Wimbledon Preview: Strawberries, Cream and Moments That'll Make You Scream
After all, Serena Williams has now failed to win any of three consecutive slams after previously winning four in a row. And she's lost back-to-back slam finals for the first time ever. Surely, everyone had that, right? Those last three majors have produced a trio of first-time slam finalists, and three straight maiden slam winners. So much for Serena dominating the big events, huh? A 33-year old Italian won in New York, then promptly announced her retirement. In Melbourne, a German won a major title for the first time in seventeen years. A Spaniard then went to Paris and won there for the first time in eighteen. And that's not even getting to the SEMIfinalists, which have included the history-destroying Roberta Vinci, a Brit (!!!) born in Australia and a Kiki, too. But not the French Kiki -- the Dutch Kiki!
It's enough to make your head spin.
But let's leave JJ out of this. Hmmm, or is it Alize and her lawsuit-threatening German pal? Or maybe Petra, Good or Bad or Otherwise? Si-mo-na? Just stay away from The Cliffs. Well, unless, of course, you're talking about WADA. Have they have suspend yet another "top-notch" testing facility today, or had another official make public comments that more than hint at a little animosity toward the athletes the organization is supposed to "judge without bias?" Just wondering... but give it a few days. You know, just to be safe.
Yep, it's time for another two-week crash course with, as Li Na coined it, "the crazy women's tennis tour." The Most Intesting Tour in the World.
What's next? It goes without saying that everyone should brace themselves for just about anything.
Here's a quick overview of the women's draw, quarter-by-quarter:
=#1 WILLIAMS QUARTER=
THE FAVORITE: #1 Serena Williams, USA
...it goes without saying that six-time champ Serena is the favorite to win the entire tournament on Day 1, even if Good Petra shows up and sticks around a while. But Williams just hasn't been herself since her U.S. Open semifinal loss last summer. Maybe she'll need to take care of "unfinished business" in NYC in a few months before eyebrows will no longer be raised, but the fact is that she's already lost in three finals this season (two of them slams), and is 1-2 in three-setters. She was 5-0 in finals in 2015, had won fifteen straight back to the summer of '13, and was 30-2 since 2012. She was 18-2 in three-sets last season, and 47-10 since 2011. This is either a short-term dip or her new, late-career reality. She should be all right in the 1st Round (she's 62-1 in her slam career), but things immediately get interesting after that. Christina McHale (who's played her tight this season) or Daniela Hantuchova would be next, but one would anticipate Williams success there -- she's 122-3 in the 1st/2nd Round of majors, including 32-0 at Wimbledon. A rematch with either Heather Watson (who nearly upset her at SW19 last year) or Kiki Mladenovic (who played her well in Paris) is likely on tap for the 3rd Round.
THE ALTERNATE CHOICE: #27 CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
...the Bannerette is no joke on the grass courts. She's won two grass titles and last year reached the Wimbledon QF, where she foreshadowed the let's-snipe-at-Sharapova-while-her-back-is-turned (though at least CoCo did it while the Russian was "within earshot") pattern of '16 after losing to her despite trying to channel Russell Crowe's "Gladiator" in a three-set tussle. Seeded this year, Vandeweghe has the draw to match or improve on last year's result, though she'll have to out-serve a section that includes the likes of Timea Babos and ('10 SW19 junior champ and '15 3rd Round participant) Kristyna Pliskova (with CoCo, they're three of the top six ace producers on tour in '16), as well as grass court achiever Alison Riske (if she gets past Roberta Vinci in the 1st Round).
THE THIRD WHEEL: #18 Sloane Stephens, USA
...after winning three titles earlier this season (still tied with Azarenka for the tour lead), Sloane has been a bit quiet of late, going 4-3 on red clay since winning Charleston and not playing a grass tournament. Being in Serena's section of the draw doesn't give a lot of hope, but if something freaky were to happen with Serena in the first three rounds, and Sloane can survive the early rounds (especially a possible 3rd Rounder vs. Kuznetsova), she could find herself in the Round of 16 and as the most experienced slam player left in the entire Williams Quarter. Or she could just get Serena there and take her chances. Stephens reached the QF at the All-England Club in 2013, and the 3rd Round in '12 and again last year.
ENDANGERED SEED?: #6 Roberta Vinci, ITA
...in a "perfect" Tennis Gods world, Vinci would hold her seed and play Serena in the QF, giving Williams a chance to smite her '15 Open demons even before the start of the summer hard court season. But Vinci, while she reached the Round of 16 in 2012-13, has lost back-to-back 1st Round matches at Wimbledon and arrives at SW19 having lost six of seven matches, and gone 3-9 since March. If she's uncomfortable on the grass (she played just one tune-up match), facing Alison Riske (9-2 on the surface in recent weeks) won't be helpful.
THE BRACKET BUSTERS: Heather Watson, GBR or Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
...naturally, no bracket could be more busted than if Serena were to be dumped out early. Watson was two points away from upsetting Williams in the 3rd Round a year ago, and Mladenovic's flashy game (she reached the 3rd Round last year) should wear well on the grass. Only one could face Serena in the 3rd Round, though, with the two possibly playing off for the right in a 2nd Round match that might be one of the more exciting, opposing-styles clashes of the first week would it to become a reality.
