Tennis

Wimbledon | Women’s Preview – Swiatek heads strong field

The draw for The Championships at Wimbledon was made on Friday, and speculation is rife as to who can come through the 128-player field to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday 9 July.

I think you can’t expect a whole lot because she’s not match-tough… It’s hard to really assess how she’s going to play in singles just because you see her playing doubles. I can’t tell how the movement is from side to side, from up to back. The serve looks good. The power is there… it’s a question mark. Chris Evert on Serena Williams

It’s a rum deal, with no ranking points, defending champion Ash Barty retired, and the Russian and Belarusian ban ruling out the likes of Aryna Sabalenka, Victoria Azarenka, Daria Kasatkina and Veronika Kudermetova amongst a host of others, now out of contention.

There is, nevertheless, a strong field, even if those who are in the draw either lack track record or experience on the vagaries of Wimbledon grass, other than Serena Williams who, under normal circumstances, would relish this opportunity but, on this occasion, comes in as an unlikely outsider for the title.

The big favourite, of course, is World No 1 Iga Swiatek, who arrives at Wimbledon unbeaten in her last 35 consecutive matches, but she has not had any warm-up matches on the grass this time round.

Only two players have put together longer winning streaks in the 2000s, Novak Djokovic at 43, and Roger Federer with 41.

If Swiatek does clinch the title, her streak will hit 42, surpassing Federer’s impressive run from 15 years ago, but the Pole has hurdles to overcome, and she is taking steps not to get ahead of herself in any expectation stakes.

The two-time and reigning Roland-Garros champion kicks off her Wimbledon campaign against Jana Fett, a qualifier from Croatia, who dropped sets in two of her three rounds at Roehampton, and should not prove too much of a problem, but Swiatek is in the same half of the draw as last year’s runner-up Karolina Pliskova, and 7-time champion Williams, who always poses a psychological threat.

Swiatek, whose best performance at Wimbledon to date was a 4th-round run last year, will continue her bid against either Danka Kovinic from Montenegro or British wild-card Sonay Kartal, while No 27 seed Yulia Putintseva from Kazakstan is her projected 3rd-round opponent, and her predecessor as Roland Garros champion, 13th-seeded Czech Barbora Krejcikova, could await in the last 16.

The 21-year-old then could face former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, American 8th seed Jessica Pegula, or 2017 winner Garbiñe Muguruza in the quarter-finals, while lying in wait as potential semi-final opponents are Pliskova, Williams, No 4 seed Paula Badosa, or two-time champion Petra Kvitova.

Question marks surround Serena Williams on her return to Wimbledon having not played a singles match since limping out of The Championships last year

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Pegula, the 8th seeded American, and No 9 seed Muguruza lead the second section of the draw, with the Spaniard opening against Belgian Greet Minnen before taking on the winner of a popcorn first-round match between another American, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, and China’s fast-rising teenager Zheng Qinwen, who was the only player to take a set off Swiatek in Paris.

Should Muguruza pass that test, she could face either 17th-seeded Elena Rybakina from Kazakstan or Andreescu from Canada in round 3, who is a finalist in Bad Homburg.

Also, in the loaded top half, is No 16 seed Simona Halep, who pulled out of her semi-final in Bad Homburg on Friday because of a neck issue, and faces a daunting task in her first match at Wimbledon since clinching the title in 2019, with the Romanian meeting crafty Czech and two-time quarter-finalist Karolina Muchova first.

Meanwhile, Williams, who has not played a singles match since she limped out of Wimbledon last year, received a wild-card into the main draw and opens her quest for a record 24th Grand Slam title against French World No 113 Harmony Tan.

If she comes through, the 40-year-old could face Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, the No 32 seed, in the 2nd-round and, possibly, Pliskova, the 6th seed, in round 3.

After that, things look daunting for Williams, with Americans Coco Gauff and Amanda Anisimova potentially looming in the round of 16, followed by Halep or Badosa in the quarters, and Swiatek in the semis, and with World No 2 Anett Kontaveit or Serena’s doubles partner and World No 3 Ons Jabeur in the final.

Williams, who remains one major title shy of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24, suffered a serious leg injury last year, and is now ranked 1,208th in the world, while it has been more than 5 years since she won her last major singles crown at the Australian Open in 2017.

No one knows quite what to expect from the American, even 18-time major champion and ESPN analyst Chris Evert.

“Well, I have no idea,” Evert said. “I think you can’t expect a whole lot because she’s not match-tough.

“I think that when you don’t play for a long time, your instincts, it takes a while for your tennis instincts and your tennis IQ to come back.

