Wimbledon 2013: Women’s Singles preview

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    Maria Sharapova has returned after her failed drugs test. (AAP Image/Martin Philbey)

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    With Wimbledon a week away, the battle for tennis’ most prestigious title could come down to a three-horse race.

    Not since Samantha Stosur won the 2011 US Open has any Grand Slam title been won by anyone outside the Big Three (Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka).

    And further to the point, each Grand Slam final since the 2011 French Open has featured at least one of those three players.

    This is the best “Big Three” that we have seen in women’s tennis for a long time. And it’s going to take a massive effort from Agnieszka Radwanska and everyone below her to try to end the trio’s stranglehold on the Grand Slam titles.

    First, let’s preview the Big Three and their chances of hoisting the Venus Rosewater Dish this year:

    Serena Williams

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Champion (2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012)
    Last year’s result: Champion

    Current world ranking: 1
    Australian Open result: Quarter-finals
    French Open result: Champion
    Titles this year to date: Brisbane, Miami, Charleston, Madrid, Rome, French Open

    Anyone who has been following the impressive progress of Serena Williams this year can already declare her as Wimbledon champion even before a single ball has been served in anger.

    It must be remembered though that this time last year, Serena Williams was not considered to be the favourite for the title. The American had just endured a first round exit from Paris and it was all but thought that her career was starting to come to a close.

    But it would turn out not to be. Enter Patrick Mouratoglou. The Frenchman was hired as Williams’ coach after that disaster in Paris and Serena has since lost just three times – to Angelique Kerber (at Cincinnati last year), Sloane Stephens (at the Australian Open earlier this year) and Victoria Azarenka (in Doha).

    Furthermore, Serena has lost only six times since the beginning of last year – and has won more than 100 matches – thus proving that “31 is the new 21” – Serena had completed her set of Grand Slam titles at the younger age at the 2003 Australian Open.

    Her two losses this year have only been in three sets – an injury-affected one against Sloane Stephens in Australia which derailed her early bid to become World No. 1, and then in the final of Doha to Victoria Azarenka, who was just about to unwillingly hand her World No. 1 ranking to the American.

    If those two losses had not happened, Serena would be undefeated right now. Nevertheless, she will be a rampaging hot favourite to claim a sixth title at the All England Club.

    It seems, though, that only a superhuman effort from any of her opponents or a serious injury can bring her down.

    The rest of the WTA should watch out – Serena Williams is out to claim title number six at SW19, which, in my opinion, should be renamed “Serena Williams 19”, as a tribute to her successes at Wimbledon.

    Prediction: Champion

    Maria Sharapova

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Champion (2004)
    Last year’s result: Fourth round

    Current world ranking: 3
    Australian Open result: Semi-finals
    French Open result: Finalist
    Titles to date this year: Indian Wells, Stuttgart.

    Wimbledon just wouldn’t be Wimbledon without Maria Sharapova.

    This year marks exactly a decade since the Russian made her debut as a 16-year-old wildcard entry. She reached the fourth round, beating Jelena Dokic en route, before being stopped by fellow rising Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Round of 16.

    One year later, she would go more than one better, by winning the title and thus denying Serena Williams what would have been a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles (in fact, the impact of that loss meant Serena would have to wait until 2009 to claim a third Wimbledon title).

    Her recent history at SW19 does not make for good reading; since 2006, the Russian has only gone past the fourth round once, in 2011, when she reached the final and lost to Petra Kvitova.

    And she will surely not want to be reminded about her last professional match on grass – she was swamped in the gold medal match by Williams at last year’s Olympics.

    Before that, Sharapova suffered a surprise exit in the Round of 16 at the hands of unheralded German Sabine Lisicki – whose habit of beating French Open champions at SW19 continued.

    Not counting her hat-trick of losses to Serena Williams this year, Sharapova is undefeated since being thrashed by Li Na in the semi-finals of the Australian Open. She has claimed two titles thus far, one less than this time last year.