THE WILD CARD: #13 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
...Sveta has won two slam titles, but on four other occasions (twice vs. Serena) she's either held match point, served for the match or was a break up in the 3rd set before losing to the eventual champion. The 30-year old has had a resurgent year, winning two titles in four final appearances, but she hasn't advanced past the 3rd Round at Wimbledon since 2009. She'll open vs. Caroline Wozniacki, and would have to go through the likes of Van Uytvanck/T.Moore, and Sloane Stephens to get a shot at Serena in a Round of 16 match. She could lose in the 1st Round, as the Dane's showed some nice aggression in recent weeks in her return to the tour. But, come on, she's Sveta... she could go through them all like Brexit panic through world financial markets, too. It just depends on her mood that
DON'T COUNT HER TEA & CRUMPETS: #11 Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
...the Swiss followed up her RG semi last year with a QF run at Wimbledon. This year she reached the QF in Paris, and arrives having played just a single match on grass (a straight sets loss to Mladenovic). She could be tested by slam upset-maker Luksika Kumkhum in the 1st Round, but that's not the qualifier she might worry the most about. The 2nd Round could bring Aleksandra Krunic, who reached the 3rd Round in her SW19 debut last year, or if the Serb can't get past Monica Niculescu in the 1st Round, the Swiss could face the Swarmette who reached the Round of 16 in 2015.
QUALIFIER TO WATCH: Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
...are you not entertained? Yes, after an early season health scare, The Bracelet is back for more. After a 4th Round U.S. Open run in in '14, the Serb reached the 3rd Round at Wimbledon last season. But she's 0-5 in her other career slam MD matches, and will face a stern test this time around in Monica Niculescu. No matter who wins, it should be an exciting affair filled with fist pumps and post-winner roars. If Krunic can win there she'd likely face #11 Bacsinszky next. There's even the possibility of a 3rd Round all-"Mighty Mites" match-up with Yulia Putintseva, but we're cross that bridge if and when we come to it.
THE POOR SOUL: (Q) Amra Sadikovic, SUI
...the Swiss, who retired in 2014 and returned in 2015, has reached her career high singles ranking this season and just qualified for her first slam MD. But now she gets Serena Williams in the 1st Round. Just don't think about it, Amra. Your Wimbledon is already a rousing success.
=#3 RADWANSKA QUARTER=
THE FAVORITE: #3 Aga Radwanska, POL
...Aga's grass season (2-2) has been a little underwhelming, but she looks forward to Wimbledon probably more than anyone other than a certain Czech who's in this same section of the draw. Her results at this time last year lit the fire that produced a glorious fall campaign and a rise to the #2 ranking. Radwanska has reached at least the semis at Wimbledon in three of the last four years, plus two more quarters and three Round of 16's since 2006. She was the Girls champ in 2005. This is the place where her game thrives the most, and likely the only major she could hope to win before her career is over (remember, she took Serena to three sets in the '12 final, and was the tournament favorite heading into the '13 semis... before the loss to Lisicki and the "I-can't-even-look-at-you" handshake). Things are not easy for her in this section, though. Caroline Garcia could be there in the 3rd Round, with a possible rematch with Dominika Cibulkova in the 4th (Aga led the Slovak, much as with Tsvetana Pironkova in Paris, before rain suspended their Eastbourne QF the other day, then Radwanska ended up losing in three sets), and with Petra Kvitova and Pironkova possibly still alive and kickin' for a possible quarterfinal.
THE ALTERNATE CHOICE: #10 Petra Kvitova, CZE
...yes, it's come to this. Petra isn't even the "unquestioned" favorite in her section. The two-time champ has been saying all the right things of late, even shifting talk of her love of the grass to her love of Wimbledon. But the fact is that she's (barely) a .500 player in 2016, and hasn't even been all that impressive in recent weeks on her favorite surface (the '14 SW19 Ladies champ even lost to the '14 SW19 Girls champ). But the AELTC has transformed Bad Petra into Brilliant Petra before, and it may do so again. But can it do it for SEVEN matches, and all the little pit stops and pitfalls that occur within each and every one of these seven rounds? She faces Sorana Cirstea in the 1st Round. She defeated the Romanian in straight sets in the Wimbledon 1st Round in 2010, but lost to her on hard court in '13 and they went to three sets on clay in '14. If match play means anything, Petra is 15-14 this season, while Cirstea is 36-11 on all levels. 2014 quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova could come in the 2nd, then fellow '14 final eighter Barbora Strycova after that. Then maybe Pironkova. But Bad Petra will have to have been kept at bay for a full WEEK for that the happen. Hmmm. You feelin' it? I know I'm not. But we'll see.