“It’s hard to really assess how she’s going to play in singles just because you see her playing doubles.

“I can’t tell how the movement is from side to side, from up to back. The serve looks good. The power is there. I’m excited for the tournament that she’s playing.

“I think it’s great for everybody around, but, you know, it’s a question mark.

“All the other players have gotten better over the last year, when you look at Swiatek, Jabeur, some of the players that can challenge the top or can win Grand Slams.”

Ons Jabeur won Berlin and played doubles with Serena Williams at Eastbourne but then pulled out with a right knee injury

© Boris Streubel/Getty Images

The bottom half of the draw features recent Berlin champion and No 3 seed Jabeur, home favourite and No 10 seed Emma Raducanu, Greek No 5 seed Maria Sakkari, and in-form Belinda Bencic and Beatriz Haddad Maia.

Jabeur, who withdrew ahead of her Eastbourne doubles semi-final alongside Williams on Thursday with a right knee injury, reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year.

The Tunisian, who will rise to a career-high No 2 on Monday, faces Swedish qualifier Mirjam Bjorklund in the first round.

She is projected to face Kaia Kanepi in the 3rd-round, the tricky Estonian having garnered a reputation as an unseeded upset-artist at Grand Slams, but is seeded herself at 31 for the first time at a major since Roland Garros 2014.

A popcorn Round of 16 match for Jabeur against No 15 seed Kerber will require the German to pass the tests of former World No 10 Kristina Mladenovic from France in the 1st-round and, potentially, 24th seed Elise Mertens from Belgium in the 3rd-round.

Emma Raducanu’s fitness remains a concern after a side pull in Nottingham 3 weeks ago

© Nathan Stirk/Getty Images for LTA

US Open champion Raducanu was dealt a tough opener against the in-form Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck, who has won 12 matches on grass in the build-up to Wimbledon.

The US Open champion from Bromley has not played since retiring due to an abdominal injury in the first round of Nottingham 3 weeks ago, and she faces one of the toughest unseeded players in the draw, the Belgian having won both the Surbiton ITF W100 3 weeks ago and the Gaiba WTA 125 last week.

The 19-year-old has the potential of an all-British clash in round 2 against wild-card Yuriko Miyazaki, who faces a tough test herself against France’s Caroline Garcia, the finalist in Bad Homburg.

Raducanu is projected to meet former quarter-finalist Madison Keys in the 3rd-round and Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins in the last 16, with Jabeur or former champion Kerber looming ahead as potential quarter-final opponents.

There are 8 British women in the singles draw, led by Raducanu, and, remarkably, none have drawn seeds.

Harriet Dart, Katie Boulter and Jodie Burrage, all who have been in excellent form on the grass, will open against Spain’s Rebeka Masarova, France’s Clara Burel and Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko respectively

Boulter could play Pliskova, whom she beat in Eastbourne earlier this week, in the 2nd-round.

Kartal, who makes her debut after surging up the rankings this season, takes on Danka Kovinic from Montenegro, with a potential 2nd-round clash against Swiatek, while Heather Watson faces German Tamara Korpatsch and Katie Swan takes on Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk.

World No 2 Anett Kontaveit is recovering from COVID and has not played on grass ahead of Wimbledon

© Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, Kontaveit and Sakkari head the 4th quarter of the draw in terms of ranking, but there’s also opportunity for players who have shown some serious grass-court form this month, including 12th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia, who is Sakkari’s projected 4th-round opponent.

Opening against American Bernarda Pera, Kontaveit could face a dangerous projected 3rd-round opponent in No 29 seed Anhelina Kalinina from Ukraine, fresh off upsetting Sakkari in Eastbourne.

A 3rd-round barn-burner could decide Kontaveit’s 4th-round foe, with No 23 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia from Brazil, who has just come off a 12-match grass-court winning streak and captured her first two WTA titles in Nottingham and Birmingham before continuing her form to reach the Eastbourne semi-finals.

The Brazilian is projected to face No 14 seed Belinda Bencic in the 3rd-round, although the ankle injury that the Swiss sustained in the Berlin final less than a week ago will be a question mark for her.

Wimbledon organisers have announced that Swiatek will open play on the Centre Court, the  traditional honour of the defending champion but, in the absence of Barty, there has been speculation as to whom this should fall.

Despite Barty’s request that Halep, the 2019 champion, who could not defend her title because Wimbledon was cancelled due to COVID the following year, should take her place, Swiatek, as the current World No 1,  has been given the honour, and few would argue the decision.

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