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Wimbledon Ladies' Singles Preview 2021

A remarkable market this year with only two women in the betting under 10/1 - seven-time champion Serena Williams and world no.1 Ash Barty - and even then they are both 6/1. It's a wide open field which depending on which way you look at, means either huge value at the top of the market, or ripe for the picking for an outsider or a new star. Which will it be?

Seeds in draw order

1. Ash Barty. In great form this season, winning Yarra Valley, Miami and Stuttgart but has retired due to injury in two of her last three matches - in Rome (right arm) and Paris (left hip). She has declared herslf to be fit and ready to go, so we take that at face value, but at the same time, I don't see Barty as the type to make excuses in advance if not 100%. In the absence of defending champion Simona Halep, she takes the honour of opening proceedings for the women on centre court on Tuesday, and wearing a dress to honour Evonne Goolagong on the 50th anniversary of her first Wimbledon win. The Queenslander's best result here was in 2019, reaching the fourth round before losing to grass specialist Alison Riske, soon after she gained the number one mantle by way of winning the French Open. A junior winner here a decade ago, this is the title she will cherish over any other. Can beat everyone in her path, but is on the same side of the draw as Serena, Azarenka and Gauff. Goes close if over her injuries. 

27. Johanna Konta. Withdrawal on Sunday night due to being a close contact of a positive Covid case.

17. Kiki Bertens. Former world no.4 on her farewell tour, recently announcing she will retire at the end of this year, citing ongoing injury issues. And that sums up her recent results, she is 2-6 for 2021 but those two scalps were outside the top 100. Betting says she is here for the strawberries and cream, big outsider in R1.

14. Barbora Krejickova. Newly-crowned French Open champion (singles and doubles) who hasn't done anything on grass since reaching the QFs in the juniors back in 2013! Beaten early in qualies from 2015-17 and hasn't bothered since then. Very much a clay specialist and unlikely to see week two.

12. Victoria Azarenka. Semi-finalist here back in 2011 & 2012, and since reaching the US Open final last year, finally seems to be playing with freedom she used to nearly a decade ago before injuries, motherhood and custody battles wreaked havoc with her career. Reached R4 in Paris, semi-finals in Berlin and withdrew at the quarter-final stage in Bad Homburg, but that's assumed to be to get to Wimbledon in time to practice, rather than injury. Can beat anyone, not done any favours by being on same side as Barty and Serena, but has Slam-winning credentials.

24. Anett Kontaveit. Handy grasscourt exponent (career record 46-18) who has reached R3 here on the last three occasions. Finalist at Eastbourne this week, she's a solid player who takes a lot of beating (conquerors here over the years have included Azarenka, Strycova, Wozniacki and 2019 semi-finalist Muchova). Has the potential to go deep but she's only ever won one WTA level tournament (s'Hertogenbosch on grass in 2017) and her draw, including crafty leftie Vondrousova in R1 and Azarenka R3 looks tricky.

31. Daria Kasatkina. A top 10 player as recently as Oct 2018, she went off the boil, dropping to #74 and needed the mental reset that the pandemic provided. This year she is back swinging with a record of 27-11, winning two events, runner-up at Birmingham and was beaten this week in the quarters at Eastbourne by eventual champion Jelena Ostapenko. Scheduled to meet her again in R2.

5. Bianca Andreescu. Limited experience on grass, qualified then lost R1 in 2017, lost in final round of qualies in 2018, missed 2019. Lost R1 Berlin on her 21st birthday (to Cornet), R2 Eastbourne (to Kontaveit), meets Cornet again in R1 here. Highly talented but needs to extend that beyond hardcourts. Can't see her reaching the weekend.

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3. Elina Svitolina. Semi-finalist here in 2019 (best-ranked scalp was #24), R4 2017, and her other five visits have resulted in R1 or R2 exits. Just 21-21 on grass for her career, she'll need luck to go deep here. Prone to losing to anyone on this surface.

