Wimbledon: A review of the ladies’ draw

19 Jun

 

Reviewing and discussing likely winners of a major tennis tournament is a hazardous business. On the men’s side it is close to impossible to pick a winner among the top three, with Andy Murray further complicating matters. At least there is some security in picking the semi-finalists in the men’s draw. On the women’s side – no such luxury exists. Essentially the entire top 10 and additionally the Williams sisters have a fair shot at the title going into Wimbledon 2011. To determine who will be the woman to make it through the draw and walk away with the title is hardly a science set in stone. My point, read this as a summary of the draw – not so much a guidebook on betting.

Wimbledon 2011 sees the return of two of the greatest tennis players of the current era. Both Venus and Serena will be playing for the first time following long layoffs from the sport, with Serena recovering from a near death health scare. While Serena hasn’t played in close to a year, she was merited with a top 8 seeding, due to her performance at Wimbledon in the past, which includes her being the defending champion. Venus is also seeded 10 spots higher than her WTA ranking, likely also via her Wimbledon history. While their ability to challenge the current crop of top ranked players has been questioned in the last few days, it is unlikely that they will be undone by an inability to compete with the top ranked players. I think it far more likely they will succumb to the pressure of playing as many matches consecutively as required in a grand slam. If either fails to progress late into the second week of tennis, it’ll surely be due to a lack of match fitness.

While these two stalwarts return, Kim Clijsters has been forced to take yet another leave of absence from the tennis world due to injury. She leaves the draw devoid of any inform veterans of tennis, which means the draw is incredibly open, with hordes of players being capable of putting in good runs at the Championships in 2011.

Quarter-Final 1: Caroline Wozniacki vs. Maria Sharapova

Like most of the other top seeds Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova have fairly straightforward draws through the first few rounds at the Championships. Wozniacki’s sternest test prior to the quarter finals ought to be a fourth round match against young-up-and-comer, Julia Georges. The young German, who has not made it past the second round at Wimbledon before, will have to put in her best performance yet in order to have a shot at taking out the world number one. Her lack of grass court prowess favours Wozniacki to win with relative ease. Wozniacki’s primary challenger in this quarter of the draw is Maria Sharapova.

The Russian is one of only two women that have managed a title win at Wimbledon over the course of the last 11 years in which the Williams have shared the remaining nine titles between them. Prior to her facing Wozniacki in the round of 8, she will likely have to defeat Peng Shuai, a Chinese player, who plays double fisted on either side, hitting the ball very flat in a manner optimal for grass. Should Sharapova be the victor in this likely third round match, she will come up against tenth seeded, Sam Stosur in the fourth round. Stosur is a renowned doubles player, with two appearances in the finals of the women’s doubles at Wimbledon. In addition her fast paced serve means that she will be a significant threat to Sharapova’s success in the draw. Sharapova has however been in as fine a form as ever, and her recent semi-final run at the French Open, a tournament in which conditions aren’t well suited to her playing style, would have given her the confidence she needs to progress fairly easily though the first week of matches at Wimbledon. While I anticipate the likely Stosur-Sharapova match up to be competitive encounter, Sharapova should by all accounts walk away the winner.

Quarter-final 2: Li Na vs. Serena Williams

While Li Na was slowly progressing through the French Open draw, I continually expected her to fall at the next hurdle, but frequently predicted she’d be the player to watch at Wimbledon. The Chinese player surprised me with her win on the clay courts of Roland Garros, but I for one will not be surprised to see her go far at the grass court major. This has after all been the location at which glimpses of her true potential has been seen over the years with her reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2006 already, some 5 years prior to her final run at the Australian Open. On paper Li Na’s draw seems fairly simple through the first few rounds, with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, currently famous for her tennis ball dress, her likely opponent in the third round. Li Na being the superior player ought to win and face either Agnieszka Radwanska or Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round. The match between Radwanska and Ivanovic could potentially be one of the best matches of the first week at Wimbledon. According to the rankings, and recent form Radwanska should have the edge, but if Ivanovic’s serve is on (as it rarely is these days) she has every opportunity to beat the former junior Wimbledon champion. Either way, Li Na ought to beat the victor of that match with relative comfort in the fourth round.

