Niall Clarke’s Wimbledon 2015 Ladies Preview, Predictions
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The grass is cut, the whites are on, and the strawberries are coated with cream. Yes, it is time for Wimbledon!!
The pinnacle of the grass court season, and maybe even the sport has finally landed. 128 women will enter with the hopes of lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish, but only one will walk out with the title ‘Champion’.
Launched in 1877, the tournament also known as The Championships annually takes place in late June and early July. The home of the event is the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, or Wimbledon to be exact.
It is the only grand slam tournament to be played on the game’s original surface- grass. Wimbledon also holds many traditions such as no middle Sunday matches, the players have to wear all white attire, strawberries and cream, and no advertising inside the grounds.
The event has been pushed back a week to help with the extension of the grass court season, meaning the players have had a better build up than ever before.
Martina Navratilova holds the title record with nine singles titles and seven doubles. Steffi Graff has won the event seven times, and the Williams sisters have five a piece.
Petra Kvitova is the defending champion. The Czech claimed her single Wimbledon crowd defeating Eugenie Bouchard in straight sets last year.
The Championships, Wimbledon
Tier: Grand Slam
Location: London, England
Prize Money: $20,458,117
Date: June 29th– July 12th
Top Eight Seeds (Ranking)
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Petra Kvitova (2)
3. Simona Halep (3)
4. Maria Sharapova (4)
5. Caroline Wozniacki (5)
6. Lucie Safarova (6)
7. Ana Ivanovic (7)
8. Ekaterina Makarova (8)
The only notable absentee is Shuai Peng who is still recovering from injury. Otherwise everyone is available for the third grand slam of the year.
First round matches to watch:
(4) Maria Sharapova vs (WC) Johanna Konta
Fresh off a good Eastbourne run, many Brits would have been hoping that Johanna Konta will be able to replicate some of that success at Wimbledon. That is until they saw that former champion and finalist Maria Sharapova was her first round opponent.
Sharapova will be bidding for her second Wimbledon title, 11 years after she won her first. Here as the fourth seed, the 28 year old will look to hit the ball rolling against an in form Konta. Last year, Sharapova fell in the fourth round to Angelique Kerber, and on top of that she has not gone further than the round of 16 since her final run in 2011. Off the back of a disappointing French Open defence, Sharapova decided to not play any warm up tournaments leading to Wimbledon. Will that end up being a mistake?
One of the biggest stories in the build up to The Championships was the emergence of Konta, who found form in her hometown of Eastbourne. The 24 year old defeated Ekaterina Makarova and Garbine Muguruza en route to the quarter finals, where she was eventually stopped by Belinda Bencic. With her improved forehand, added confidence, and the crowd behind her, Konta will be dangerous when we hit Wimbledon next week.
These two have never met before, so this is the first time they have played. Sharapova will be a big favourite, but with her lack of grass practice she would be a fool to look past an in form Konta who will have the crowd behind her. An upset is unlikely, but Sharapova could find herself taken into the deep waters by an inspired Brit.
(32) Caroline Garcia vs Heather Watson
Keeping up the British theme we have Heather Watson, who will enter the tournament as the British number one, facing the ever dangerous yet unpredictable Caroline Garcia.
Ranked at 33, Garcia scraped a seeding due to Peng’s unfortunate withdrawal. The talented Frenchwoman had a nightmare French Open, but with less pressure now on her shoulders, maybe she can fair better at Wimbledon. In the build up to the tournament, Garcia managed wins in Birmingham and Eastbourne before falling tamely in the second round. Despite her round three appearance at SW19 last year, the 21 year old has her own struggles on grass and can often find herself frustrated on the surface. But there are the odd occasion where her talent shines through.
Heather Watson will be Great Britain’s best hope of a good run here, but she has been offered a difficult round one. The Brit has struggled with her own form recently, mainly due to a niggling elbow injury. However, back to back wins in Eastbourne will be encouraging for her heading in to this match. Watson’s best result at Wimbledon is the third round, and she will be eager to at least repeat that this year.
The match will likely come down to the mind-set of Garcia. Watson is a solid player, but the Frenchwoman has the bigger weapons and if she plays well the Brit will be in trouble. However as good as she can be, Garcia can have a bad day. With the crowd behind her, it is possible that the 21 year old can lose it mentally leaving the match in Watson’s hands. It is very much a tossup at this stage with Garcia’s place of mind unknown until match day.
(30) Belinda Bencic vs Tsvetana Pironkova
With their respective form on grass this year, many would have been expecting Belinda Bencic and Tsvetana Pironkova to do a lot of damage at Wimbledon. However, only one will even make it past the first round as they have been drawn together for a mouth-watering clash.