THE THIRD WHEEL: Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
...it's Wimbledon, so Pironkova is officially in play. The Bulgarian stirred once again in Paris, knocking off three seeds (Errani, Stephens & Radwanska) en route to the QF. But she's made her true bones at the AELTC, with a semifinal in 2010 and QF in 2011. Although, shockingly, Pironkova has gone out in the 1st Round at back-to-back Wimbledons in a pair of three-setters vs, Varvara Lepchenko (2014) and Belinda Bencic (2015). The Bulgarian vet gets another 1st Round shot at the Swiss this year, only with Bencic arriving with a lingering back injury... which Pironkova will likely try to exploit with drop shots and mind games that could lead to the #7 seed being one of the first seeds to fall at this Wimbledon. If Pironkova can get past Bencic, look out. The real crazy could kick in after that, and since it would involve "Pironkova" and "Wimbledon" in the same sentence it really couldn't be ALL that crazy. So... let's add "Kvitova in the Round of 16" and "Radwanska in the quarterfinals" to the mix, as well, as see what happens. It could happen. Let's see... is there such a thing as a PIRONKOVA Threat Level meter?
ENDANGERED SEED?: #32 Andrea Petkovic, GER
...most of the endangered seeds are mentioned elsewhere in this section, so I'll go with Petko just because little else but disappointment seems to be coming the German's way in 2016. She did manage to go 2-2 in pre-Wimbledon grass events, but Petkovic is under .500 for the season and 5-11 since reaching the Doha semifinals in February and seeing a recurrence of her career-long inability to stay healthy.
THE BRACKET BUSTER: #30 Caroline Garcia, FRA
...just how much confidence has the Pastry added to her repertoire in the last few weeks? The spring included a starring Fed Cup role and doubles wins in Charleston, Stuttgart and Madrid. Then things really picked up steam. Garcia won a singles title on the clay in Strasbourg, picked up the RG doubles crown with Mladenvoic, then won her first grass title in Mallorca. She's 10-1 in singles since the week before Roland Garros, and she's gone 21-1 in doubles since the beginning of the spring schedule. She could be on a collision course with Aga Radwanska in the 3rd Round, and a win there could open things up for the likes of a Kvitova (ummm, or not) or Pironkova. Or maybe even Garcia Airlines herself. Athletic French players -- see Lenglen and Mauresmo -- have thrived in London before, and Garcia reached the SW19 3rd Round two years ago.
THE WILD CARD: #19 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
...the Slovak was everything rolled into one squat package in Eastbourne. She looked to be out in the QF to Radwanska, down a set and a break. But then the rains played havoc, interrupting and then suspending the match. Cibulkova came back to win the match the next day, finished off Monica Puig a few hours later, and then picked up her first career grass court title with a win over Karolina Pliskova on Saturday. Was it only a brief, adrenaline-fueled pre-slam flash, or is she suddenly a Wimbledon contender? She did reach the QF in 2010, but hasn't advanced beyond the 3rd Round in seven other trips to London. Her first slam match vs. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni could be interesting, but the Croat retired from her last match. So, advantage Domi. Daria Gavrilova could be next, then a possible rematch with Puig (3rd) and even one with Radwanska (4th). All that might be too much to expect, though.
DON'T COUNT HER TEA & CRUMPETS: #16 Johanna Konta, GBR
...well, now the pressure will be applied. Since her 1st Round exit at Wimbledon a year ago, Konta has become a WTA revelation. The Brit has reached a slam semifinal and reached the Top 20, and now arrives in London in place to grab tabloid headlines and become the focus of locals living and dying with every point on whatever they're calling that big hill these days. Konta's semifinal run -- and upset of Kvitova -- in Eastbourne will only add to the potential hype. And the pressure. Konta is 0-4 in SW19 MD matches, and her 1st Round match with Monica Puig (also an Eastbourne semifinalist, as well as Nottingham) is nothing to look past. Puig has shined under slam lights in her career season of 2016 so far, usually not leaving town without winning at least one marathon match -- vs. Kr.Pliskova in Melbourne, then Goerges in Paris -- ending with darkness closing in around the edges of the court. If Konta survives Puig, she could face a Genie Bouchard continuing to try to recapture her former glory, on the wane since reaching the '14 Wimbledon final.
QUALIFIER TO WATCH: Tamira Paszek, AUT
...for the most part you can ignore Paszek the rest of the WTA year, but once the grass season arrives she demands attention. She reached the QF at Wimbledon in 2011-12, and has made it through qualifying three straight years. But she hasn't won a MD match at the AELTC since 2012, and her opener this year will be against the resurgent Elena Vesnina, who reached the 4th Round in '09 and, more recently, the Eastbourne QF.
THE POOR SOUL: Cagla Buyukakcay, TUR
...the Turk has been the creator too many "first Turk to" accomplishments to count in 2016. And her direct entry into the Wimbledon MD adds another feather to her career cap. But it'll likely end there. Facing off with #30 Caroline Garcia (Mallorca grass court champ) is bad enough, but Buyukakcay's efforts to get ready for grass season have so far proven to be a tad disappointing. Well, if you consider 0-3 with zero sets won to be in the "disappointment" column, I mean.
