On the women’s tour, Wimbledon is the most exciting Grand Slam, at least for this generation of players. Because grass is the favored surface for many of the second and third tier contenders, it creates the deepest talent pool for a tournament in tennis.
In the way of a handful of grass enthusiasts is world No. 1 Serena Williams, who is looking not just to win the third leg of the calendar year Grand Slam, but also to complete her second Serena Slam, in which she would hold all four Slams at once. That would bring her to 21(!) Slams in singles for her career and present the scenario in New York in the fall where she would be attempting to complete the true Grand Slam, a feat not seen since Steffi Graf (who also won Olympic gold in her 1988 season), while also seeking a 22nd Slam that would tie Graf’s Open Era record.
That said, she hasn’t won Wimbledon since 2012 (what a slacker). In 2013, Marion Bartoli won her only Slam by taking advantage of a draw that had been blown to smithereens by upsets, and last year Petra Kvitova easily blasted her way through the field, with the exception of a thrilling third round classic over Venus Williams.
Clay is Serena’s worst surface, but the grass presents chances for the field to upset her. After losing just five games total in her opening matches, she suffered a stunning defeat to fiery Alize Cornet in the third round last year, which came a year after getting bounced in the fourth round by Sabine “Boom Boom” Lisicki, who makes an annual tradition out of making a Wimbledon run after disappointing in the first half of the season.
What landmines stand in Serena’s way this year? Let’s take a look:
— The only player who could trouble Serena before the quarters is her sister Venus. The elder Williams is best advanced through a draw these days via pencil rather than pen, but her section isn’t threatening and Wimbledon is the one Slam where she is still a threat. Matches between the two are always awkward, though the tournament would no doubt benefit from one more Grand Slam meeting between the two legends.
— Good luck predicting Serena’s potential quarterfinal opponent. That section is led by No. 7 seed Ana Ivanovic and No. 9 seed Carla Suarez-Navarro, neither of whom are consistent at majors nor significant threats on grass. Players who could easily take advantage of the opportunity include Victoria Azarenka, who finally got a decent draw as she continues to rebuild her ranking but is again dealing with a foot injury, and youngsters Belinda Bencic (who had a stellar grass season that included her first career title, though she drew a brutal first round matchup in grass specialist Tsvetana Pironkova) and Kiki Mladenovic.
— Maria Sharapova didn’t have the clay season she wanted, but just like Rafa Nadal on the men’s side, departing Paris earlier than usual could actually prove to be beneficial for Wimbledon, as both have struggled in recent years to successfully switch surfaces so quickly after depleting their tanks during Roland Garros title runs. Her quarter is loaded with contenders, but thankfully for her, Lucie Safarova, Karolina Pliskova, Sam Stosur and Sloane Stephens are all on the other half of her quarter. Although she’ll have to go through Andrea Petkovic and a couple young players who had solid grass seasons, getting to the quarters is a feasible task for Sharapova.
— The bottom half of the draw could quickly fall to shambles, in particular its upper half, which is led by Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki. Halep has severely underwhelmed since winning Indian Wells and can’t seem to settle on a coach. She is struggling with the dilemma of whether to hit bigger, which goes against her playing style and natural instincts, or rely on her defense, something that leaves her vulnerable to get blown off the court by in-form power players, especially on grass. Wozniacki has never so much as made the quarterfinals in London, and pint-sized powerhouse Camila Giorgi looms as a third round opponent. Lisicki’s sole Grand Slam final came here in 2013, as did all five of her career major quarterfinals. Though not quite as dominant as Lisicki, the SW19 lawns are also the best chance for Angie Kerber to finally reach a Grand Slam final.
— Defending champion Kvitova is extremely inconsistent, but she should reach the fourth round of her quarter unscathed to set up a date with 2012 finalist Aga Radwanska, who may have turned around her dismal season just in time to make a legitimate run at her favorite Slam. If Kvitova can survive that, she’ll meet whoever escapes a section containing Ekaterina Makarova, the adrift-at-sea Genie Bouchard, and Madison Keys, the powerful young American who ended Kvitova’s run in Australia back in January.
1. Serena Williams
Grass, clay, hard, mud, ice, dirt, whatever the surface, Serena is the clear-cut favorite in every tournament she enters.
2. Petra Kvitova
At any other Slam, she’d be closer to a dark horse than a favorite, but the grass suits her game perfectly. Though she didn’t play a warm-up tournament, there’s not much concern she’ll get upset early. In the last five years, she has reached the final eight each time, with two titles (2011, 2014) and two runs ended by Serena.
3. The field
There’s simply a massive drop-off after Williams and Kvitova. Sharapova is probably third, if simply by default due to her track record and dependability under pressure. Otherwise, it’s a complete free-for-all. Is Azarenka healthy? Can Halep or Bouchard find their stellar 2014 form? Which young stars are ready to breakout? All are topics too difficult to confidently forecast.
Round of 16: S. Williams over V. Williams, Azarenka over Bencic, Sharapova over Petkovic, Stephens over Pliskova, Kerber over Giorgi, Lisicki over Kuznetsova, Keys over Makarova, Kvitova over Radwanska
Quarterfinals: S. Williams over Azarenka, Sharapova over Stephens, Lisicki over Kerber, Kvitova over Keys
Semifinals: S. Williams over Sharapova, Kvitova over Lisicki
Championship: Kvitova over S. Williams in a mild upset