After a poor start to the season, Bencic has suddenly come alive now the tour has hit the grass. A final run at the Topshelf Open was followed by her first title in Eastbourne, making the Swiss one of the tour’s in form players. Her backhand and improving serve have been key to her recent success, but perhaps even more importantly she moves very well on the surface. The 18 year old has only competed in one previous Wimbledon tournament, where she made the third round.
Pironkova’s biggest career achievement came at the All England Club five years ago when she reached the semi-finals. The Bulgarian is known for her excellent form on grass, especially when you consider her results at other Grand Slams. And now we have hit the lawns, the 27 year old has finally started showing good form. She made the quarter finals of Eastbourne in the lead up to Wimbledon, but fell to Agnieszka Radwanska.
These two have never met before, so the already huge intrigue has just been multiplied. It is likely to be three sets of very good grass court tennis, meaning it is likely to come down to nerves. With Bencic currently in the better form overall she will be the favourite, but Pironkova’s level on grass is also very high. Either way, the winner will fancy themselves to have a fairly deep run in the tournament.
Yaroslava Shvedova vs Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
When looking through the draw, many would overlook this match between two unseeded players, but Yaroslava Shvedova and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni are capable of great tennis, especially on the grass.
Shvedova is best known for her golden set at this tournament back in 2012. If you have not seen it, go and check it out. That is the level Shvedova can reach. Of course, those days are rare but on grass the Kazakh is in her element. Shvedova does everything well when it comes shot-making, but her head has let her down so many times. The 27 year old has round four points to defend, but a tough draw and injury issues will make it difficult for Slava.
When Lucic-Baroni made the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 1999, she was touted to be a multi time grand slam winner. 16 years and a long break after, the Croatian is still searching for that elusive maiden grand slam. At 33 years of age her chances are now unlikely, but a deep run is not out of the question.
These two may be ranked 77 and 54 respectively, but on grass their level is much higher. This should be an exciting game of all court tennis with the winner having a good chance of making round three or even further.
(27) Barbora Strycova vs Sloane Stephens
If you want a match where a seed could potentially face an early exit, then this is most certainly one of them as Barbora Strycova meets Sloane Stephens.
Strycova’s unusual game translates well on to grass, but her only warm up tournament was Birmingham, where she won two matches. The Czech made the quarter finals last year, but eventual champion Petra Kvitova put an end to her dream run. With a good game for grass, and lots of points to defend, Strycova will be hungry for success at Wimbledon.
That’s not to say that Stephens also won’t be hungry for similar success. A Wimbledon quarter finalist in 2013, and a semi-finalist in Eastbourne this week, Stephens can certainly go on grass. Her ranking has plummeted since that big run in 2013, but keen to get her ranking back, I am sure Stephens will be motivated to do well.
The match-up is finely poised with both players suited to the grass. The head to head is 1-1, with their previous meetings being on hard courts. Form favours Stephens who played well in Eastbourne, so I favour the American on this occasion.
It is hard to believe that Serena Williams has not won a Wimbledon singles title since 2012, but the past two years she has been stunned before the quarter final. With a calendar grand slam in her sights and the hunger to catch up to Steffi Graf’s total of 23 grand slams, Serena is just as motivated as she has ever been to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish.
The world number one faces a tough draw ahead if she is claim her sixth Wimbledon title. The first two rounds might not be a problem for the world number one, with Petra Cetkovska being the toughest of her potential opponents. Round three is where it could get interesting. The projected opponent is 32nd seed Caroline Garcia, but the Frenchwoman has a tough round one against Britains Heather Watson. Dominika Cibulkova- who has just come back from injury or Daniela Hantuchova will provide a stern round two for the winner. Garcia has the potential to cause Serena the most problems given her talents, but the 21 year old is unpredictable and could easily lose early.
When the draw was made, one of the most alarming potential matches was Venus vs Serena Williams in round four, and looking at the draw the older sister should fancy her chances at a last sixteen berth. Venus had drawn an out of form Madison Brengle in round one, with Marina Erakovic or Yulia Putintseva scheduled for round two. Sara Errani is the projected round three, but the Italian is a doubt to even make it that far given her grass struggles. Compatriots Roberta Vinci and Francesca Schiavone are also in this mini section, so we could potentially see two all-Italian matches in the first two rounds. I would say Vinci is the favourite to make it to Venus, but a kind draw should see the former five time champion to round four.
The Williams sisters round four will provide a lot of interest, but at this stage in their careers it is hard seeing Venus defeating her younger sister.
Ana Ivanovic will be looking for a repeat of her French Open run when she takes to the courts of the All England Club next week. Her grass court preparations were cut short my Michelle Larcher de Brito in Birmingham, so the seventh seed has little match practice on the surface.
