Sometimes, everyone needs a little bit of sporting tradition. In an age where new ventures, new technologies and new ideals come increasingly into play, there’s something truly comforting about the injection of something slightly old fashioned into the veins of the sporting consciousness. Thus it is that we come to tennis, a sport which beyond the natural technological advancements (Hawkeye, carbon fibre rackets) defies the increasingly prevalent journey towards short-form, sharp-fix game play. And to step even further into tradition, the grass courts of Wimbledon, where the vulgarity of colour-laden outfits and fully branded uniforms remains thankfully out of bounds.
The First Seed. The World Number One. Current holder of three of the last four majors and victorious in 74 of her last 77 matches. The increasingly legendary younger Williams sister is the woman who every other player in the draw will be hoping someone else can beat. In a word, Williams is astonishing and it would be an almighty shock if she doesn’t claim her sixth Wimbledon crown come Saturday 6th July. Frankly, there is no single weapon that Williams does not possess in her locker, and where the proximity of a 32nd birthday might be expected to herald the beginnings of a slide in the face of younger opposition, Williams’ remarkable power and intensity suggests she will be a fixture for many tournaments still to come.
First Round Opponent: Mandy Minella (Lux)
Seeded third, Sharapova has entirely overcome the injury and subsequent slump in form which saw her drop as low as 126th in the WTA rankings to once again become one of the world’s most dangerous and exciting players. It is now nine years since Sharapova triumphed at Wimbledon as a 17-year old, where she defeated Serena Williams with a breathtaking show of poise, power and sheer will to win. A career grand slam holder, having won the French Open in 2012, Sharapova has never won a major more than once; to do so here, she will almost certainly have to overcome the might of Serena Williams against whom she hasn’t won in 13 consecutive attempts. It’s a mighty ask, but Sharapova is a mighty player.
First Round Opponent: Kristina Mladenovic (Fra)
The Belarusian World Number 2 is seeded in line with her world ranking at this tournament, yet despite turning sustained promise into victories at the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, Azarenka has only once made a grand slam final outside the hard courts of Melbourne. A semi-finalist at Wimbledon for the last two years, Azarenka is clearly desperate to take the next step and a favourable draw makes progress deep into the second week a distinct possibility. Azarenka may well meet Britain Elena Baltacha in the second round; if nothing else, the opposition of a home crowd favourite will be a telling indicator as to the Belarusian’s readiness to take the next step towards Wimbledon victory.
First Round Opponent: Maria Joao Koehler (Por)
Something of a throwback in tennis terms, Anna Radwanska’s fourth seeding has been attained without any of the power and sheer strength that defines her top-four companions. Indeed, for many, Radwanska is one of the purest tennis players on the current women’s circuit, a player of delightful touch, supreme elegance and an ability to place the ball into any area of the court with an apparent minimum of effort. Finalist in last year’s tournament, Radwanska’s biggest weapons are, in the eyes of many seasoned observers, the very things which have stopped her from recording a Grand Slam victory in her career to date. Simply, where her creativity and grace around the court are enough to bewitch and bewilder the vast majority of players on the current circuit, against the big guns she simply cannot match power with power. Nonetheless, she will be a danger and it would be an almighty surprise if she didn’t progress deep into the draw.
First Round Opponent: Yvonne Meusburger (Aut)
The Dark Horses
Despite having never advanced beyond the fourth round of a grand slam (Wimbledon 2009, Australian Open 2006 and 2013), Vesnina comes into this year’s Wimbledon as an Aegon International finalist and in a whirlwind of form. Having already won the Moorila Hobart International in January of this year to record her first WTA tournament victory, should Vesnina triumph over American Jamie Hampton today (she currently leads by a set to love), it will mark a genuine period of sustained form in the Russian’s career. Her victory over second seed Li Na at Eastbourne shows that, on her day, Vesnina has the capability to mix it with the very best on the women’s tour. Wimbledon could be a breakthrough tournament.
First Round Opponent: Andrea Hlavackova (Cze)
The seventh seed, German Angelique Kerber, comes into the tournament somewhat under the radar despite a semi final appearance in last year’s finals. A finalist in four WTA tournaments in 2012 and winner of two, 2013 has yet to prove as fruitful for the 25 year old, yet her three set defeat to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the Monterrey Open in April demonstrated that when she is reading the ball well, she can progress through challenging tournaments with enviable ease. Drawn against US hopeful Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round, Kerber has a relatively navigable draw in the early stages of the tournament and may again emerge in the latter part of the competition.
First Round Opponent: Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)
It almost feels unfair to label Sloane Stephens a ‘dark horse’, given her rise to 17th in the world rankings, yet the American will begin Wimbledon as many observers’ ‘favourites outside of the favourites’. Blessed with astonishing athleticism, power, pace around the court and the ability to utterly blindside opponents with some remarkable shot selection, it was Stephens’ defeat of Serena Williams in the Australian Open Quarter Finals which surely stopped the World Number 1 from adding another major to her career haul.
First Round Opponent: Jamie Hampton (USA)
The British Contingent
And what of the Brits? Last year was a stellar year for British tennis on both sides of the gender equation and if 2013 hasn’t yet hit the same heights, one needs only to remember that it was about this time last year that things moved into overdrive. Fair enough, there’s no Olympic Games this year to spark a national surge of brilliance, but could any of the Brits in the women’s capture that momentum again?
On the face of it, the draw has not been kind. Laura Robson faces 10th seed Maria Kirilenko in the first round and – should she progress further than her current best performance at Wimbledon (second round, 2011) may well face Angelique Kerber. Heather Watson, meanwhile, has only just completed her recovery from a severe bout of glandular fever, only to find herself in the same bracket as Agnieszka Radwanska. Elsewhere, Samantha Murray competes in her second Wimbledon tournament and faces World Number 92 Camila Giorgi of Italy, Anne Keothavong has been drawn against Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, 20 year old Tara Moore will look to better a succession of first round exits against Kaia Kanepi, Johanna Konta (an Australian until 2012, now representing Great Britain) comes up against Jelena Jankovic and Elena Baltacha – a stunning winner in the Nottingham Challenge Cup last week – has been drawn against Flavia Pennetta, before potentially facing Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Crikey.
Laura Robson vs. Maria Kirilenko
Heather Watson vs. Madison Keys
Samantha Murray vs. Camila Giorgi
Anne Keothavong vs. Garbine Muguruza
Tara Moore vs. Kaia Kanepi
Johanna Konta vs. Jelena Jankovic
Elena Baltacha vs. Flavia Pennetta
The tournament begins on Monday with coverage across the BBC. Full draw details available here
Image from telegraph.co.uk – thank you!