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The business end of Wimbledon is not far away now, and with the second week starting with magic Monday, this means the race for places in the quarter-finals starts to heat up.
Over the first week, a combined seven Grand Slam titles and 169 weeks at the summit of the WTA rankings were lost through black Wednesday, leaving Serena Williams as the only former (and currently reigning) world No. 1 remaining in the field.
Williams, along with Petra Kvitova and Li Na, are the only three former Grand Slam titlists who have managed to survive the first week. They are also joined by former Wimbledon finalists Marion Bartoli and Agnieszka Radwanska in the second week.
Eight women will be lining up in an attempt to reach their first Wimbledon quarter-final, while four of them will be trying to crack that elite stage for the first time.
So, without further ado, here is the preview for the women’s round of 16 matches.
Serena Williams (1) versus Sabine Lisicki (23)
Head-to-head: Williams 2-0
Last meeting: Serena Williams defeated Sabine Lisicki 4-1 ret., quarter-finals, 2012 Family Circle Cup.
Sabine Lisicki’s habit of defeating reigning French Open champions will come to the test when she faces up to World No. 1 Serena Williams in this must-watch fourth round showdown on centre court.
In her last three Wimbledon campaigns, she has reached the quarter-finals at the expense of three reigning French Open champions – Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009, Li Na in 2011 and Maria Sharapova last year.
And it’s also been suggested that her first-round victory over Francesca Schiavone makes up for her absence from the 2010 tournament.
But this year, Lisicki faces her toughest challenge yet, as she attempts to continue her dominance over reigning French Open champions against Serena Williams.
Lisicki is coming off a three-set victory over Samantha Stosur, which follows the aforementioned victory over Schiavone and a win against Elena Vesnina in the second round.
Williams enters this match on the back of a 34-match winning streak, and having won her 600th career match by thrashing Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm in the third round.
The American is in dominant form at the moment and is now seen by many as the unanimous choice for champion this year, following the earlier dismissals of Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova on black Wednesday.
It seems only complacency, injury or a sudden meltdown (like she suffered at the 2009 US Open) can stop Williams from continuing on her winning crusade, which will very likely lead to a sixth Wimbledon title.
But no such thing should happen and Williams will be favoured to triumph here.
Prediction: Williams in straight sets.
Laura Robson versus Kaia Kanepi
Head-to-head: Never met
For Great Britain’s Laura Robson, now is her time to shine.
Following a relatively disappointing first half of the season, save for big victories over Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska in Melbourne and Madrid respectively, and an almost upset of Ana Ivanovic in the latter tournament, Robson entered Wimbledon with relatively low expectations.
But after upsetting last year’s quarter-finalist, 10th seed Maria Kirilenko, in the first round, Robson has only gotten better as she seeks to reach the quarter-finals not just at Wimbledon, but also at a Grand Slam, for the first time.
And to do that, she’ll have to overcome the big threat that is former Wimbledon quarter-finalist Kaia Kanepi.
The Estonian used her ‘get out of jail free’ card in the third round against Angelique Kerber, storming back from a set and 1-5 deficit in the second set tiebreak to record what is arguably her most famous victory at a Grand Slam tournament.
Her experience might be what will count in this fourth round match, but to reach a second quarter-final at the All England Club she will not only have to take on Robson, but also the home crowd, whose support will be heavily behind the Australian-born 19-year-old.
In the end, the home crowd support will be what should get Robson across the line.
Prediction: Robson in three sets.
Agnieszka Radwanska (4) versus Tsvetana Pironkova
Head-to-head: Radwanska 6-1
Last meeting: Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Tsvetana Pironkova, first round, 2013 Madrid Open.
It was so far, so good for Agnieszka Radwanska until the last round, when she was pushed to three sets at a Grand Slam for the first time since last year’s US Open in the third round.
The Pole was given a huge fright by promising American Madison Keys before triumphing in three sets, after which Radwanska praised Keys and said that she would be a huge star in the future.
Radwanska has been ruthless so far as she seeks to go one better after losing last year’s final to Serena Williams.
Prior to the victory over Keys, Radwanska lost just six games in thrashing Yvonne Meusburger in the first round and Mathilde Johansson in the second.
