Stars who’ll show class on Wim­ble­don grass

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - NI­COLE LATEGAN

THIS year’s Wim­ble­don women’s draw, lack­ing in a lit­tle crème de la crème along with the straw­ber­ries and cream with­out Ser­ena Wil­liams (preg­nant) and Maria Shara­pova (in­jured), is wide open with only two former cham­pi­ons, Pe­tra Kvi­tova and Venus Wil­liams in the hunt for the ti­tle. It’s any­one’s to take. Here we look at the con­tenders and pre­tenders for the grass court Grand Slam.

Pe­tra Kvi­tova: She has won the ti­tle twice in 2011 and 2014, and is rid­ing a fairy-tale come­back af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a stab wound to her right hand in De­cem­ber. She won in Birm­ing­ham in the build-up to Wim­ble­don, her sec­ond tour­na­ment this year hav­ing reached the sec­ond round in the French Open, but has with­drawn from this week’s East­bourne In­ter­na­tional with an ab­dom­i­nal “tight­ness”. A pre­cau­tion. The left-handed heavy hit­ter is a re­luc­tant favourite, say­ing she’s just happy to be en­joy­ing the game she loves. Yeah right. When she’s in her grass court el­e­ment, “the Wim­ble­don” as she calls it, she’s a sight to be­hold. Podj! (Czech for Come On!)

Je­lena Ostapenko: The Lat­vian is com­ing in hot af­ter her fear­less march to a first Grand Slam ti­tle at Roland Gar­ros last month, where she dis­man­tled Si­mona Halep in the fi­nal. Pre­co­cious, stroppy and ooz­ing youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance, Ostapenko, at 20, will be for­given if she doesn’t hit the mark this time round, much like Spa­niard Gar­bine Mugu­ruza did when she ex­ited early at Wim­ble­don af­ter claim­ing her maiden Grand Slam ti­tle in Paris in 2016. How­ever, with her star­tling abil­ity to let loose when the go­ing gets tough, don’t be sur­prised if Ostapenko hangs around at the All Eng­land Lawn Tennis and Cro­quet Club. She’s still in the run­ning at East­bourne this week, her first tour­na­ment since she an­nounced her­self with a bang at the French Open.

Venus Wil­liams: This year we can be spared the sib­ling ri­valry with lit­tle sis Ser­ena out of the pic­ture. Venus is a strong con­tender to the throne. Venus is among the all-time greats of the game and this is the year to take a mo­ment to ap­pre­ci­ate it out­side of the loom­ing shadow of Ser­ena. At 37 she has won no less than five Wim­ble­don ti­tles. She reached the semi-fi­nals last year (lost to Ker­ber), was run­ner-up at the Aus­tralian Open (Ser­ena) this year and knocked out in the French in the fourth round last month. It ain’t over till the grand dame says so.

An­gelique Ker­ber: The world No 1 Ger­man is all at sea this sea­son, ex­it­ing the Aus­tralian Open in the fourth round and Roland Gar­ros in the first. But her rank­ing must count for some­thing, surely? If she can find the form that bagged two Grand Slam ti­tles (Aus­tralian Open and US Open) and a run­ner-up fin­ish against Ser­ena Wil­liams in 2016, she’s in the run­ning. If. It’s not easy when you have the No 1 tar­get on your back.

Karolina Pliskova: The world No 3 is com­ing for the top rank­ing, which she missed by a whisker in Paris when she lost to Halep in the semi-fi­nals. She’s the book­ies’ favourite to lift the Venus Rose­wa­ter Dish, but af­ter last year’s blis­ter­ing warm-up form (she won at Not­ting­ham and fin­ished run­ner-up in East­bourne) only to exit Wim­ble­don in the sec­ond round, her best show­ing in the tour­na­ment, she won’t want to jinx it. The Czech has blasted 249 aces this year, more than any other player on the women’s tour.

Gar­bine Mugu­ruza: The grace­ful Spa­niard will do well to show some mon­grel af­ter be­ing re­duced to tears by the French crowd in the fourth round of Roland Gar­ros. At 23, she has all the mak­ings of a great cham­pion, fin­ish­ing run­ner-up at Wim­ble­don in 2015 be­fore she claimed her first Grand Slam ti­tle at the French last year.

Si­mona Halep: The pe­tite 25-yearold Ro­ma­nian is smart­ing af­ter be­ing beaten to a first Grand Slam crown by up­start Ostapenko last month. Fit, fast and fu­ri­ous, it’s sur­pris­ing that she hasn’t notched a big one yet. Her best mark at Wim­ble­don was at the quar­ter­fi­nals last year when she lost a slog fest to An­gelique Ker­ber. It will come down to her heartache suf­fered in Paris. She’s due a Grand Slam.

Vic­to­ria Azarenka: If you were go­ing to miss Maria’s grunt, have no fear. Vika is back! The dou­ble Aus­tralian Open cham­pion is back to screech and snort along the green grass of Wim­ble­don, re­turn­ing from a baby break of her own. She’s one of the most dan­ger­ous un­seeded play­ers in the women’s draw.

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