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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wimbledon 2017 Preview: Serena Williams’ absence creates vacuum yet unfilled

The inconsistency on the WTA Tour can be felt by that fact that 22 women have won titles since Serena Williams bagged the Australian Open. Elina Svitolina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova are the only ones who have had multiple titles.

Written by Tanuj Lakhina | Published: July 1, 2017 7:48:31 pm
wimbledon 2017, wimbledon preview, angelique kerber, indian express Angelique Kerber comes into Wimbledon as the top seed. (Source: Reuters)

Serena Williams announced her pregnancy, albeit accidentally, in the third week of April on Snapchat no less. The news would not have caused as much of a storm if it was any other athlete but there were two big factors to consider here: (a) Serena was the reigning World No 1 at the time and (b) she had won the Australian Open a few weeks prior when she was, in fact, eight weeks pregnant. Another aspect to point out her sheer ruthlessness in that regard is the fact that she went the two weeks in Melbourne without dropping a set! She has since announced that she would be taking a break from the game to give birth and has vowed to return to the game next season. Bear in mind that she is 35 years old and has won 23 Grand Slam titles.

With her absence from the tour, no one has consistently taken things over. No one has taken the game by the scruff of the neck and consistently delivered results. If 2016 was any reflection, Angelique Kerber was expected to run riot. The German had won the Australian Open and US Open while losing in the Wimbledon final to Serena. But the turn of the year hasn’t worked out for the left-handed counterpuncher. This year her win-loss record stands at a less than flattering 21-14 with just one final – at Monterrey where she lost. In the Grand Slams this year, she reached the fourth round in Australia (losing to CoCo Vandeweghe) and crashed out in the first round at French Open (to Ekaterina Makarova). The top seed for Wimbledon that begins on Monday, she opens against World No 246 Irina Falconi of USA which looks to be an easy proposition for the German.

Wimbledon this year, on the women’s side, is affected by the lack of star power and firepower with a strong record on grass. In Serena and Maria Sharapova’s absences – due to injury – the main draw sees only two previous winners – Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams. Further, only four have reached the final at least once – Garbine Muguruza, Eugenie Bouchard, Agnieszka Radwanska and Kerber.

wimbledon 2017, wimbledon preview, karolina pliskova, indian express Karolina Pliskova won in Eastbourne. (Source: Reuters)

However, the lack of a dominant figure and prominent contender opens doors for new winners. As was seen at French Open where Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko emerged victorious in a glorious moment. Though counting the 20-year-old as a Wimbledon title challenger might be a bit too premature despite her superb form in Paris which saw her hit remarkable groundstrokes that clipped the lines on a continuous basis with an average of 40-plus winners being hit a match.

Amongst familiar names, returning to action is former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka who gave birth in December last year; Muguruza, the 2016 French Open winner, is also undergoing a drop in form; Kvitova who won in Birmingham is also eyeing Grand Slam success following hand surgery due to multiple stabbings in an attempted home burglary.  Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova are arguably the top contenders alongside Kvitova for the title as all previous two could end up as World No 1 at the end of the fortnight.

ESPN analyst and former player and coach Brad Gilbert said the title contenders for the women’s title are as many as 40! “I said that at least 30 women could win the French, and I wouldn’t even have put Ostapenko’s name on the 30 because she hadn’t won a WTA tournament,” said earlier this week as he looked ahead to the championships. “I will double down and say that 40 women could win Wimbledon. The field, without a doubt, is the clear favourite,” he went on to add.

The inconsistency, if you want to look at it that way, can be felt by that fact that 22 women have won titles since Serena bagged the Australian Open. Elina Svitolina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova are the only ones who have had multiple titles.

wimbledon 2017, wimbledon preview, petra kvitova, indian express Petra Kvitova is a strong contender for the Wimbledon title having won twice at SW19. (Source: Reuters)

“I think at the top of the game, it’s very chaotic right now. I think there’s a lot of fragility,” 18-times grand slam winner Chris Evert was quoted as saying by ESPN. “I think the players that have been at the top have not lived up to their billing. I feel terrible saying that, but everyone who’s reached number one, they haven’t carried on the momentum, and they haven’t stepped up and really embraced that position of leadership on and off the court. You really can’t count on any one player right now like you could count on Serena in the past.”

Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, who won at Den Bosch is considered as a dark horse for the title. She, however, reckons it makes things interesting if multiple players are in it for the title. “Everything is really open, everyone can win,” she told Reuters. “That’s great for women’s tennis. It’s interesting to watch and to follow. It gets a little boring if it’s always the same people.”

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