She will fancy her chances of reaching a third consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final, but she faces her first genuine threat in the form of 2010 semi-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova.
The Bulgarian caused an upset when she thrashed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round for the loss of just one game, and built on that victory to get to the fourth round of Wimbledon for the third time in four years.
Pironkova has lost to her Polish opponent at Wimbledon once before, and that came in the first round six years ago.
But if there is any hope that she has of causing an upset, it’s that she won their previous meeting on grass, in Eastbourne last year.
In the end, Radwanska’s return to form after a disappointing clay court campaign should get her into a third consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final and a likely showdown against Li Na for the right to meet Serena Williams in the semi-finals.
Prediction: Radwanska in straight sets.
Roberta Vinci (11) versus Li Na (6)
Head-to-head: Li 2-0
Last meeting: Li Na defeated Roberta Vinci 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, third round, 2011 Madrid Open.
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for Li Na so far at this year’s Wimbledon Championships.
Li has been pushed to the brink of defeat in her last two matches after thrashing 2007 quarter-finalist Michaella Krajicek in the first round.
In the second round, she dropped the second set to Romanian nemesis Simona Halep before storming back to serve her a bagel in the final set, while in her most recent match she had to break Klara Zakapalova to win a third round thriller, in which the final set lasted 14 games.
She now faces Italy’s Roberta Vinci, who will, at the conclusion of the championships, and depending on the progress of other players, make her top 10 debut at the age of 30.
Vinci was ruthless against Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova as she continues her quiet progress through the draw. Having reached the fourth round last year, the Italian will be desperate to reach her second Grand Slam quarter-final, having reached her first at last year’s US Open, where she lost to her good friend and doubles partner Sara Errani.
Vinci has a proven record on grass, having captured a title on the surface a few years ago. But her opponent, Li Na, has a much better grass record, having reached the quarter-finals at the All England Club twice compared to Vinci’s none, and having defeated Maria Sharapova to win Birmingham in 2010.
Prediction: Li Na in three sets.
Monica Puig versus Sloane Stephens (17)
Head-to-head: Never met
This will not only be a battle as to which of these two will reach her first Wimbledon quarter-final, it’s also a battle of two promising young players who have huge futures ahead of them.
We’ve already seen Sloane Stephens make her big breakthrough at the Australian Open this year, reaching the semi-finals after knocking off Serena Williams in the quarter-finals.
Since then, results have not gone as well as Stephens would have hoped for, and only a rain-enforced suspension of her match against Petra Cetkovska saved her from an embarrassing defeat.
Stephens getting this far means that she has reached the fourth round in her last three Grand Slam tournaments (she has yet to get past the third round at the US Open, being stopped there in the last two years by Ana Ivanovic).
Opposing her for a place in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon is promising young Puerto Rican and giant killer Monica Puig.
Puig, a two-time junior Grand Slam finalist, recorded two of her biggest victories in the first round at each of the two most recent Grand Slam tournaments, first by knocking off former World No. 3 Nadia Petrova in Paris and then thrashing World No. 5 Sara Errani here at Wimbledon.
Add to that the fact that she also pushed then-World No. 5 Angelique Kerber to a final-set tiebreak in Brisbane earlier this year and already she has a huge future is ahead of her.
This is only her second Grand Slam tournament and already she is into the fourth round. Her opponent, Stephens, is slightly more experienced, having reached the fourth round for a fourth time now.
In what promises to be a huge match between two up-and-coming youngsters, will the giant killing run of Puig continue or will Stephens’ slight experience edge count?
Prediction: Stephens in straight sets.
Marion Bartoli (15) versus Karin Knapp
Head-to-head: Bartoli 1-0
Last meeting: Marion Bartoli defeated Karin Knapp 6-1, 6-0, first round, 2008 Sydney International
Marion Bartoli should be counting her blessings right now, as she now has a potentially very easy path to a second final at the All England Club, to follow her giant-killing run to the 2007 decider.
With Maria Sharapova, who she would have been facing on Monday instead of Karin Knapp, crashing out in the second round, Bartoli’s chances of reaching her third Wimbledon quarter-final, after 2007 and 2011, are dramatically higher.