    Nevertheless, she has continued to impress this year but it seems overcoming that Serena hurdle is a challenge too hard.

    Expect her to once again make a strong run at Wimbledon, but as she will be seeded third, she could face either Williams or Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals.

    Prediction: Semi-finals

    Victoria Azarenka

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Semi-finals (2011, 2012)
    Last year’s result: Semi-finals

    Current world ranking: 2
    Australian Open result: Champion
    French Open result: Semi-finals
    Titles this year to date: Australian Open, Doha

    One woman who needs to take the next step up is Victoria Azarenka.

    Wimbledon has proven to be a happy hunting ground for the Belarussian, where she reached her first Grand Slam semi-final in 2011, losing in three sets to eventual champion Petra Kvitova.

    And last year she was merciless in matching that run, but once again she was stopped by the eventual champion, this time Serena Williams and her barrage of aces.

    Despite her recent success at Wimbledon, Azarenka has only ever reached one grass court final – at Eastbourne in 2010, where she lost to then-World No. 100 Ekaterina Makarova after upsetting Kim Clijsters in the quarter-finals.

    This year, she needs to take the next step up, as she is guaranteed to avoid Serena Williams before the final by virtue of her World No. 2 ranking.

    As far as her year has gone – the first third of the year went to script as she successfully defended her Australian Open and Doha titles. However, an ankle injury would ground her from Indian Wells and Miami, and subsequently her ranking would drop to World No. 3.

    Despite that setback, and a second round exit in Madrid in her first tournament back, she would then rebound by reaching the final in Rome and the semi-finals in Paris.

    This will be her only chance to prove that she is well suited to grass – the dual Australian Open champion has chosen not to play any pre-Wimbledon tournaments this year.

    Prediction: Finalist


    Agnieszka Radwanska

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Finalist (2012)
    Last year’s result: Finalist

    Current world ranking: 4
    Australian Open result: Quarter-finals
    French Open result: Quarter-finals
    Titles this year to date: Auckland, Sydney.

    If there’s one player who will be under a lot of pressure this year, it’s Agnieszka Radwanska.

    Last year’s Wimbledon finalist has endured a patch of poor form since being swamped by Serena Williams in Miami, but a run to the quarter-finals in Paris, as well as her participation in Eastbourne this week (where she is the top seed and favoured to triumph) could signal a return to form for the Pole.

    Grass has proven to be Radwanska’s best surface throughout her career – she won the junior Wimbledon title in 2005, and won Eastbourne in 2008. Additionally, Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam tournament in which Radwanska has gone past the quarter-finals, being stopped five times collectively at the Australian Open (2008, and since 2011) and Paris (this year).

    Radwanska should not be threatened until the semi-finals, where she is guaranteed to avoid Maria Sharapova but must face one of Williams or Azarenka there (assuming they do get that far).

    In the meantime, her potential quarter-final opponents include Sara Errani, Angelique Kerber, Li Na or former champion Petra Kvitova. She could also face a rematch against Maria Kirilenko, who pushed the Pole to three sets at the same stage last year.

    Her top-four position is also on the line at Wimbledon – an early exit could see her overtaken by one of Sara Errani or Li Na, who between them have only 260 points to defend this year.

    Prediction: Semi-finals

    Sara Errani
    Wimbledon history
    Best result: Third round (2010, 2012)
    Last year’s result: Third round

    Current world ranking: 5
    Australian Open result: First round
    French Open result: Semi-finals
    Titles this year to date: Acapulco

    Last year’s Wimbledon campaign for Sara Errani may have come too soon for the recently crowned French Open runner-up.

    She easily got to the third round, thrashing home hope Anne Keothavong in the second round en route, but then she entered the record books for all the wrong reasons last year – she was on the receiving end of a golden bagel by little-known Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova.

    To this day, it remains the only ever occasion in which a reigning top ten player suffered that indignity – and it could come back to bite the Italian if she makes another early exit at her least favourite Grand Slam.

    Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam tournament in which Sara Errani has yet to reach the quarter-finals. Having recently been thrashed by Serena Williams in the semi-finals in Paris, and having suffered a foot/adductor strain since, it’s hard to see Errani doing very well at Wimbledon.

    Prediction: Fourth round

    Li Na

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Quarter-finals (2006, 2010)
    Last year’s result: Second round

    Current world ranking: 6
    Australian Open result: Finalist
    French Open result: Second round
    Titles this year to date: Shenzhen

    Mixed form has been on the menu for Li Na since returning from an ankle injury which she suffered in the Australian Open final loss to Victoria Azarenka in January.

    But since reaching the final in Stuttgart, where she lost to Maria Sharapova, Li has endured three straight early exits – in Madrid, Rome and the French Open, the latter of which she fell in the second round to unheralded American Bethanie Mattek-Sands in a rematch of the Stuttgart semi-final.

    Li is currently using the Eastbourne tournament as a means of trying to get back her form. But with only three match victories on grass in the last two years, it’s hard to see the Chinese making an impact at the All England Club this year.

    She has Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Kirilenko, Roberta Vinci or Ana Ivanovic as a potential fourth round opponent, but if she is to better her record of two quarter-finals at the All England Club (2006 and 2010), she’ll have to confront one of the Big Four in the quarter-finals (she has lost once to each of them this year).

    Prediction: Quarter-finals.

    Angelique Kerber

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Semi-finals (2012)
    Last year’s result: Semi-finals

    Current world ranking: 7
    Australian Open result: Fourth round
    French Open result: Fourth round
    Titles this year to date: None

    One player who has disappointed at the Grand Slams this year is Angelique Kerber. Since reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon last year, the German has lost in the fourth round of each of her last three tournaments, and was recently edged out in three sets by Svetlana Kuznetsova in Paris.

    Kerber has not won a title in over a year and she is struggling to play up to the standards she set for herself between 2011 and 2012. But a return to Wimbledon, where she did reach the final four last year, could bring hopes of a return to form before the US Open swing starts next month.

    So far this year, her best results have been reaching the final in Monterrey, where she lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and a pair of semi-finals at Indian Wells (lost to Wozniacki) and Stuttgart (to Sharapova).

    Along with the loss to Kuznetsova, she has also been beaten twice by another has-been in Ana Ivanovic, once in Fed Cup play and the other in an uncompetitive effort in Madrid, where she could only win four games.

    As are Radwanska and Li, the German is currently using the tournament in Eastbourne to try to find some form ahead of the year’s third Major.

    Prediction: Quarter-finals.

    Petra Kvitova

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Champion (2011)
    Last year’s result: Quarter-finals

    Current world ranking: 8
    Australian Open result: Second round
    French Open result: Third round
    Titles this year to date: Dubai

    One player who has really disappointed in the last 12 months is Petra Kvitova. Since losing her Wimbledon title defence, and her position in the top four to Serena Williams last July, results have not been so rosy for the 2011 champion.

    Though she did win Dubai earlier this year and was the most dominant player over the US Open series (not including the US Open itself), results have been dire for the 23-year-old Czech.

    She has not reached the quarter-finals or better at her last three Grand Slam tournaments, and another underperformance at Wimbledon could see her on the way out of the Top 10. However, this being a tournament which Kvitova won just two years ago, there is an expectation of a much needed return to form from her.

    Kvitova could face one of Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Kirilenko, Roberta Vinci or Ana Ivanovic in the Round of 16. Given her recent records against them combined, she shouldn’t have any problems trying to end her three-Slam quarter-final drought.

    As are Radwanska, Li and Kerber, the Czech is currently using the tournament in Eastbourne as a means of trying to gain some much needed form after her shock third round exit in Paris at the hands of Jamie Hampton.

