Wimbledon 2019, women's singles preview: Lack of clear favourites could lead to another first-time winner of Venus Rosewater Dish
Since Serena Williams took time off after winning 2017 Australian Open, there have been first-time Grand Slam winners in Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko. We could see the same at Wimbledon this year.
The beauty of women's tennis, that many consider a flaw, is in its unpredictability, in its inconsistency, in its multiple actors being serious contenders each time to win a title and to grab the world No 1 spot. If for the men the concern is over who can stop the 'Big 3', for the women it is lack of rivalries. The Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf vs Monica Seles and Justine Henin vs Kim Clijsters rivalries were much revered match-ups and the only remaining one is Serena Williams vs Venus Williams. And that rivalry is also at its fag end.
All these factors that make women's tennis interesting will be at play again going into Wimbledon.
Since Serena took time off after winning 2017 Australian Open, there have been first-time winners in Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko.
French Open champion and newly crowned top ranked player Barty is in the form of her life. She followed her maiden Slam with a title on Birmingham's grass. But skipped the tournament in Eastbourne with an arm injury. Her record at the historic venue, however, isn't a happy picture. Her win-loss record stands at 3-5 for Wimbledon (44-13 on grass) with best showing of third round last year. Expecting her to go all the way would be a hopeful punt especially with many grass court experts in the fray.
Serena, Venus, Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova are all former champions at Wimbledon and would have the extra edge on grass. Although, the fact that they're all stuffed into the top section of the draw opens up doors for a new champion. A first Grand Slam at Wimbledon would be a dream of many players in the locker room.
Donna Vekic, Belinda Bencic, Karolina Pliskova, Julai Georges, Kiki Bertens, Jo Konta, Kristina Mladenovic, Elina Svitolina, Su-Wei Hsieh, Kaia Kanepi and Aryna Sabalenka are some of the names who would lead the line in an attempt at winning their first major at Wimbledon.
The top half of the draw is a mixed bag of experience and youth and in all offers potential pocket full of surprises. There are four Wimbledon winners, five world No 1s and seven major winners in the form of Kerber, Serena, Maria Sharapova, Muguruza and Barty. It then brings in the youth in Vekic (runner-up in Nottingham), Kanepi (two time quarter-finalist at Wimbledon) and Bencic (twice contested in the last-16).
Staying in the top half, 'Manic Monday' could see Serena take on Kerber in the fourth round — an early match-up of last year's and 2016 final. They're split 1-1 at Wimbledon and this potential encounter has both of them coming into the tournament with the same level of positives and concerns. Neither are able to get the desired set of results and it is coupled with injury concerns. The German has had time to recover since a first round exit at Roland Garros with semi-finals in Mallorca and final of Eastbourne. Serena, meanwhile, has cited lack of match practice as her biggest worry. She's not helped herself by not playing any tournament since third round French Open loss to Sofia Kenin despite suggesting she could take a wild card.
Kvitova had withdrawn from French Open with an arm injury and had stated she may have to give Wimbledon a miss with the same troubles. Even if she does play, she's far from fully fit, has practice issues with her last match coming on clay against Maria Sakkari on 17 May in Rome. It doesn't help that she will face Ons Jabeur in the first round — a tricky opponent who reached the semi-finals in Eastbourne before pulling out with an ankle injury.
In Kvitova's absence, there are chances of progressing forward for Stephens, Bertens, 2017 semifinalist Konta. But Bertens has the best chances of making the semi-finals from this section of the draw.
Moving to the bottom half and third quarter, there could be a potential Svitolina vs Pliskova quarter-finals with Anastasija Sevastova, French Open runner up Marketa Vondrousova, Anett Kontaveit, and an extremely tricky Hsieh in the fray. After the blip against sister Kristyna in Birmingham, Pliskova reached the final of Eastbourne and has shown spectacular touch. Since the first round, Pliskova hasn't dropped more than three games while going without losing a set. But, her record at Wimbledon is one of miseries for a player who loves to hit through the ball, keeps her groundstrokes flat from the baseline and is most suitable for the hard-courts. After six Wimbledon appearances with a best of second round, she reached the fourth round last year.
Hsieh caused a massive upset last year by taking out Halep in the third round and could be an interesting matchup against the big serving Pliskova. 2018 semifinalist Jelena Ostapenko also sits in this section of the draw and has Hsieh to deal with in the first round itself.
Eighth seed Svitolina can be a tough prospect on her good day. But her knee injury has affected the results enough for her being more in the news for her rekindling with Gael Monfils than her matches. If her matches were the topic, she lost in the first round in Birmingham and then Eastbourne.
Bottom quarter features five former World No 1s in Halep, Osaka, Victoria Azarenka, Venus and Caroline Wozniacki with players knocking on the door to major titles in Sabalenka, Iga Swiatek and Caroline Garcia. Don't be surprised if Osaka exits early in the tournament with grass least of her preferred surfaces. Add to that, she faces a tough prospect in Yulia Putintseva in the first round — a rematch of their clash in Birmingham where the Japanese player lost 2-6, 3-6.
Swiatek, the junior champion here last year has made impressive progress to the senior circuit. Ranked 63 in the world, the Pole reached second round in Melbourne, second round in Budapest, won in Lugano, fourth round at Roland Garros (losing to Halep) but lost in the first round of Birmingham and failed to qualify for Eastbourne. If Osaka does go through to the second round, she could face Swiatek in an interesting tussle between two young guns on the WTA tour.
Wozniacki doesn't have a great record at Wimbledon and her injuries, coupled with illness, this year don't make her a possible champion material. It would be a surprise if she reaches the fourth round.
Making the most of this opportunity should be Garcia. 2001 and 2006 finalist Justine Henin had picked Garcia as a player with potential to win slams.
Venus is a strong prospect to come through this part of the draw even with the presence of Halep and Azarenka. The American starts off against 15-year-old Cori Gauff in the opening round. Bit of trivia here: Gauff was born 10 years after Venus turned pro!
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It was the first competitive match for Halep since she won the Dubai Championships in February for her 20th career WTA title.
Ashleigh Barty has said she is skipping the US Open amid the virus spread, just like Kiki Bertens, Elina Svitolina or Rafael Nadal, and Simona Halep said she will make a decision on her participation soon.
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