The Serbian should get through the first two rounds without much trouble, though Bethanie Mattek Sands and Alison Van Uytvanck could cause some problems in round two. However, she couldn’t have asked for a more daunting round three with in form Belinda Bencic the seed, and grass court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova potential opponents. You would think that the winner of that one will make the third round at least, and with grass not being Ivanovic’s best surface maybe even further. Bencic’s form means that a deep run could be on the cards for the Swiss.
Carla Suarez Navarro is not her strongest on grass and could be a candidate for an early exit with dangerous players such as Kristina Mladenovic in her draw. The Spaniard should make it past the first round, but with Mladenovic or Alexandra Dulghuru in round two, things could get tricky. Victoria Azarenka also finds herself in this section, with her hopes being that she can finally get that Serena monkey off her back. It is difficult to see the Belarusian losing before the fourth round, but there are some dangerous floaters such as Annika Beck, Kirsten Flipkens and Mladenovic in her section.
So there could be a Bencic/Ivanovic vs Azarenka round four with the winner potentially facing Serena Williams in the quarter finals.
Maria Sharapova’s French Open title defence did not go as planned, but maybe the world number four can make up for it by going all the way at Wimbledon. With no preparation though, she may find it tough with some dangerous grass courters in her draw.
Sharapova will open up against Britain’s Johanna Konta who is fresh off a good run in Eastbourne. Konta has made improvements, but it is difficult seeing her having enough weapons to get past the fourth seed. In fact the draw has been very kind to the Russian until round four. Irina Begu or Daria Gavrilova are the best bets for Sharapova’s round three opponent. They face in round one, but Gavrilova’s recent withdrawal at Eastbourne suggests that she may be carrying a niggling injury. Begu on the other hand lost both of her Wimbledon warm up matches, showing that her form on the surface is not as good.
Andrea Petkovic’s game has never suited the grass, but she made a decent run at Eastbourne, eventually losing to Caroline Wozniacki. Petko also has a kind draw with the winner of an interesting Flavaia Pennetta vs Zarina Diyas match likely for round four. The Italian has struggled on grass in recent years, whilst Diyas made round four last year. With that said, it is hard to see the German losing before the fourth round despite her own struggles on grass. The draw is good for her, but in the end she should lose to Sharapova.
The other half of this quarter is firmly stacked with plenty of capable of grass courts. Sixth seeded Lucie Safarova headlines it, fresh off her French Open final run. The Czech exceled on the clay, but she is also a very good grass courter as proved by her Wimbledon semi-final last year. The build up to this event did not go well, with the sixth seed losing to Cibulkova in Eastbourne.
Safarova will start against another very capable grass courter in Alison Riske. The American can cause an upset if the Czech is still suffering from a French Open hangover. Kaia Kanepi in round two will also be a tough test. The Estonian plays very well on grass, even making the quarter finals two years ago. Round three will likely be the winner of the already talked about Barbora Strycova vs Sloane Stephens match up. They play with different styles, but both can go on the grass. Make no bones about it, Safaraova will have to work hard even to make it to round four, and from there it does not get any easier too.
Karolina Pliskova has been one of the success stories of 2015 so far. He rise in to the top 20 has been well talked about, and now the big serving Czech has her eyes firmly set on the top ten. She proved her grass court potential by making the Birmingham final last week. Irina Falconi awaits in a testing round one, but it is one Pliskova should pass. Then another American in Coco Vandeweghe should provide us a big serving contest in round two. Sam Stosur is round three is interesting, but the Aussie is not the player she was, and her game is more suited to clay and hard courts, meaning that Plisikova should come through this section.
That could set us up with an all Czech affair in the fourth round, with a quarter final against Sharapova on the line.
After a disappointing French open, Simona Halep will be looking to bounce back with another good Wimbledon run. The Romanian played one build up tournament in Birmingham, where she fell in the quarter finals to Mladenovic.
Round one against Jana Cepelova should be straight forward enough for the third seed, but Monica Niculescu will provide an awkward challenge in the second round. Third round will likely be Svetlana Kuznetsova, who is not on her best surface, but is still a handful for anyone on the tour when playing well.
Sabine Lisicki is always dangerous at Wimbledon. A former finalist here, the German will be amongst the outside favourites to take home the title. Lisicki plays Jarmila Gadjosova in round one, then the winner of Christina McHale vs Jo Larsson in round two. Timea Bacsinzsky is the projected third round opponent of Lisicki. The Swiss’ comeback has been one of the best stories of the year, but her grass court game is not as strong as other surfaces, meaning she could be prone to an upset.
Lisicki vs Halep round four will be a repeat of a quarter final last year, which Halep won convincingly. The German was hampered by a slight injury, but take nothing away from Halep who played a great match.