    Prediction: Quarter-finals


    Caroline Wozniacki

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Fourth round (2009, 2010, 2011)
    Last year’s result: First round

    Current world ranking: 9
    Australian Open result: Fourth round
    French Open result: Second round
    Titles this year to date: None

    Former World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has disappointed so far this year – the Dane has lost six of her last seven matches and has not reached a quarter-final since Charleston.

    Wimbledon will not see an immediate return to form for the Dane, but the upside is that she has nothing to defend for the most part of the rest of this year, having lost in the first round here last year.

    Prediction: Early round exit

    Maria Kirilenko

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Quarter-finals (2012)
    Last year’s result: Quarter-finals

    Current world ranking: 10
    Australian Open result: Fourth round
    French Open result: Quarter-finals
    Titles this year to date: Pattaya City

    The Russian has improved over the last 12 months but her top ten position in the rankings will be on the line at Wimbledon, where she has 500 rankings points to defend over the next fortnight.

    An early exit could see her drop out of the top ten after Wimbledon, and it would be a shame for someone who only recently ended a four-year title-less spell at Pattaya earlier this year.

    Apart from the title at Pattaya this year, Kirilenko also reached the quarter-finals in Paris, losing there to her good friend Victoria Azarenka. She also reached the semi-finals at Indian Wells, taking the scalps of Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova before falling to eventual champion Maria Sharapova.

    Wimbledon will also provide somewhat of a bad memory for the Russian – her last match there was a loss to Azarenka in the bronze medal match at last year’s Olympics.

    Prediction: Fourth round

    Ana Ivanovic

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Semi-finals (2007)
    Last year’s result: Fourth round

    Current world ranking: 12
    Australian Open result: Fourth round
    French Open result: Fourth round
    Titles this year to date: None

    Former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic may not have gone as deep as she would have liked in Paris, but nevertheless she is in good form, having won eleven of her last fifteen matches – all on clay – and claiming the scalp of Angelique Kerber twice (in Fed Cup play and in Madrid).

    Wimbledon brings back some good and bad memories for the Serbian – she reached the junior final in 2004, and reached the seniors’ semi-final in 2007, but recent years haven’t delivered any other good memories since then.

    In 2008, as the top seed, she suffered a humiliating defeat to Chinese wildcard Zheng Jie, and then in the following year she was forced to retire in the fourth round against Venus Williams due to a micro-tear in her thigh. And last year, she was crushed in the fourth round by Victoria Azarenka on Centre Court.

    Here’s hoping that this year’s edition is a throwback to the earlier good memories, such as that run to the semi-finals in 2007. Being the 12th seed, she is guaranteed to avoid the Big Four until at least the quarter-finals, but whether she can get there is another question in itself.

    Last year, the Serbian reached the quarter-finals at the US Open, not necessarily because of her seeding, but also the fact that Caroline Wozniacki, whom she would have met in the fourth round, lost early. Perhaps she has Irina-Camelia Begu to thank for ending her long quarter-final drought at Grand Slam tournaments.

    Prediction: Fourth round

    Marion Bartoli

    Wimbledon history

    Best result: Finalist (2007)
    Last year’s result: Second round

    Current world ranking: 15
    Australian Open result: Third round
    French Open result: Third round
    Titles this year to date: None

    This year has been a really disappointing one for France’s big hope, Marion Bartoli. The 28-year-old, who peaked at World No. 7 very early last year, has not reached a single semi-final this year and has exited before the fourth round in six of her last seven Grand Slam tournaments, the only exception being a run to the quarter-finals at last year’s US Open.

    Most of her career was stuck in the shadow of her higher-profile compatriot, Amelie Mauresmo, whose seven years of underperformance were buried when she won this title in 2006.

    But with Mauresmo now retired, many see Bartoli as France’s second biggest hope (behind Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) of delivering France a long-awaited Grand Slam title.

    But if her results this year are anything to go by, then the Frenchwoman is due for another early exit at the All England Club, where she was a surprise finalist in 2007.

    Prediction: Early round exit

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