria Joao Koehler of Portugal. She’ll play the winner between Flavia Pennetta and the U.K.’s Elena Baltacha after that, but her first challenge might come from a resurgent Jelena Jankovic in the fourth round. JJ owns three wins over Vika, though none since 2009.
Petra Kvitova, the 2011 champion, is on the other side of this section. She likes her grass, obviously, but she might be distracted by chatter about her reported relationship with Radek Stepanek. Or she could just have one of her normal awful days. Kvitova opens against another ball-banger in Coco Vandeweghe, and she might get Yaroslava Shedova, who pushed Serena deep into a third set here last year, in the second round. Azarenka should hope that Petra is distracted. Kvitova has won their last four matches.
Also here: Ana Ivanovic. She plays Virginie Razzano to start.
First-round match to watch: Kirsten Flipkens vs. Yulia Putintseva. Variety vs. feistiness
Semifinals: S. Williams d. Radwanska; Azarenka d. Sharapova
Final: S. Williams d. Azarenka