Wimbledon braced for new women’s shock

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

With Ser­ena Wil­liams pre­par­ing for the birth of her first child and Maria Shara­pova side­lined by a thigh in­jury, the race to be crowned Wimbledon cham­pion is the most wide-open in a gen­er­a­tion.

Hav­ing stepped away from the court as she waits to be­come a mother in Septem­ber, Wil­liams, who won Wimbledon in 2015 and 2016, has cre­ated a power vac­uum at the top that Shara­pova was ex­pected to fill when the Rus­sian re­turned from her dop­ing sus­pen­sion.

In­stead, Shara­pova lasted just three tour­na­ments be­fore a muscle in­jury in Rome forced the five-time ma­jor winner to with­draw from the Wimbledon qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment.

In the ab­sence of Amer­i­can great Wil­liams, who has 23 Grand Slam ti­tles on her CV, and the head­line-grab­bing Shara­pova, women’s ten­nis has an un­de­ni­able lack of star power head­ing into Wimbledon, which gets un­der­way on Mon­day. But the flip-side is the op­por­tu­nity for the sport’s less her­alded names to seize the spot­light, as Latvia’s Je­lena Ostapenko showed with her un­ex­pected break­through tri­umph at the French Open.

“Of course, it’s dif­fer­ent if Ser­ena is not here. Ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble, in two weeks es­pe­cially,” world num­ber one An­gelique Ker­ber said.

“There are so many good play­ers right now, they can win the big tour­na­ments.” Ostapenko, 20, shot up to 13th in the world from 47th af­ter com­ing from a set and 3-0 down to de­feat Si­mona Halep in the Roland Gar­ros fi­nal.

Now she has to prove that stun­ning suc­cess was more than a flash in the pan. A ju­nior Wimbledon cham­pion in 2014, Ostapenko’s game is well suited for the low-bounc­ing lawns of the All Eng­land Club, now that she has learned to en­joy a sur­face she once thought was only “for soc­cer”. While Ostapenko, who faces Ali­ak­san­dra Sas­novich in the first round, ar­rived in Lon­don on a wave of post-Paris eu­pho­ria, sec­ond seed Halep is still strug­gling to come to terms with her fail­ure to win her first Grand Slam. Three games away from the ti­tle and the world num­ber one rank­ing, Halep crum­bled to her sec­ond ma­jor fi­nal de­feat-the other com­ing at the 2014 French Open.

The 25-year-old Ro­ma­nian, who has never been past the semi-fi­nals at Wimbledon, opens her cam­paign against Marina Erakovic.

Ker­ber, who starts against Irina Fal­coni, needs to im­prove dra­mat­i­cally af­ter mak­ing un­wanted his­tory when her de­feat against Eka­te­rina Makarova made her the first top-ranked woman in the Open era to fall in the open­ing round at Roland Gar­ros. Beaten by Ser­ena in the Wimbledon fi­nal 12 months ago, Ker­ber, who won the Aus­tralian and US Opens last year, has yet to claim a sin­gle WTA ti­tle in 2017.

If Pe­tra Kvi­tova gets her hands on the Venus Rose­wa­ter Dish for a third time, it would com­plete a fairytale come­back for the Czech fol­low­ing the hor­rific hand in­jury she sus­tained while be­ing at­tacked by a knife-wield­ing bur­glar in her home in De­cem­ber.

Kvi­tova, the Wimbledon cham­pion in 2011 and 2014, was out of ac­tion for six months, but she re­turned at the French Open be­fore win­ning the Birm­ing­ham ti­tle on grass last week.

The 27-year-old pulled out of East­bourne due to an ab­dom­i­nal in­jury, but hopes to make a strong run at her favourite Grand Slam. “I’ve been through a very dif­fi­cult time in my life. Win­ning in Birm­ing­ham gives me some ex­tra con­fi­dence that I am still able to fight,” said Kvi­tova, who meets Jo­hanna Lars­son in the first round. “We still do have great play­ers in the draw, even (though) Ser­ena is not play­ing. —AFP

LON­DON: Gar­bine Mugu­ruza of Spain and her coach Con­chita Martinez dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion at the All Eng­land Lawn Ten­nis Championships in Wimbledon, Lon­don, yesterday. — AP

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