=#4 KERBER QUARTER=
THE FAVORITE: #9 Madison Keys, USA
...in a loaded quarter, Keys might be the most lethal of the bunch. The Bannerette has been looking forward to the grass season for a while, but this spring she also didn't look past the EuroClay campaign. The result was a berth in the Rome final and a career-best 4th Round in Paris, and the momentum from that led to a second career grass title at Birmingham and her debut in the Top 10. Since her SF run in Melbourne last year, Keys hasn't exploded with superior results, but her progress has been slow and steady, and her slam results consistent. She's reached at least the Round of 16 at five of her last six slams, including the QF at last year's Wimbledon before being outfoxed there by a certain Pole (a lingering nemesis). In a section of achievers, Keys may be the "favorite," but there are several potential players who could trip her up in the early rounds. 1st Round opponent Laura Siegemund has played just one MD match at SW19 in her career, but Kirsten Flipkens (2nd Rd.) would be a legit grass court upset threat -- she reached the SF in 2013, while Alize Cornet (3rd) notably defeated Serena at SW19 in 2014.
THE ALTERNATE CHOICE: #4 Angelique Kerber, GER
...the reigning AO champ has been dealing with injuries this spring, but she reached the QF in Birmingham and is looking forward to her 1st Round encounter with Laura Robson. Five years ago, the two met in the Wimbledon 1st Round with Robson winning in three sets. At the time, Robson was a player-on-the-rise and the burgeoning British hope. Two months later, Kerber (who had just three 3rd Rd. results in fifteen slam MD at the time) reached the U.S. Open semis and her career changed forever. A Wimbledon slam SF came a year later, a QF in '14 and now she's slam winner. Robson injured her wrist, has reached just two career slam Round of 16's ('12 U.S./'13 Wimb.), hasn't won a slam MD match since 2013 and is the sixth-highest ranked Brit (barely inside the Top 300). Kerber is positioned in a section of the draw that could allow her to benefit from the failure of others as much as thrive on her own success. The biggest obstacle might be Karolina Pliskova, but they can't meet until the Round of 16 -- a position the Czech has STILL yet to reach in her slam career. Ana Ivanovic could reach the same spot if Pliskova doesn't, but success has never spurred AnaIvo to more. She reached the SF in '07, but hasn't come close since.
THE THIRD WHEELS: #5 Simona Halep, ROU and #15 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
...both of these players SHOULD do better than they likely WILL at this Wimbledon. Halep is a former world #2 who a year or so ago looked like a future slam winner. Now she more resembles AnaIvo, post-Roland Garros '08... only without the one slam title to coast on the rest of her career. Halep never managed to "play out of her shoes" early enough to steal a wide open slam (ala Ivanovic in Paris two weeks after Henin's sudden retirement). After some slam success, she had to deal with the pressure that comes with such expectation (not to mention injuries, as the Romanian is still dealing with that bad Achilles), and it often hasn't been pretty. Early round exits in three of the last five slams have left the Cliffs of Simona strewn with the tattered remains of blue-and-gold flags, and ugly get-me-out-of-here performances (or whining post-match complaint sessions) have given a bad aftertaste to the slams at which she HAS put up good results. Halep's opening round match vs. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova SHOULD come with a victory parade attached, as the Slovak has had probably the worst/most perplexing first half of the season of any 2015 Top 50 player without a candy business. But nothing is a given with Halep at this point.
Meanwhile, Pliskova has had a whale of a grass court season (far better than the farce that was her U.S. Open Series "championship" lead-up to Flushing Meadows last summer). She won a singles title in Nottingham, a doubles title in Birmingham and reached the singles final in Eastbourne(ham). But even with such a grass run the Czech Maiden's trail of slam dysfunction follows her into London like a unsightly long piece of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe. Three 3rd Round results in sixteen career slam MD appearances is all that Pliskova has to show for a career with a Top 10 ranking, five tour singles titles, bushels of aces and (unlike Halep) a string of clutch Fed Cup weekends that proved her mettle. She's lost in the 1st Round in two of the last three slams. But, still, the hope is still there for Pliskova. There could be a real race for Last Pliskova Standing at this slam, as Kristyna might notch a few wins in Serena's section, while Karolina SHOULD be able to at least reach the 3rd and hope that AnaIvo has lost interest by then. Based on her FC history, you sort of think that if Pliskova could ever just get ONE great slam run, it could lead to several more in short order. That first one is often the most elusive, though.
ENDANGERED SEED?: #26 Kiki Bertens, NED
...say it ain't so. But it could be. It's been a big month for the Dutch woman, and now the Roland Garros semifinalist will be playing her first match since her brilliant clay court run, and is just 1-3 in the MD in her Wimbledon career. She opens against 2014 SW19 junior champ Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian who upset Petra Kvitova (her second '16 win over the Czech) in Birmingham, and took Madison Keys to three sets, as well.
THE BRACKET BUSTERS: Jelena Ostapenko, LAT and Kirsten Flipkens, BEL
...so, are you ready for an Ostapenko-vs.-Flipkens battle for a berth in the quarterfinals after respective upsets of #5 Halep and #9 Keys? Hey, it COULD happen. It's not that inconceivable, either. The always-volatile-and-usually-equally-controversial Ostapenko is a past Wimbledon junior champ who just upset Kvitova and pushed Keys in recent weeks, while Flipkens reached the semis three years ago. If The Rad has any malevolent juice left, the Keys/Flipkens match would be scheduled to take place on Day 3 (the point in the tournament of the original AELTC Massacre in '13). Ostapenko/Halep would come the following Friday.
