Just a few weeks ago all eyes were on Serena Williams in Paris as Williams was expected to pick up her second French Open title. Then along came a French woman named Virginie Razzano and caused one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history. As Williams made an early exit, the field was suddenly wide open and ultimately it was Maria Sharapova dancing in the red clay in celebration of achieving the career Grand Slam. Now as the court has switched to grass and the historic setting of the All England Club, Sharapova has become the favorite as the third Grand Slam of the year is set to begin on Monday.
It was at Wimbledon that Sharapova won her first Grand Slam in 2004. She upset Williams for the title at only 17 years of age. Yet it would take seven more years before she would reach the final again, losing last year to Petra Kvitova. This year however Sharapova has put together one of her best seasons in recent memory. For a time it appeared that Victoria Azarenka had her number after losing to her in the final of the Australian Open, and then twice in the month of March in the finals at Indian Wells and in Miami. However after those losses she put together a fantastic spring which included two wins outside of Roland Garros. She also took over the World No.1 spot from Azarenka in the process. Consistency has clearly been the key for Sharapova this year as she keeps giving herself opportunities to win.
Sharapova has also been dealt a little bit of luck as play begins next week. Her side of the draw is something to be envied as Williams, Azarenka and Kvitova are on the other side of the table. It sets up so that Williams and Sharapova may meet in the finals, but Williams will face much tougher opponents to get there.
But let us not quickly count out Williams who is still bristling from her first round exit in Paris. She has won this trophy four times and it is doubtful that anyone is more motivated than her to add a fifth to her resume and erase the dark memories of just a few weeks ago. A healthy and focused Williams is an opponent that no one wants to face at any stage of the tournament.
There are a few dark horses in the mix as well. Kim Clijsters is looking to step away (again) from the sport after the US Open, so by all accounts this should be her farewell in London. As a precautionary measure she withdrew last week in the semi-final of the Unicef Open due to a stomach muscle strain. Clijsters has nothing to lose as she continues her swan song into retirement. The owner of three US Open’s as well as an Australian title, she has had difficulty however on the grass court. She has never reached the final and comes into this tournament unseeded facing former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the first round.
Though Venus Williams has battled serious health troubles over the past year, she does know how to win here with five Wimbledon titles to her name. Though the last one was in 2008, if she can spark some energy it would be monumental to watch her pick up a sixth.
Sam Stosur had an excellent run in Paris until she lost in the semi-finals to the Italian Sara Errani. A match she should have won but too many mental mistakes eventually caught up with her. Though she has never made it past the third round in London she is one of the few that can keep up with the power game of S. Williams.
The switch from clay to grass is often difficult for even the best in the world to master. It has been ten years since anyone in the women’s game has won both the French and Wimbledon in succession. S. Williams was the last to do it and it is a testament to what a hard task it is. In what has been an impossible season to predict, there is no sure bet as far as the ladies are concerned. All we can hope for is great tennis.
Ladies Singles Draw
Coverage begins on ESPN2 on Monday June 25 at 6:30am EST.
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