Wimbledon 2017: It’s any girl’s game
IT’S any girl’s game... 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 any woman’s to take. Here we look at the contenders for and pretenders to the grass court grand slam.
Petra Kvitova: Kvitova, who won the title in 2011 and 2014, is riding a fairytale comeback after recovering from a stab wound to her left 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the build-up to Wimbledon, her second tournament this year having reached the second round in the French Open, but has withdrawn from this week’s Eastbourne International with an abdominal “tightness”.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: This 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. On that point alone, Venus is a strong contender for 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 fewer 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 was 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 number 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. She has entered Eastbourne this year as her only warm-up event. At just over six foot, 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 at the French last year. Her best mark at a slam this year was in the quarters in Melbourne.
Simona Halep: The petite 25-year-old 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 on her belt yet. Her best at Wimbledon was the quarter-finals last year when she lost a slug-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 in SW19, returning from a baby break of her own. The former world number one and two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist is one of the most dangerous unseeded players in the women’s draw.