In the other part of this quarter, Serena is the player seeded to progress to quarter-finals. She could however find herself in quite a competitive encounter against Marion Bartoli in the round of 16. The woman from France has previously reached the finals at Wimbledon, and won at Eastbourne in the lead up to the Championships this year, indicating a high level of skill on the grass courts. Serena is of course far more accomplished on grass, but considering her lack of match play, and Bartoli’s good form over the past few months which included a run to the semi-finals at the French Open, indicate that she could potentially upset the defending champion. I fully expect this to be closely contested three set encounter, which logic and knowledge of tennis history indicates ought to be edged by Williams. As such the quarter-final in this part of the draw is likely to be played out between Serena Williams and Li Na.

French Open Champion, Li Na, seen here during her successful Roland Garros campaign, will likely have to overcome Serena Williams in order to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon. Credit: Dana Anders (DANA)

Quarter-final 3: Andrea Petkovic vs. Victoria Azarenka

While Francesca Schiavone is seeded to reach the quarters ahead of Andrea Petkovic, I think the younger player has a great opportunity to knock the major winner out at this stage of the tournament. While Schiavone’s flat one handed backhand will be employed to full effect, the rest of her game is slightly ill-suited to the grass. In addition Petkovic’s forceful game will be able to exploit the Schiavone flaws optimally. As such I predict Petkovic will reach the quarters by virtue of a win over the play of Schiavone.

Andrea Petkovic, seen playing a volley during a match at the French Open, will likely have to overcome Francesca Schiavone and Victoria Azarenka, should she make the semis at Wimbledon. Credit: Dana Anders (DANA)

The top seeded player in this quarter of the draw is the ever temperamental Victoria Azarenka. I fully expected her to overcome the deficiencies in her mental resolve at the French Open. I was however disappointed, and she has yet to live up to her talent at a major. Hopefully her potential will be realized soon, a semi-final or final run at this year’s Championships could go a long way to cementing her status as a top 5 player. Her path to the quarter-finals is perhaps more difficult than those of the other top four players. In order to progress she will likely have to beat Daniela Hantuchova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in consecutive matches. Both players exceeded expectations with their play at Roland Garros, and Hantuchova has followed up that display with a win over Venus Williams at Eastbourne this week. Clearly Azarenka will require all her focus and a high level of play to upend the Slovak’s good form of late. Pavlyuchenkova, whose steady rise in the rankings over the past few years has gone relatively undocumented should also provide a high quality match against the winner of the third round encounter between Hantuchova and Azarenka. All-in-all if Azarenka is at her best (and not held back by the injuries of which reports have been surfacing) she ought to prevail and reach the quarter finals.

Quarter final 4: Petra Kwitova vs. Vera Zvonareva

The 1/8 in which Petra Kwitova is the top seed is somewhat lacking in high calibre potential matchups with Yanina Wickmayer, Roberta Vinci and Svetlana Kuznetsova being the other seeds in this section. Kwitova thus has the opportunity to reach the quarter-finals with relative ease.

Petra Kwitova, pictured serving at the French Open, has a fairly easy route until the quarter-finals, where she is likely to face Victoria Azarenka, in what is sure to be a fiercely contested battle for a semi-final spot. Credit: Dana Anders (DANA)

In stark contrast the other 1/8 of this section is probably the most competitive of the entire draw with 2nd seed, Vera Zvonareva and 5-time champion Venus Williams both being in this section, in addition to Jelena Jankovic and Tsvetana Pironkova, a 2010 Wimbledon semi-finalist also contained in this section. Pironkova is likely to fall to Zvonareva, with the winner going on to face the victor of the expected Jankovic-Williams encounter. While Jankovic’s superior head-to-head record against Venus seems to suggest that she’ll be the victor, it’ll be a bad move to bet against Venus who has been the best player at Wimbledon over the last decade. I do however think that with her lack of match fitness she’s unlikely to win two tough matches consecutively. It’s my opinion that the winner of this match will succumb to the top ranked Russian, Zvonareva in the subsequent match.

