The Wimbledon singles draws are out and the most hallowed grounds in sports are almost ready to come to life. An argument can be made for 15-20 ladies to lift the big trophy. First, here are a few openers round matches to watch.
(23) Barbora Strýcová vs Svetlana Kuznetsova– This is a battle between two veterans Strýcová uses slice as well as anyone on tour. Those shots stay nice and low and can easily frustrate opponents on a grass court. The Czech is a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist and has two career wins over top ten players on grass, which is a lot considering how few tournaments are played on grass these days.
Kuznetsova is two-time major winner still capable of beating anyone on any given day. The Russian has never been particularly good at Wimbledon and is trying to rebuild her career after a year or so filled with injuries. Both ladies were thought to be capable of doing some damage here. One of them will be on early flight home
(11) Angelique Kerber vs. Vera Zvonareva- Zvonareva is a former Wimbledon finalist who has attempted a comeback on the lower levels of the sport after dealing with injuries and becoming a mother. It will be fun to see if the now 33-year-old has any of that old form left in her as she tries her hand against Kerber who is also a former Wimbledon finalist and in the midst of a really nice bounce-back season. This is Zvonareva’s first Grand Slam main draw appearance in four years.
(29) Mihaela Buzărnescu vs. Aryna Sabalenka- Here, we have two players who have really made a splash in recent months. Sabalenka is a 20-year-old Belarusian who can absolutely crush the ball from anywhere on the court. She is fresh off a run to the finals of Eastbourne where she defeated two former Grand Slam finalists.
She faces a crafty lefty in Buzărnescu who is enjoying a career-high ranking thanks in part to three wins over top ten players in 2018. The once-promising junior had a career that was derailed by injuries so much that she took time off to earn a doctorate degree. She is one of the better stories of the season so far. Her game isn’t flashy, but there are no real weaknesses either. Sabalenka will really have to work to try and hit the Romanian off the court
Ekaterina Alexandrova vs Victoria Azarenka- Azarenka really needs to get her comeback going. The spring of 2018 marked her full-time return to the tour after a child custody dispute. The two-time Australian Open champion cannot be happy with the way things have gone. She has won just two matches after an encouraging start in March. She finds herself a decent part of the draw and it is not difficult to imagine her making a run here, but every match is a test for her at the moment, even opening rounders against virtually unknown Russians.
Top half: With the sizeable exception of the Williams sisters, the women with the best shot to win this event all reside here. 24th seeded Maria Sharapova, eighth-seeded Petra Kvitová, top seed and French Open champion Simona Halep and fourth-seeded defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza are all at the top of any short list.
However, Sharapova, the 2004 champion, is still seeded relatively low by her standards. She and Kvitová are slated for a rematch of the 2011 final in round four. The two have engaged in a nip and tuck rivalry over the years, but have not played since 2015. Sharapova has really rounded into form since April. Kvitová is two time Wimbledon winner who has five titles to her name this year alone. This would be a blockbuster.
With the draw placement of those two, the constant inconsistency of Muguruza, and Halep primed for an emotional letdown after finally winning her first major, there is room for a couple dark horses. (17) Ashleigh Barty and home crowd favorite (22) Johanna Konta.
Barty is particularly intriguing. The Aussie reached all four major finals in doubles before making much of an impact on the singles court. Her doubles prowess means she is comfortable in all parts of the court, possesses a deep repertoire of shots, and is refreshingly unafraid to finish points at the net. All of this translates very well to grass. Barty picked up her first career title on the surface a couple weeks ago in Nottingham. She has steadily progressed for the better part of now. She seems ready for a big breakthrough. A second week run at Wimbledon would certainly qualify.
Semifinal prediction: Kvitová d. Barty
Serena Williams should fear no one on a tennis court. Even so, there had to be players that the Williams’ camp was wary of the 23-time major champion having to deal with early, despite the fact that she was awarded the 25th seed by the tournament. However, all of those players landed in the other half.
The first seed Williams can run into is (5) Elina Svitolina. The Ukrainian is struggling at the moment and not particularly fond of playing on grass to begin with. Williams can overpower her with her C+ game if need be. (2) Caroline Wozniacki leads this half, but has always struggled Wimbledon. Fellow Americans (4) Slone Stephens, (9) Venus Williams, (10) Madison Keys and (16) CoCo Vandeweghe all loom as possible opponents for the seven-time Wimbledon champion. Those players are all capable of troubling Serena on a given day. Still, the entire group is either playing poorly right now or just too inconsistent to trust.
The younger Williams sister is the known commodity. We know that she doesn’t need a whole lot of match play to win majors. Wimbledon will be just the fourth event of the year for the new mom. We also know that grass only accentuates her immense power.
The fact that Serena is in draw at Wimbledon is enough for me to believe that the injury suffered at the French has healed. If she can get the first few rounds under her belt, the rest of the field had better look out.
There is also room for a moderate surprise in this half. Strýcová has a tricky opener as mentioned above, but is positioned a lot like Barty is in the top half. She would not have to deal with Serena until the semis. She has a workable potential draw until then. The 32-year-old has also been around long enough not to be overwhelmed by the opportunity of reaching her first major semifinal.
Semifinal prediction: S.Williams d. Strýcová
Championship match: Kvitová d. S. Williams
Wimbledon begins Monday at 6 AM ET. The ESPN family of networks has exclusive television rights in America. I will tweet out my complete picks for both singles draws before the start of play. You can follow me on Twitter below.