THE WILD CARD: Alize Cornet, FRA
...they don't come much wilder than Cornet. The Pasty only has one Round of 16 result at Wimbledon in her career, but in oh-so-Alize fashion she accomplished the feat by upsetting none other than Serena Williams in 2014 (one of her three wins over Serena that season). She's in a section of the draw (w/ #20 seed Sara Errani) where she could emerge and possibly face Keys in the 3rd Round. Of course, after the calamity that ensued with Cornet's recent success in Paris I hesitate to guess what might happen if she were to pull off something similar here. No lawsuits are likely, though... Tatjana Maria is tucked away in the top half of the draw, after all.
DON'T COUNT HER TEA & CRUMPETS: #23 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
...much like the Serb's ever-changing rumored (and super-secret) wedding date -- first it was said to be in the spring, then right after RG and now sometime in July (shrug, whatever) -- just how invested she is in continued success on the tennis court is up for debate. The draw is there for a possible second week run at SW19, but you'd have to be nuts (I prefer pistachios, but that's just me) to ever expect it. I suspect my successful call last year of an Ivanovic slam semifinal -- her first since '08 -- was the last morsel of prognosticating sustenance I'll receive from the Tennis Gods is quite some time... as my '16 title-winning prediction record would attest. With no many injury and/or pressure-related question marks in her section of the draw, AndIvo COULD conceivably reach the QF without having faced a seeded player. But while the appearance of a seed in that QF match (probably either Halep or Keys) might become a reality, whether Ivanovic would make the not-so-secret date is an even bigger question. After all, she's got a superdupersecretwedding to prepare for. Eventually. I suppose. For what it's worth.
QUALIFIER TO WATCH: Ekaterina Alexandrova, RUS
...in a bit of an oddity, this quarter only includes one qualifier (Alexandrova), one wild card (Robson) and no LL's in its 32-player field (the other quarters, respectively, have a combined nine, four and four). Alexandrova REALLY battled for her first career slam MD appearance, winning 14-12 and 13-11 3rd set marathons in her final two qualifying matches. The Russian's opponent -- Ivanovic -- has only lost in the 1st Round once (2010) in her Wimbledon career, though she did fall in her opening match at two slams last year. She has a pair of 3rd Round results so far in '16. So maybe she's due.
THE POOR SOUL: Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, SVK
...the Slovak has to snap out of her funk at some point, right? You'd THINK so. But is Wimbledon the place for it? And if not, then where? Schmiedlova has lost fourteen consecutive MD (WTA and 125 Series) matches and is 1-15 on the season. Fourteen of those losses have been in straight sets. The one set? In the 1st Round vs. eventual RG champ Garbine Muguruza in Paris. Go figure. A 2-1 mark in Fed Cup has avoided a total head-into-wall season of frustration, but such a (no points earned) thing won't hold back the flood waters for long. So far (amazingly) AKS has only fallen from #26 to #40 in the rankings, but it's pretty clear how bad things could get if she doesn't turn things around soon. If she manages to do so in the 1st Round vs. Halep it could save Schmiedlova's season. But, oh my, what sort of carnage would the Cliffs of Simona see as far as Halep is concerned under those circumstances? Thing is, AKS is 0-3 in her Wimbledon career. So, ummmm.
=#2 MUGURUZA QUARTER=
THE FAVORITE: #2 Garbine Muguruza, ESP
...even without her being the reigning Roland Garros champ, Muguruza would be amongst the leading contenders at SW19. Remember, her first slam final appearance actually was at last year's WIMBLEDON. But just how prepared is she for this slam? Her results tailed off significantly last year after her final at this event, and she's played just one match (a loss) on grass since Paris. Even more ominously, perhaps, her 1st Round opponent is Camila Giorgi, who won a grass title at Rosmalen last year and is probably the best Italian player on the surface (her 8-5 SW19 mark makes Wimbledon her best slam by a wide margin -- she's got nine MD wins in the other three slams combined). If she can survive an early trip-up, though, Garbi would seem a good bet for another deep run, and might even get a chance to become the first player since Ivanovic in 2014 to defeat BOTH Williams Sister in the same season.
THE ALTERNATE CHOICE: #8 Venus Williams, USA
...even at age 36, Venus has shown signs of high-level life in 2016. She hasn't reached the QF stage in London since 2010 (her 11th in 13 trips at the time), but her Round of 16 last year was her best result there since 2011. She's coming off her best run in Paris (4th Rd.) since '10, so she seems to be healthy as she embarks on a stretch that (at this slam) will see her tie Amy Frazier's all-time mark for slam MD appearances (71), play in what will likely be her final Olympics and then set the new slam participation mark at her home slam in New York, where she first broke through with a run to the final in her Open debut in 1997 at age 17 (she lost to Martina Hingis, also still in play at this Wimbledon -- how great is that?). This might just be the last Summer of Venus, at least of this still-high quality. She's got a draw to do damage with, as well. The likes of a Daria Kasatkina could end things early in the 3rd Round (the Russian opened her season with a win over Venus in Auckland, but has played very little on grass), but it's not difficult to predict her first Wimbledon QF run in six years. And if she gets that far without having to trudge through a marathon three-setter, who knows?