Jelena Jankovic, pictured at the French Open, will in all likelihood have to defeat Venus Williams and Vera Zvonareva in consecutive matches to reach the quarter-finals at The Championships. Credit: Dana Anders (DANA)

To recap, my predicted quarter-final pairings are Caroline Wozniacki vs. Maria Sharapova, Li Na vs. Serena Williams, Andrea Petkovic vs. Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kwitova vs. Vera Zvonareva.

Semi-final 1: (Caroline Wozniacki vs. Maria Sharapova) vs. Li Na

Should the likely fourth round encounter between Serena and Bartoli be as tough a match as I expect, I doubt that Serena will be able to maintain a high enough level of play in the match following to beat Li Na, who is most likely to be her opponent. As such I expect Li Na to reach the semis at Wimbledon for the first time in her career. Picking her semi-final opponent is the most difficult task of this analysis. Wozniacki is after all the top ranked player in the world; her motivation seems heightened prior to Wimbledon starting. At the same time she seems relaxed, going as far as to provide comedy by crashing Novak Djokovic’s press conference on Saturday. These are all possible signs of a good (read: semi’s or better) run at Wimbledon. Sharapova has however been in excellent form of late; Wimbledon truly is the optimal hunting ground for her style of play. As a result picking a winner from this match is a momentous task with the winner likely to have a very good shot at winning the title at the end of the fortnight. If forced to pick I would probably go with Sharapova on the basis of her experience and frequently cited never-say-die-attitude. Either way, this could potentially be the best match of the tournament; it’ll certainly be one I won’t miss.

Semi-final 2: Victoria Azarenka vs. Vera Zvonareva

Azarenka is currently the superior player to Kwitova. Should she be consistent and play at her regular level throughout this match, she ought to win with relative ease. In the other quarter-final, I expect Zvonareva to prevail. If she beat Serena which is likely a prerequisite for her to reach this stage of the tournament, it is likely that she will be very confident coming into this match. As a result she is likely to reach the semis.

So the semi-finalist according to the logic employed in this discussion will be (Caroline Wozniacki vs. Maria Sharapova) vs. Li Na and Victoria Azarenka vs. Vera Zvonareva.

I know I’m cheating by leaving both Wozniacki and Sharapova on the list. I do this due to the fact that the winner of that match is in an excellent position to reach the finals, with either being highly capable of beating the French Open champion, particularly following the confidence inspiring victory, which the winner of the match between Sharapova-Wozniacki would carry into the encounter with Na. In the other half, Zvonareva and Azarenka will be very closely matched should they meet up in the semi-finals. If history is any indicator it seems the winner of this match will be the one with greatest mental steel. Going out on a limb I’d say this will be Azarenka.

Final:  (Caroline Wozniacki vs. Maria Sharapova) vs. Victoria Azarenka

(Side note: Wouldn’t it be a great story if the two close friends, Azarenka and Wozniacki played in the final?) The final ought to make for a great match, with the superior experience of Wozniacki or Sharapova probably proving to be the difference against the Belarusian player who is still frequently affected by her wandering mind, and nervy moments. As a result the winner of the Sharapova-Wozniacki quarter-final is the most likely title winner at the Championship in 2011.

Who do you think will win?

 

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Any tennis and/or tennis related photographs (entries from June 2011 onwards) used thanks to permission provided by Dana Anders.

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3 Responses to “Wimbledon: A review of the ladies’ draw”

  1. Grand Slam Gal June 19, 2011 at 5:21 AM #

    I’m tipping Sharapova to win but your article reminds me how many great women have potential to do well at the moment, like Li Na, Petko and Kvitova. Looking forward to seeing the Williams sisters back on court too!

  2. lewis_davies June 19, 2011 at 3:41 PM #

    I’d love to see a Petkovic-Azarenka QF but I think this year’s women’s draw is going to be amazing whatever happens with established grass court players like Kvitova, Bartoli and Zvonareva joining the Williams sisters and a now on-form Sharapova. Can’t wait!

  3. pinkpolkadotfood June 23, 2011 at 11:12 PM #

    Today was quite a surprise and I am looking forward to the rest! Great post!

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