An improbable run to another final would also see her return to the top ten, as she only has second round points to defend from last year.
She will be heavily favoured in her tie against Italian Karin Knapp, who will be playing in the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.
Knapp hasn’t had any notable victories in her career but she did beat a young Victoria Azarenka, as well as former top 20 player, Alona Bondarenko, at the 2007 French Open.
Ranked outside the top 100, she can continue her rise back up the rankings if she can cause a boilover and send Marion Bartoli packing. But the chances of that is very low, given how well Bartoli has been playing so far.
Prediction: Bartoli in straight sets.
Petra Kvitova (8) versus Carla Suarez Navarro (19)
Head-to-head: Kvitova 4-1
Last meeting: Petra Kvitova defeated Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 6-4, first round, 2013 Brisbane International
Like Marion Bartoli, Petra Kvitova should be very thankful that she has gotten this far, with a chance to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final in a year.
Since winning Wimbledon two years ago, Kvitova has suffered under an added weight of pressure and, having been on the brink of claiming the world No. 1 ranking very early last year, now finds herself at No. 8.
Ironically, that was also the same world ranking that she had when she won the title in 2011.
Kvitova’s path to a second Wimbledon final, which would follow her 2011 title, is now much clearer after Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova were both sent packing on black Wednesday.
Her opponent, 19th seed Carla Suarez Navarro, has experienced a rise in the world rankings over the last six months, and now finds herself in the fourth round of Wimbledon for the first time.
Suarez Navarro is best known for reaching the quarter-finals of the 2008 French Open as a qualifier, but hasn’t gone that far anywhere else since the 2009 Australian Open.
To break that drought, however, she will have to overcome a 1-4 head-to-head record against Kvitova, but she did claim a monumental victory against her in Beijing last year.
That, though, will count for nothing come Monday. Kvitova won their only previous Grand Slam meeting, in three sets, at last year’s Australian Open.
Prediction: Kvitova in straight sets
Kirsten Flipkens (20) versus Flavia Pennetta
Last meeting: Kirsten Flipkens defeated Flavia Pennetta 2-6, 6-4, 6-0, first round, 2013 French Open
It wasn’t that long ago that Kirsten Flipkens defeated Flavia Pennetta in the first round of the French Open, but now they face each other at a Grand Slam, with the stakes even higher – a first Wimbledon quarter-final, and with it a potential showdown against 2011 champion Petra Kvitova, beckons.
Flipkens has had her breakthrough this year, reaching the fourth round of the 2013 Australian Open and having scored two big victories over Petra Kvitova and Ana Ivanovic in the last 12 months.
Guaranteed to enter the top 20 for the first time in her career at the conclusion of the Championships, the Belgian can reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final just months after battling an infection in her blood clots.
Flipkens is also seen as the future of tennis for Belgium, following the gradual retirements of two of their most successful imports, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, and, as such, is currently the most successful Belgian in the men’s and women’s game.
Standing in the way of Flipkens and a potential last-eight showdown against Kvitova is the forgotten woman of Italian tennis, Flavia Pennetta.
Injuries and illness over the last 12 months has seen the three-time US Open quarter-finalist’s world ranking drop to No. 158.
Like a few before her, Pennetta could also become one of the biggest beneficiaries of black Wednesday as she seeks to reach her first quarter-final at Wimbledon.
After defeating Elena Baltacha in the first round, she then benefited from Victoria Azarenka’s injury-enforced withdrawal to enter the third round, where she stormed back from a 0-6 first set loss to defeat Alize Cornet in three sets.
Pennetta has reached the fourth round at the All England Club twice before, including as recently as 2006 when she pushed Maria Sharapova to three sets.
But if she wants to finally crack the fourth round, she’ll have to plot her revenge against Flipkens, who defeated her at the French Open just a few weeks ago.
A quarter-final at Wimbledon would also fast-track Pennetta’s comeback from injury and see her re-enter the top 100 sooner rather than later.
But Flipkens’ experience in having risen up the rankings in recent years should count here.
Prediction: Flipkens in three sets.