Wimbledon is just hours away, so let’s have a quick look at this year’s favorites and dark horses. At the end of my chat about leading contenders, there’s a poll where you can vote for your top pick. Also, please take a minute to tell me your thoughts in the comments section and expand my list of title favorites.
Can Ashleigh Barty make it two Grand Slams in a row, on the heels of Naomi Osaka’s surprising back-to-back triumphs in New York and Melbourne? The new world No.1 is on a roll — after clinching her maiden major title at Roland Garros, the 23-year-old Australian transferred her athleticism to the grass courts, lifting the champion’s trophy at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham.
Note that Barty believes she’s more dangerous on grass than on clay and her sole junior Grand Slam title came eight years ago at Wimbledon. Still, as a WTA player the furthest she’s gone at Wimbledon was last year’s third round.
This year Barty opens against Zheng Saisai, then could face Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round and 2017 Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza in the third.
Of all the four Grand Slams, Karolina Pliskova’s Wimbledon results are the most modest, with the fourth round being her furthest progress. However, the way the world No.2 won the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne makes her maybe even the strongest contender. The Czech was absolutely lethal to all her opponents at the $998,712 grass-court tournament, regardless of their ranking and career accomplishments. Even reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber probably left the Eastbourne final happy that she won five games and stayed on court longer than 60 minutes.
Pliskova has a chance to return to the top WTA ranking, but must reach at least the semifinals of Wimbledon.
Serena Williams has played just 12 matches this season, her win-loss record being 9-3, and none on grass, as her last tournament was Roland Garros. Still, about a half of tennis experts are picking her for the title, while the other half are predicting Barty to triumph. The American 23-time Grand Slam champion has won Wimbledon seven times, most recently in 2016. As Darren Cahill interestingly noted for ESPN: “She is in a brutal quarter of the draw, but that’s just how she likes it.”
World No.5 Angelique Kerber won Wimbledon last year, beating Serena Williams 6-3 6-3 in the final, but this season she’s yet to win a title. A few days ago in Eastbourne quarterfinals, the German showed phenomenal form against Simona Halep, and even in the final against Karolina Pliskova she played really well, but there was no opponent that could have challenged the Czech at that tournament.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova started this season with a run to the Australian Open final, but has been sidelined with an arm injury for a few weeks now, missing Roland Garros and the entire grass-court season.
The Czech’s first-round opponent will be Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who made an unexpected run to the semifinals of the Nature Valley International, but had to withdraw from the match because of a right ankle injury she had sustained at the end of her quarterfinal the day before.
Kvitova’s physical readiness is still under a big question, as she only held a racquet again a few days ago, while before that she couldn’t do anything for a couple of weeks and could barely even hold a drink in her unhealthy hand. However, the 29-year-old stated:
I know from the past that sometimes I don’t need to have hit for that many hours to be ready.
In her column for the BBC Sport website, Kvitova revealed that she felt no pain during Saturday’s practice, but still keeps her expectations low, which could be seen as a good thing, as there will be less pressure.
Let’s also mention that Kvitova has a chance to reach the No.1 ranking for the first time in her career, but for that possibility to open, she must win the 2019 Wimbledon title.
Fourth-ranked Kiki Bertens has had an exceptional season on the green surface, making her first grass-court final at ‘s-Hertogenbosch and the semifinals of Eastbourne where she had no answer to ruthless Karolina Pliskova. Last year, Bertens made the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, beating Venus Williams and Karolina Pliskova before falling to Julia Goerges.
The Dutchwoman can clinch the No.1 ranking in the upcoming fortnight, but that possibility will be open if she wins the Venus Rosewater Dish.
Naomi Osaka won just one match on grass this season, in Birmingham, and lost already in the second round to Yulia Putintseva, her first-round opponent at Wimbledon! The WTA has an excellent article where Naomi discusses her relationship with grass, the surface she first played on at the age of 16 or 17:
It’s been kind of tough, especially since it’s way more unpredictable than clay. But I feel like it should be good for me because it’s very heavily reliant on the first serves, sort of being the first person to be aggressive. I’ve been kind of trying to learn every day. I think it’s been a very humbling experience.
The 21-year-old Osaka explained in detail how Madison Keys destroyed her during recent practice:
She was serving and I don’t think I’m a bad returner, but I would hit a return right at her feet and she would hit a winner off of that. I was like, this isn’t right. I wasn’t doing anything wrong but she was killing me 3-0 in like 7 minutes.
I know I wasn’t doing anything wrong but she was just blowing me away. I don’t think I’ve done that to anybody before. That level of talent, to me, is crazy.
Currently ranked No.2, Osaka must reach at least the third round of Wimbledon to have a chance at returning to the top.
Who do you think can sweep past seven opponents and win this year’s Wimbledon? Will we have another surprise champion on the WTA tour or will one of the above-mentioned players lift the prestigious trophy?