THE THIRD WHEEL: Sabine Lisicki, GER
...the German's love affair with the AELTC goes way back, with many chapters. From the famous love letter to ace-ace-ace-ace and that one memorable fortnight in 2013. But while Lisicki is 25-7 in her SW19 career, with a final, SF and three QF, she's coming off a 3rd Round result (3 & 2 to Bacsinszky) last year, her worst result since her 1st Round loss in her debut at the AELTC in 2008. Also, she's only 8-13 in 2016 (8-16 if you count her 0-3 Hopman Cup stint in Week 1), so she comes into this Wimbledon with far less buzz than in recent years. But her draw is conducive to a jump start. Shelby Rogers (0-1 at Wimbledon) and Samantha Stosur (10-13, her worst slam) could provide a solid foundation on which Lisicki could build momentum. Next up might be Elina Svitolina (1-3) or Julia Goerges (5-8), unless unseeded Yaroslava Shvedova (9-8, with two 4th Round's) slips through. After that, it'd be up to the continued quality of the German's relationship with this tournament, as the likes of Muguruza and Williams (or Kasatkina?) would possibly still remain. Anywhere else, you wouldn't garner much hope for her. But at SW19, well, you can't help but keep the candle burning until it's officially snuffed out.
ENDANGERED SEED?: #28 Lucie Safarova, CZE
...the Czech still isn't quite right after coming back from health issues that left her hospitalized last year, and she went 0-2 on the grass in recent weeks. Oddly enough, she opens against doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands, returning from a fractured thumb. The Czech -- SF and Round of 16 in her last two Wimbledons -- likely has the advantage in that one (though it's no given), but it's hard to see her carrying on too deeply in this draw considering her lack of preparation. She'd get either Samantha Crawford of Paula Kania next, then probably Muguruza in the 3rd Round.
THE BRACKET BUSTERS: Camila Giorgi, ITA and Olga Govortsova, BLR
...Giorgi has the chance to turn the bottom half of the draw on its head with a 1st Round upset of defending Wimbledon finalist and reigning RG champ Garbine Muguruza. She's a grass court title winner, has a history of Wimbledon success (at least two match wins in three of her last four SW19 trips) and is 2-1 vs. the Spaniard in their career head-to-head. Govortsova, though Aliaksandra Sasnovich is also in the draw, is Belarus' best chance for success at this Wimbledon. What, you've forgotten that she reached her first career slam Round of 16 at last year's Wimbledon in her 31st career slam MD? What's wrong with your memory? Yeah, I know -- I'd forgotten about that, too. But here she is again, this time around holding on her shoulders most of the Belarusian hopes with Vika Azarenka's absence due to a knee injury (sigh). She'll face Lara Arruabarrena first, and might face off with #29 Daria Kasatkina after that. If she can wrestle down that one, Venus could be waiting. She defeated Alize Cornet and pushed Madison Keys to three sets at the AELTC a year ago, so who's to say she doesn't have another run in her?
THE WILD CARD: #29 Daria Kasatkina, RUS
...the 19-year old is making her Wimbledon MD debut this week. In one of the many great early-career stats this teen is compiling, she reached the 3rd Round in her debut appearance at each of the other three majors. So the fact that the Hordette didn't play her first pro match on grass until last weekend in Eastbourne (a three-set loss to Ostapenko), and lost her only junior Wimbledon match in 2012, probably means next to nothing. At some point, this Russian is going to truly imprint herself on a slam (her run as a LL in New York last summer was but a teaser for things to come). It's just a matter of time. Maybe it'll be here, when she plays Venus (again). Possibly on Centre Court. If she were to win that one, she could become the story of the first week of Wimbledon, with the rest still to be determined.
DON'T COUNT HER TEA & CRUMPETS: #22 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
...you have to wonder if this might be the final year (or even final slam?) in which JJ is seeded. She's defending Round of 16 points from last year, and has lost in the 1st Round of four of her last six slams. Dealing with a shoulder injury this season, she's gone just 10-14. Still, she put up three wins in Mallorca, and another at Rosmalen, this month. So maybe she's out of the woods and ready to create a little chaos. Her 1st Round opponent, Stefanie Voegele, is 0-5 at Wimbledon. This is the one quarter where it wouldn't be a surprise if no seeds lost in the 1st Round, so JJ's 2nd Round match with (probably) Marina Erakovic could put her right in the crosshairs for this quarter. It's always nice if Jankovic sticks around for as long as possible, but true slam success doesn't really seem in the cards for the 31-year old Serb these days.