On the other side of this quarter lies Caroline Wozniacki, who is coming off a retirement to Bencic in Eastbourne. The fifth seed has a good draw until the third round where she might face dangerous big hitter Camila Giorgi from Italy. Giorgi won a title in s’hertgonbosch a few weeks a back on the grass, and her powerful game suits the surface. If the Italian plays well then Wozniacki might find herself in trouble.
Angelique Kerber will be heading to Wimbledon in red hot form after winning the Birmingham title last week, and she will be looking to add to that with another deep Wimbledon run. The German has made the semi-finals here before and generally plays well here as her counter punching style suits the grass. She will face Carina Witthoeft in the first round who is a promising youngster, but is a little raw to beat Kerber here. Then it will be either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Mona Barthel who can be dangerous on their day, but they are both very inconsistent. Garbine Muguruza is the projected third round opponent, but the Spaniard struggles on grass. She may find herself defeated by the winner of Lucic-Baroni vs Shvedova who are both very sound grass courters. They on their day can also beat Kerber, but the safe money is on the German.
Kerber is overall the best grass courter in this section, and she should make the quarter finals by defeating either Wozniacki or Giorgi.
And after all that we have hit the final quarter which features defending champion Petra Kvitova. The two time champion is seeded two in the tournament, and is amongst the heavy favourites with Serena. The Czech did not play a warm-up tournament after pulling out of Eastbourne with illness.
The defending champion has been draw Kiki Bertens in the first round, then it will either Kurumi Nara or Maleroy Linette in the second round. Interestingly Laura Robson has also been drawn in to this section. The Brit is playing her second match since returning from an 18 month layoff against Evgeniya Rodina. The Brit will be rusty so she is probable for a first round loss, but it is good to finally see her by on tour. Jelena Jankovic should be Kvitova’s third round opponent providing she can beat Elena Vesnina and then the winner of Robson-Rodina.
In the other section we have former finalist Agnieszka Radwanska who is coming in on good form after a successful Eastbourne campaign. The Pole has struggled this year, but seems to be re-finding some form on her best surface. Radwanska will play doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka in round one, then the winner of Alja Tomljanovic- Klara Koukalova in round two. Potential for an upset is there, but Radwanska should make the third round against Elina Svitolina who showed great form at the French Open. The Pole should have too much craft on this surface for the 20 year old, and should advance to round for to face Kvitova.
The defending champion should overpower Radwanska in the fourth round, especially given their respective level. The Pole is not the play she was when she made the final three years ago.
On the other side of this quarter is Ekaterina Makarova who is known for her ability to step up her level in the big tournaments. The Russian was upset by Konta in her only tournament leading up to Wimbledon, so has a lack of match practice on the grass.
The first real test will come in the second round against Magdalena Rybarikova who is a good grass court player herself, then it will most likely be Alize Cornet in the third round. The Frenchwoman upset Serena last year, but faces a tough test in the form of rising star Ana Konjuh in round one. Makarova should come through this section to make round four, but there are a few players who could upset the number eight seed.
Another big story in 2015 has been the slump of Eugenie Bouchard, who has crumbled under the pressure of being touted by many to be the next face of women’s tennis. She made the final last year, so if there is any time to re find form, it is now with so many points to defend. Fortunately for the Canadian, the draw until the third round is fairly kind with the winner of Tatjana Maria vs Bojana Jovanovski providing the biggest test before a Madison Keys showdown in round three. That is of course providing Bouchard even gets past round one, and in this form it is far from certain. Keys should have too much for the former finalist, who has always struggled against power players.
Keys will even fancy her chances against Makarova in round four. It is a good draw for the American to make a deep run. Makarova as always will be a massive test, so this is certainly a possible round four clash to watch.
Serena def. Venus
Bencic def. Azarenka
Sharapova def. Petkovic
Safarova def. Pliskova
Kerber def. Wozniacki
Lisicki def. Halep
Keys def. Makarova
Kvitova def. Radwanska
Serena def. Bencic
Sharapova def. Safarova
Lisicki def. Kerber
Kvitova def. Keys
Serena def. Sharapova
Kvitova def. Lisicki
Kvitova def. Serena
I have gone for Kvitova to defend her title defeating Serena in the final. It is the final that most will be predicting, expecting and maybe even hoping for. The two best grass courters in the world, and the top two seeds. I believe Lisicki will have another deep run but the power of Petra will be too much for her in the semi-finals.
Fresh off her Eastbourne title, Bencic will ride a wave of confidence to the quarter finals, but I doubt she can defeat Serena at this stage. Sharapova will get her revenge on Safarova, whilst Keys will take advantage of a good draw for a decent run.
But overall, Kvitova will once against reign supreme at SW19.