Wimbledon is almost upon us, draws are out. Much like Paris, it is wide open for the women. Jelena Ostapenko took advantage to surprise everyone at Roland Garros. Is a similar story in the cards at SW19? Let’s start with a few first round matches to watch.
(9) Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Jelena Jankovic- Even though neither of these ladies has won a Grand Slam, both have spent countless weeks in the top ten. This could have passed for a final at one of these events 5-7 years ago.
Now, it is simply an intriguing first round matchup between two veteran counterpunchers whose best days are behind them. Despite that, it is rare to get a first round match between two players that are so well known at an event like this.
Slone Stephens vs. Alison Riske- Two still relatively young Americans who have been around awhile will do battle. Riske is a hard hitting grass court specialist who takes the ball early.
This is the season debut for Stephens who is coming off foot surgery. Riske is a very complicated first hurdle for the former World No. 11 who will look to control things with her forehand.
Victoria Azarenka vs. CiCi Bellis- This is just the second event back since pregnancy for the former World No. 1 and two time Australian Open winner. Her 18 year old American opponent is one of the most exciting young prospects on tour and has already notched wins over players like Radwnska, and Dominika Cibulkova.
Despite that, Bellis may be punching above her current weight class here. Even so, it will be interesting to see what Bellis can do as Azarenka continues to knock off rust.
(4) Elina Svitolina vs. Ashleigh Barty- This is my big first round upset. The fourth seeded Ukrainian is dealing with a leg injury and has never been all that fond of grass courts in the first place.
Combine that with the unorthodox style of Barty, her run to the finals in Birmingham, and that is enough for me to go out on a limb.
With a record of just 19-13 on the year, World No. 1, top seed and defending finalist Angelique Kerber is almost an afterthought here. Additionally, most of the players with the better grass court track records landed in the other half.
Opportunity knocks here for someone. Caroline Wozniacki and Svetlana Kuznetsova have never played their best at Wimbledon, but have workable draws. If you are looking for a deep sleeper, Tsvetana Pironkova is a former semifinalist here and loves the surface.
A pair of Czechs are also nicely positioned. Lefty Lucie Šafářová is also a former Wimbledon semifinalist who has played well enough in recent weeks to snag the last seed.
Her countrywoman Karolína Plíšková is seeded third. How she has never reached the third round here is mystifying. She has all the firepower that the surface rewards and a serve that led the tour in aces last year.
Plíšková has spent the last year getting more and more comfortable at the top of the game. If she is not ready for a deep Wimbledon run now, when will she be?
Semifinal prediction: Plíšková d. Šafářová
This half is led by Simona Halep. The second seeded Romanian is still dealing with the scar tissue of choking away the French Open final. Given that, it is hard to expect much from her here.
The return of Azarenka to Grand Slam tennis will also unfold in this part of the draw. Even though the little bit we have seen from the new mom has been underwhelming, I expect her to make some kind of run here. The great ones find ways to grind out wins.
However, this half comes down to four players who are much better on grass than any other surface. They are (10) Venus Williams, (11) Petra Kvitova, (22) Barbora Strýcová and Sabine Lisicki. All four were capable of winning this event if things fell right with the draw.
However, Williams, Strýcová and Lisicki all landed in the same section of 16. Thus, they will all have to deal with each other in the early rounds.
Kvitova’s draw sets up really nice for her. The other high seed in her early section is Britain’s Johanna Konta who may not even play due to a back injury.
The fact that Kvitova is in such prime position to snag a third Wimbledon title after suffering career threatening stab wounds in December is a remarkable story. She is my pick to join her two fellow Czechs in the semis.
After seeing her blast through the clay Paris, Ostapenko at Wimbledon is something everyone around the sport is eager to see. She is primed to avoid a hangover and pick up the scraps of whoever comes out of the section of 16 mentioned above.
Semifinal Prediction: Kvitova d. Ostapenko
Championship Match: Kvitova d. Plíšková
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.