A happy Maria Sakkari in Roehampton today.— Christopher Levy (@tennis_shots) June 25, 2016
She's through to the main draw in The Championships. pic.twitter.com/5koy4WAFf1
QUALIFIERS TO WATCH: Maria Sakkari, GRE and Jana Cepelova, SVK
...it'd be easy to say someone like Marina Erakovic, as the Kiwi likely has a great chance at a 1st Round win over Irina Falconi, and could upset #22 Jelena Jankovic (they haven't met since 2008!) to match her best-ever Wimbledon results from 2008 and '13. But I'll take a more risky flier on either Sakkari or Cepelova. The 20-year old Greek has qualified at three of the last four slams and could get a shot at Centre Court (or at least show court) match vs. Venus Williams in the 2nd Round. Cepelova has shown the ability to win big (she has a win over Serena, remember), it's just been her body that rarely wants to hold up for the long haul. She'll open against Mariana Duque, and could get a shot at Muguruza in the 2nd Round. With the bottom half of the draw up on Monday, both of those matches would be scheduled for Wednesday... the (observed, for 2016) date of the Radwanskian Massacre remembrance ceremonies during this Wimbledon. So... ummm. Yep.
THE POOR SOUL: Donna Vekic, CRO
...Vekic is a talented, still-young (she's yet to hit 20, though it seems like she's been around for a decade) player, but she wouldn't dare ruin Venus Williams' 1st Round match in which she'll tie Frazier's record for most slam MD appearances, right? Vekic is 1-2 in her Wimbledon career. Venus is 76-13.
**WIMBLEDON #1 SEEDS SINCE 2006**
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA (W)
2007 Justine Henin, BEL (SF)
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB (3rd)
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS (SF)
2010 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2011 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (4th)
2012 Maria Sharapova, RUS (4th)
2013 Serena Williams, USA (4th)
2014 Serena Williams, USA (3rd)
2015 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2016 Serena Williams, USA
*RECENT WIMBLEDON SEMIFINALISTS*
2010 S.Williams(W), Zvonareva(RU), Kvitova/Pironkova
2011 Kvitova(W), Sharapova(RU), Azarenka/Lisicki
2012 S.Williams(W), A.Radwanska(RU), Azarenka/Kerber
2013 Bartoli(W), Lisicki(RU), A.Radwanska/Flipkens
2014 Kvitova(W), Bouchard(RU), Safarova/Halep
2015 S.Williams(W), Muguruza(RU), Sharapova/A.Radwanska
**LOW-SEEDED WIMBLEDON SEMIFINALISTS - Open Era**
1968 Ann Jones
1969 Rosie Casals
1970 Francoise Durr
1971 Judy Dalton
1983 Yvonne Vermaak
1989 Catarina Lindqvist
1994 Gigi Fernandez
1994 Lori McNeil
1996 Meredith McGrath
1997 Anna Kournikova
1998 Natasha Zvereva
1999 Alexandra Stevenson (Q)
1999 Mirjana Lucic
2000 Jelena Dokic
2008 Zheng Jie (WC)
2010 Petra Kvitova
2010 Tsvetana Pironkova
2011 Sabine Lisicki (WC)
#23 - Lucie Safarova, 2014
#23 - Sabine Lisicki, 2013 (RU)
#23 - Venus Williams, 2007 (W)
#21 - Vera Zvonareva, 2010 (RU)
#20 - Garbine Muguruza, 2015 (RU)
#20 - Kirsten Flipkens, 2013
#18 - Marion Bartoli, 2007 (RU)
#16 - Nathalie Tauziat, 1998 (RU)
#16 - Kathy Rinaldi, 1985
#15 - Marion Bartoli, 2013 (W)
#14 - Venus Williams, 2005 (W)
#13 - Aga Radwanska, 2015
#13 - Genie Bouchard, 2014 (RU)
#13 - Maria Sharapova, 2004 (W)
#12 - Kimiko Date, 1996
#12 - Billie Jean King, 1982
#11 - Bettina Bunge, 1982
#10 - Gabriela Sabatini, 1986
#10 - Billie Jean King, 1983
*WIMBLEDON GIRLS FINALS - since 2002*
2002 Vera Dushevina/RUS def. Maria Sharapova/RUS
2003 Kirsten Flipkens/BEL def. Anna Chakvetadze/RUS
2004 Kateryna Bondarenko/UKR def. Ana Ivanovic/SRB
2005 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL def. Tamira Paszek/AUT
2006 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN def. Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK
2007 Urszula Radwanska/POL def. Madison Brengle/USA
2008 Laura Robson/GBR def. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn/THA
2009 Noppawan Lertcheewakarn/THA d. Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
2010 Kristyna Pliskova/CZE def. Sachie Ishizu/JPN
2011 Ashleigh Barty/AUS def. Irina Khromacheva/RUS
2012 Genie Bouchard/CAN def. Elina Svitolina/UKR
2013 Belinda Bencic/SUI def. Taylor Townsend/USA
2014 Jelena Ostapenko/LAT def. Kristina Schmiedlova/SVK
2015 Sofya Zhuk/RUS def. Anna Blinkova/RUS
**FIRST-TIME SLAM CHAMPS AT WIMBLEDON**
1968 Billie Jean King, USA
1978 Martina Navratilova, TCH (CZE)
1994 Conchita Martinez, ESP
1998 Jana Novotna, CZE
2000 Venus Williams, USA
2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Marion Bartoli, FRA
*ACTIVE SINGLES PLAYERS - FIRST SLAM FINAL*
1997 U.S. Open - Venus Williams
1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (W)
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova (W)
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
2007 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic
2008 U.S. Open - Jelena Jankovic
2009 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone (W)
2010 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova (W)
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka (W)
2012 Roland Garros - Sara Errani
2012 Wimbledon - Aga Radwanska
2013 Wimbledon - Sabine Lisicki
2014 Australian Open - Dominika Cibulkova
2014 Roland Garros - Simona Halep
2014 Wimbledon - Genie Bouchard
2015 Roland Garros - Lucie Safarova
2015 Wimbledon - Garbine Muguruza
2015 U.S. Open - Roberta Vinci
2016 Australian Open - Angelique Kerber (W)
NOTE: first-time finalists at 4 of last 5 slams, and 7 of 10
NOTE: Hingis (1997 AO - W), Zvonareva (2010 WI)
*RUSSIAN WIMBLEDON SEMIFINALISTS*
1974 Olga Morozova (RU) - USSR
1997 Anna Kournikova
2004 Maria Sharapova (W)
2005 Maria Sharapova
2006 Maria Sharapova
2008 Elena Dementieva
2009 Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina
2010 Vera Zvonareva (RU)
2011 Maria Sharapova (RU)
2015 Maria Sharapova
**RECENT WOMEN'S SLAM WINNERS**
2013 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2013 WI: Marion Bartoli, FRA (ret.)
