A year on from Marion Bartoli’s stunning Wimbledon triumph, we return to SW19 expecting a less surprising women’s tournament. All of the big names – minus Bartoli – are in the mix, and there are plenty of intriguing questions to be answered. Can Serena rebound from disappointing showings at the Australian and French Opens? How will Queen of Clay Maria Sharapova cope with the swift transition to grass? And what can we expect from a rusty Victoria Azarenka?
Check out the Full Draw: Wimbledon 2014 Women’s draw
This will be Serena’s 15th Wimbledon. She has suffered few disappointing losses on the pristine lawns over the years, with her third round defeat to Jill Craybas in 2005 the only outright shocker. The world number one will be coming into this year’s event relatively short of match practice and with her aura of invincibility slightly diminished, but her draw is such that we can bank on her making the second week.
Serena Williams opens against 113th-ranked Anna Tatishvili, and in round two will play either Chanelle Scheepers or compatriot Christina McHale. McHale has posted some good results recently and has done well to climb back into the top 50, but she is nowhere near ready to challenge the five-time Wimbledon champion on grass. Alize Cornet is seeded to face Serena in the third round and should come through a fairly soft section; she also holds the distinction of beating her on hard courts earlier this year. But almost none of Serena’s losses go unavenged: expect her to dismantle the animated Frenchwoman next Saturday in little over an hour.
Eugenie Bouchard is being talked up as a dark horse contender and will have no shortage of admirers in London, but she’ll have to work hard to live up to her 13th seeding. The Canadian opens her Wimbledon campaign against veteran Daniela Hantuchova who, although not a reliable force these days, still knows how to play on grass. Andrea Petkovic may not be a lover of the turf, but she leads her head-to-head with Bouchard 3-0 and, like her young rival, was a semi-finalist in Paris. Either one of those players would make a formidable foe for Serena in the last 16, even if they are unlikely to sneak a set.
Maria Sharapova knew that her fifth seeding could leave her vulnerable and, sure enough, she has been drawn in Serena’s quarter. There would be no bigger draw in tennis than a last eight showdown between the two superstars, and no better place for Sharapova to record a long-awaited victory over her nemesis.
The Russian will be confident of getting to that stage, thanks to a kind draw. British wild card Samantha Murray will be her first round victim, and either Timea Bacsinszky or Sharon Fichman will do their best to muster some resistance in round two. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Camilla Giorgi are both trickier customers and one of them will likely face Sharapova in round three. Pavlyuchenkova beat her compatriot in Paris earlier this year, whereas Giorgi proved her grass court credentials by beating Azarenka in Eastbourne last week. The young Italian is almost unplayable when she’s zoning, so Sharapova might have to summon all her powers of intimidation to reach the fourth round, where she’ll be a heavy favourite.
Angelique Kerber is slated as her last 16 opponent, but she has beaten Sharapova only once in five meetings and, aside from a good result in Eastbourne, has been relatively low on wins in 2014. With former Wimbledon quarter-finalist Tamira Paszek and last year’s semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens even more lacking in recent success, might this be a chance for British number one Heather Watson to make a splash? A clash with Sharapova on the second Monday would be a sure-fire Centre Court hit.
Predicted quarter-final: Serena def. Sharapova – Sharapova is younger than Serena and bound to notch another win over the American before either retires, but it’s just too difficult to see it happening here. The memory of her 2004 Wimbledon final loss to the teenage Sharapova still fuels Williams, and she loves nothing more than to prove her superiority on the biggest of stages.
A low-key second round loser at Wimbledon 2013, Simona Halep is one of the star attractions at this year’s event. Fans can’t wait to see what the clever, crafty Romanian can do on grass following her superb performance in the French Open final; thanks to a favourable draw, there’s a good chance she will do quite a lot.
Halep won’t face anyone ranked inside the top 90 until round three, at which stage she’s seeded to play fellow Romanian Sorana Cristea. Given that Cristea has won back-to-back matches only three times this season, Halep might find herself battling hotly tipped Belinda Bencic instead. The Swiss is a wildly talented and exciting prospect, but as yet she lacks the consistency to take down a rock solid competitor such as Halep.
Carla Suarez Navarro and Roberta Vinci are the highest ranked players in the next section, which also includes Donna Vekic, Kristina Mladenovic and, on the comeback trail, Vera Zvonareva. No one is a dependable pick to come through here – Suarez Navarro isn’t at her best on grass and Vinci has been struggling for months – making Halep a favourite to reach the quarter-finals.
Bidding to meet her there are Serbia’s best players, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic. Jankovic is the higher seed, but Ivanovic is coming into Wimbledon with more momentum, having won her first ever grass court title in Birmingham. Of course, Ivanovic has been tipped as a dark horse many times before only to disappoint – last month, she had a chance to go far at the French Open but lost in the third round.
This unpredictability means that last year’s finalist, Sabine Lisicki, could make some noise again. The German has done little of note outside of the All England Club in the last year, but that never seems to matter: in four of the last five Wimbledons she has beaten the reigning French Open champion. If Lisicki can find her range during the first two rounds, she is more than capable of taking down Ivanovic in round three, and would then have a decent shot at besting Jankovic or Madison Keys two days later.
Predicted quarter-final: Halep def. Lisicki – Even if Lisicki does rediscover her Wimbledon mojo in the first week, it’s hard to see her lasting much longer, given her injury-ravaged résumé. Halep has also been in the wars recently and pulled out of the Topshelf Open, but she has withdrawn from several events this season only to rebound impressively.
