Wimbledon 2011: Maria Sharapova favourite
Wimbledon, the Williams and Caroline Wozniacki: The trio of Ws coming together, could generate more than enough hype and hoopla, to keep sports writers busy for the next 14 days.
Maria Sharapova is making headlines and this is not for her fashion sense, boyfriends or her clothing line, but for her tennis.
A fabulous run at the French Open reminded players and fans alike why she was considered one of the most exciting talents to burst onto the WTA tour at 17.
Li Na won her first ever major at Roland Garros and a billion-plus Chinese fans ignited a Marco Polo-like rush to discover the next Chinese star.
The withdrawal of Kim Clijsters due to an aggravation of her ankle injury means that the Belgian has, for all practical purposes hobbled in her farewell year.
Francesca Schiavone may have made another major final at Roland Garros but she and Samantha Stosur crashed out in the first round at Wimbledon last year. The win’s excitement superseded Schiavone’s desire to do well in her next Slam.
This year, the Italian promises to do better.
Stosur has not quite scaled the heights she reached in 2010. Her all-court game, coupled with a powerful first serve, is well-suited to the grass courts at SW19. She can hope to improve on her past performances.
The Williams may have returned but unlike other tennis pundits, I am not quite buying into the theory that the Williams can merely turn up and the others will roll over and play dead.
The William sisters have enjoyed their best successes in majors at the All-England championships and it is no coincidence that they chose to return at the venue of their biggest wins.
Marion Bartoli is another player lurking in the wings. She has made a Wimbledon final before. Her first grass-court triumph on the eve of Wimbledon at Eastbourne augurs well for the Frenchwoman.
Vera Zvonareva returns to the scene of her first Grand Slam final. She crumbled to Serena Williams in a one-sided encounter last year. The question is whether she has the mental fortitude to go all the way.
Caroline Wozniacki chose to forego the ritual of grass-court warm-up, preferring to regain confidence on the hard courts of Copenhagen.
The Dane burst into Novak Djokovic’s press conference on Saturday, entertaining gathered journalists but earning the ire of fussy stewards.
She abandoned her tradition of playing a tournament before a major, preferring to practise instead.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands can be relied on to raise eyebrows with her on-court outfits. Shocking stuff, indeed.
Willowy Daniela Hantuchova has rediscovered the form that made her such a threat on the WTA tour. She did not flinch in dispatching Venus Williams at the Aegon International. Expect the Slovakian to do more than just turn heads at Wimbledon.
Only the very brave would want to stick their necks out and predict a winner this year, especially after the surprise sprung in the French Open. Very few expected Li Na to lift her first major at 29.
It is as though the Williams’ absence, emancipated the players on the WTA tour. What are the odds that there will be a first time winner at this year’s Wimbledon?
What are the odds that there will be no Williams in the semis?
My choice for the title is Sharapova. She will have to knock out the No.1 seed, Caroline Wozniacki in the quarters.
Favourite: Maria Sharapova
Dark Horses: Sabine Lisicki/Marion Bartoli
Top Quarter (Maria Sharapova/Caroline Wozniacki quarter):
The No.1 seed starts out facing Spaniard, Arantxa Parra Santonja in the first round. India’s Sania Mirza could be her second round opponent if she puts it across Italian, Virginia Razzano. Mirza has come back from injury to return to the top 100; she is now ranked 60 in the world. She was once considered a potential top-10 player.
Jarmila Gajdosova of Australia, is next in the firing line for the Dane. Either Julia Goerges or Dominika Cibulkova could meet the Woz in the round of 16.
At the other end of this quarter, Maria Sharapova is seeded to meet Samantha Stosur in the fourth round.
The Australian should sail through to the third round where Chinese Shuai Peng awaits.
Maria Sharapova encounters fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze in the first round. Her first serious hurdle is Czech Lucie Safarova, in the third.
Most Likely Semi-Finalist: Maria Sharapova
Second Quarter (Li Na/Serena Williams Draw)
If Li Na is not in a hurry to get back to China to catch up with her mother and family, she can make the most of her time in the sun at Wimbledon and post her best results and possibly a second major.
The Chinese takes on Russian Alla Kudryavtseva in the first round and probably, German Sabine Lisicki in the second. Lisicki is full of tricks and has enjoyed a glorious run of form, clinching the Aegon classic. She is one of a select German few, who hope to emulate Steffi Graf.
Should Na dispatch Lisicki in the second round, she will meet either of Bethanie Mattek-Sands or Chinese Jie Zheng in the third. Zheng could spoil Sands’ party.
Serbian Ana Ivanovic or Pole Agnieszka Radwanska are probable opponents in the fourth.
Serena Wiliams is ranked No.7 despite being out for almost a year. The draw has done her no favours, with Frenchwoman, Aravane Rezai, an obstinate adversary in the first.
Maria Kirilenko could pose troubling questions to the American in the third round.
Marion Bartoli could well be Serena’s Waterloo. The Frenchwoman clinched her first grass-court title at Eastbourne on Saturday.
Surprise Packages: Marion Bartoli/Sabine Lisicki
Most Likely Semi-Finalist: Li Na
Third Quarter (Victoria Azarenka/Francesca Schiavone/Daniela Hantuchova/Andrea Petkovic)
The third quarter is possibly the most open part of the women’s draw.
French Open finalist, Francesca Schiavone, is seeded to meet 4th seed, Victoria Azarenka, in the quarters. The encounter is not guaranteed since resurgent Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova lurks in the third round for Azarenka.
The Slovak can expect Russian teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to fire all cylinders in the pre-quarters should she dispose off the 4th seed.
Schiavone faces Australian, Jelena Dokic, in her opening match. The Italian crashed out unceremoniously in the first round last year. The winner of this match should go all the way to the fourth round for a probable match-up with German Andrea Petkovic.
Most Likely Semi-Finalists: Daniela Hantuchova/Andrea Petkovic
Bottom Quarter (Petra Kvitova/Svetlana Kuznetsova/Venus Williams/Vera Zvonareva)
No.2 seed, Russian Vera Zvonareva should have no problems keeping her date with Venus Williams in the fourth round. The aura around the elder Williams has faded; expect the Russian to come through in three tough sets.
Venus will first have to account for Serbian, Jelena Jankovic, in the third round.
Czech Petra Kvitova is scheduled for a fourth round encounter with Russian, Svetlana Kuznetsova. Should the Russian pull through, expect her to take no prisoners in the quarter-final.
Most likely semi-finalists: Vera Zvonareva/Svetlana Kuznetsova
Watch Ashes Day 2 Video Highlights - Produced by The Roar
Video produced by Matt Watson for The Roar.