2013 US: Serena Williams, USA
2014 AO: Li Na, CHN (ret.)
2014 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2014 WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2014 US: Serena Williams, USA
2015 AO: Serena Williams, USA
2015 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2015 WI: Serena Williams, USA
2015 US: Flavia Penetta, ITA (ret.)
2016 AO: Angelique Kerber, GER
2016 RG: Garbine Muguruza, ESP
*CAREER WIMBLEDON TITLES - OPEN ERA*
4...Billie Jean King (+2 pre-Open era)
*WIMBLEDON FINALS - ACTIVE*
8...Serena Williams (6-2)
8...Venus Williams (5-3)
2...Petra Kvitova (2-0)
2...Maria Sharapova (1-1)
1...Genie Bouchard (0-1)
1...Sabine Lisicki (0-1)
1...Garbine Muguruza (0-1)
1...Agnieszka Radwanska (0-1)
ALSO: Hingis (1-0), Zvonareva (0-1)
**BEST WIMBLEDON GIRLS/LADIES RESULTS**
[won Girls & Ladies titles]
Martina Hingis (1994 Junior champion; 1997 Ladies champion)
Amelie Mauresmo (1996 Jr. champion; 2006 Ladies champion)
Martina Navratilova - 1973 Junior RU; 9-time Ladies champion
Hana Mandlikova - 1978 Junior RU; 1981 & '86 Ladies RU
Zina Garrison - 1981 Junior champion; 1990 Ladies RU
Maria Sharapova - 2002 Junior RU; 2004 Ladies champion
Agnieszka Radwanska - 2005 Junior champion; 2012 Ladies RU
Genie Bouchard - 2012 Junior champion; 2014 Ladies RU
*BACK-TO-BACK RG/WIMB WOMEN'S TITLES - OPEN ERA*
1970 Margaret Smith-Court
1971 Evonne Goolagong
1972 Billie Jean King
1974 Chris Evert
1982 Martina Navratilova
1984 Martina Navratilova
1988 Steffi Graf
1993 Steffi Graf
1995 Steffi Graf
1996 Steffi Graf
2002 Serena Williams
2015 Serena Williams
*SLAM TITLES AFTER AGE 30*
8...Serena Williams, USA (age 30-33)
3...Martina Navratilova, USA (age 30-33)
3...Margaret Court, AUS (age 30-31)
2...Billie Jean King, USA (age 30 & 31)
2...Chris Evert, USA (age 30 & 31)
1...Flavia Pennetta, ITA (age 33)
1...Virginia Wade. GBR (age 31)
1...Ann Haydon Jones, GBR (age 30)
*TOP 4 SEEDS TO SLAM SF - OPEN ERA*
=Australian Open (4)=
=Roland Garros (1)=
=U.S. Open (1)=
=ROUND OF 16 PREDICTIONS=
#1 S.Williams d. #18 Stephens
#27 Vandeweghe d. (Q) Krunic
#3 A.Radwanska d. Puig
Pironkova d. #10 Kvitova (Pironkova Threat Level: Paranoia)
#9 Keys d. Ostapenko (The Cliffs of Simona are blocked off w/ police tape again)
#15 Ka.Pliskova d. #4 Kerber
#8 V.Williams d. Gasparyan (a Russian hunch likely killed off quickly this week)
#2 Muguruza d. Lisicki
#1 S.Williams d. #27 Vandeweghe
#3 A.Radwanska d. Pironkova (Radwanska Threat Level: Concern)
#9 Keys d. #15 Ka.Pliskova
#2 Muguruza d. #8 V.Williams
#1 S.Williams d. #3 A.Radwanska
#9 Keys d. #2 Muguruza (NextGen SF: Elite Class)
...hey, why not?
All for now. Day 1 -- and the Daily Backspin -- awaits, as well as a quick Week 25 recap.