The tour has missed Victoria Azarenka. She has played only two matches since falling in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, and lost both of them. But during her defeat to Giorgi in Eastbourne last week she did enough to prove that she was over her foot injury and ready to compete at the highest levels again. So can the Belarusian kickstart the second half of her season with a confidence-boosting run at Wimbledon?
With a first round match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and a second round date with either Johanna Larsson or Bojana Jovanovski, Azarenka has a chance to play herself into form. She’ll certainly need to have shaken off the rust by round three, where she’ll likely face Garbine Muguruza or Coco Vandeweghe. Muguruza’s astonishing beatdown of Serena in Paris underlined her potential, as well as her fearlessness, and her big-hitting game translates well to grass. Vandeweghe has had no such high profile win, but she’ll arrive in Wimbledon on the back of a run to the final in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Should Azarenka survive that test, her fourth round should be only marginally more difficult. Dominika Cibulkova is the tenth seed, but she went 2-3 during the clay season and lost her only match on grass. That opens the door for 23rd seed Lucie Safarova, who has won only one set from Azarenka in six meetings.
At the opposite end of the third quarter, it’s time for Agnieszka Radwanska to step it up. No one questions the Pole’s talent and consistency week in, week out, but does she have what it takes to succeed when the world is watching? After seeing her main rivals exit Wimbledon 2013, Radwanska let slip a prime opportunity to win a maiden Grand Slam. Another window of opportunity slammed shut in Melbourne earlier this year when she followed up a landmark win over Azarenka with a desultory performance against Cibulkova.
The fourth seed should have few problems making it to round three, but there she could find herself up against perennial bête-noire Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian has beaten her 10 times in 14 meetings, often blasting her off the court. There is of course no guarantee that the ever-erratic Kuznetsova will make it out of the gate, but if she does she’ll have a realistic chance of reaching the fourth round for the fifth time in her career. The winner of the Radwanska-Kuznetsova match would then be the favourite to book a spot in the quarter-finals, given that the most notable players in the next section are grass-loathing Sara Errani, solid but unspectacular Ekaterina Makarova, and former semi-finalist but currently off-form Tsvetana Pironkova.
Predicted quarter-final: Azarenka def. Radwanska – We’ll pick Radwanska to outthink a spirited Kuznetsova and then edge Pironkova, but not to get the better of Azarenka. Radwanska had to play the match of her life to beat her in Australia; the 12-4 head-to-head record in Azarenka’s favour is a more reliable guide to how their duels usually end.
The final quarter of the women’s draw features two former Wimbledon champions who could potentially meet in the third round, fitness permitting. Petra Kvitova pulled out of Eastbourne citing a hamstring injury, while Venus Williams is at the mercy of the Sjogren’s Syndrome that drives a truck through her energy levels. Kvitova, although no stranger to head-scratching results, should ease past compatriot Andrea Hlavackova in round one, after which she’ll play Mona Barthel or Romina Oprandi. Venus opens against the lively world number 52 Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor and will then play either Kurumi Nara or Anna-Lena Friedsam. Alas, we can no longer count on the elder Williams sister, one of the greatest grass court players of all time, to school lowly ranked opponents. But let’s hope she can survive her first two matches and bring her A game in a hard-hitting third round clash with Kvitova.
The winner of that one (Kvitova leads the head-to-head 3-1 but all four matches have been gruelling three-setters) will probably meet Sloane Stephens in the fourth round. If Lisicki and Pironkova have a history of upping their games at Wimbledon, Stephens has earned a reputation for rising to the Grand Slam occasion – she has made the last 16 six straight times. The young American should overcome a rusty Maria Kirilenko in round one, Shuai Peng in round two and either compatriot Lauren Davis or 12th seed Flavia Pennetta in round three.
On the shortlist of Roland Garros contenders, Li Na is less hyped on the eve of Wimbledon. This is the only Grand Slam at which she has failed to reach the semi-finals, although she has made the last eight on three occasions. This year, she begins against Polish qualifier Paula Kania, will play either Vania King or Yvonne Meusburger in round two, and is slated to meet 32nd seed Elena Vesnina in the third round. Vesnina has beaten Li three times our of four, including a win on grass, so the second seed will have to be at her best to reach the last 16, where her most likely opponent will be Caroline Wozniacki.
It has been a long time since the Dane reached the latter stages of a Grand Slam, but with no big hitters in her vicinity and her Eastbourne victim Sam Stosur awaiting in round three, she has a good chance to register a morale-boosting result this fortnight. Can she do even better and upset Li? She has done so only twice in six encounters, but if the Chinese star is short of her best form on the second Monday, Wozniacki will be primed to counterpunch her way into the last eight.
Predicted quarter-final: Kvitova def. Wozniacki – For all Kvitova’s inconsistency on the WTA Tour, her game is tailor made for grass and she has made the Wimbledon quarter-finals four years running.
Predicted semi-finals: Serena def. Halep; Azarenka def. Kvitova
Champion: Serena Williams
Remember what happened last time Serena suffered an unexpected French Open loss? In 2012, she put the infamous Razzano defeat behind her to win a fifth Venus Rosewater Dish five weeks later. She may be a little older and a little more fatigued after two years of relentless winning, but Serena is still the player best equipped to take the 2014 Wimbledon title. Her serve is feared by all, and practically unreturnable on grass. Her mental strength is second to none, and she has done it all before: no one will be more comfortable in the spotlight. Most significantly, she is hungry for Grand Slam success after leaving Melbourne and Paris empty-handed.