Questions surround group of past WTA Wimbledon standouts

Questions surround group of past WTA Wimbledon standouts

How will Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Eugenie Bouchard and Jelena Ostapenko fare at the tournament?

This year has clearly been lacking in the on-court highlights department for Jelena Ostapenko, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard: Between the four of them, they’ve reached a total of seven quarterfinals in 2019.

With Wimbledon, the site of some of their greatest successes, starting in a few days, can the quartet find some comfort on the grass courts and turn around their seasons?

It’s not often that you see such dangerous floaters in the main draw at a Grand Slam, as 2004 winner Sharapova, five-time titlist Williams, 2014 runner-up Bouchard and last year’s semifinalist Ostapenko will be on the outside looking in, to a degree. None of the four will be seeded at the sport’s most prestigious event, which begins Monday. 

For Ostapenko, the cutoff for a protected position in the standings came too soon as the Latvian entered this week’s tournament in Eastbourne on the heels of one of her best performances of the year. Last week in Birmingham, she advanced to the quarterfinals, posting a win against Johanna Konta along the way. Petra Martic stopped her mini-run in a tight three-setter, but she entered this week’s event in Eastbourne ranked No. 31. At the final tuneup before the main event, she won a round before retiring in the second. 

The 2014 Wimbledon girls’ champion has the potential to cause an upset or two—if not outright win the whole event. After all, it was only two years ago when she shocked the world as an unseeded 20-year-old to claim the French Open crown. A go-for-broke attitude served her well then, and could do so on grass—provided she’s healthy.

Bouchard, another former girls’ champion, can relate to the feeling of being betrayed by her body. Dating back to the end of last year, it appeared that she was poised to put an overwhelming lack of form behind her as she battled through qualifying rounds to make main draws, culminating with a semifinal showing in Luxembourg to end the season. A quarterfinal run in her first appearance of 2019 set the bar even higher for the former world No. 5; however, a lingering abdominal problem has slowed her progress. The opportunity is there for a solid Wimbledon, even though she hasn’t reached the second week since she advanced to the final in 2014. 

Injury woes have completely shaped the course of Sharapova’s campaign. 2019 got off to a promising start for the five-time Grand Slam winner as she went 6-3 over her first three tournaments, with that stretch including a fourth-round showing at the Australian Open. But after the January indoor event in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sharapova was forced to the sidelines with shoulder problems. She only returned to action last week in Mallorca, Spain, winning a round before going out to defending Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber. 

Last year’s return to the All England Club didn’t go as planned for the Russian: After missing the tournament the prior two years due to suspension and injuries, Sharapova fell in the first round. The grass courts have traditionally served her well with her flat groundstrokes, when firing properly, only gaining more potency on the surface.

It’s a game that nearly mirrors one of the greatest ever to step foot on Centre Court. Williams has reached the Wimbledon final nine times in her career, claiming the top prize on five of those occasions. It was only two years ago when Venus broke her nearly decade-long finals drought there, falling in the championship match to Garbine Muguruza.

That was her second major final of 2017, having lost to her sister Serena at the Australian Open. Finishing up that campaign with a run to the WTA Finals title match, big things were expected of the American in 2018. However, she was unable to sustain that form, and dropped well out of the Top 10.

Despite her struggles the past 18 months, the recently turned 39-year-old can’t be discounted. Lacking in the way of match play this year, she made an unexpected move by adding a grass-court warm-up event to her schedule last week in Birmingham, where she advanced to the quarterfinals. 

New No. 1 Ashleigh Barty stopped her there, but that could be enough for Williams to enter Wimbledon feeling sharp enough to make a run at the title. At the least, she should be confident in her ability to make life difficult for anyone in the draw—something her unseeded peers will try to emulate as they try to get back on track in 2019.