30. Paula Badosa. Flying on clay this season, rising from #70 to a career-best #33, winning one tournament, reaching three other semis (incl. one on indoor hardcourt) and the quarters at Roland Garros. That has left her underprepared for grass, playing just one match, losing in a third-set tiebreak to Svitolina at Eastbourne. Won through qualies here in 2019 and beat Alison Riske on grass in Mallorca that year as well. Handy player capable of beating most opponents if the courts are hard enough and slow enough.

19. Karolina Muchova. Quarter-finalist in 2019 in her first main draw at SW19. Was ranked 68 at the time, now down to 22 and reached the semis at the Australian Open this year. Just the one lead-up match on grass, losing R1 in Berlin, but she had the same limited preparation two years ago. First round opponent Zhang also reached the QFs in 2019 and was a recent finalist at Nottingham. Capable of reaching the second week.

16. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Reached the final in Paris at her 52nd main draw at a major tournament, having never before gone beyond the QFs (six times). Career record of 26-29 on grass, it's normally her poor movement around the court which is exploited on grass. Lost R1 at Eastbourne to Ostapenko, her rebound into the top 20 again might set her on a new path as she verges on turning 30, but I'd be surprised to see her in the second week.

9. Belinda Bencic. Long touted as a future major winner, her best results so far have been at the US Open (QF and SF) but did win the girls' title here back in 2013. Lost early in Paris so she's had plenty of grasscourt preparation, reaching the final in Berlin (lost to Samsonova) and R2 at Eastbourne.  Usually takes a good one to beat her (Halep 2014, Azarenka 2015, Kerber 2018, Riske 2019) which could apply to Gauff R3 or Serena R4 this time.

20. Coco Gauff. Reached the fourth round here in 2019 and will no doubt have big media attention to go all the way, now she's the same age (17) as when Sharapova, Sanchez Vicario, Serena and Graf won their first majors. Insanely talented, reached the quarters in Paris then got six sets on grass under her belt at Eastbourne, defeating Mertens and losing to Sevastova, both in three sets. R3 Bencic, R4 Serena, QF Barty/Azarenka. I'd have her at single-figure odds if she was on the other side of the draw. Big chance but not an easy path.

25. Angelique Kerber. Seemingly in the wilderness since winning here in 2018, she dropped out of the top 20 at the start of the pandemic after a poor set of Slams in 2019 and looked to be heading the wrong way in her 30s. There have been glimpses of her best again though, reaching R4 at the Aus and US Opens in 2020, and most recently, winning the grass tournament in Bad Homburg, beating Kvitova in the semi and Siniakova in the final. I'm still in the 'not as good as she was' camp but 40/1 is available, not 14s. Likely to face Serena in R3, who she vanquished in the 2018 final.

6. Serena Williams. Desperate to win her 24th major and equal Margaret Court's record, surely this is her last legitimate attempt at Wimbledon at the age of 39. She's been close to achieving that goal - reaching four finals since her last win in Melbourne 2017, but still it burns. Clay's never been her thing but she did win more matches than she lost this season (4-3), to get back into the swing of travelling the circuit after a year of world upheaval, so despite coming in without any grasscourt matches, she has relative match fitness under her belt - which is how she has done it almost every year. Has never lost in the first or second round. Can win but it'll be a battle - Kerber R3, Gauff/Bencic R4, Barty/Azarenka SF - none of those are rivalries she can dismiss like with auld enemy  Sharapova. Goes close but any betting value would be round-by-round rather than early on the outright.

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8. Karolina Pliskova. Lost R1 at both Berlin and Eastbourne after a second-round exit at Roland Garros. That came after being smashed 0 & 0 by Swiatek in the Rome final, perhaps leaving her with some demons. Reached R4 here in 2018 and 2019 but I've tipped her too many times in Slams to be burnt again. Will be lucky to make it out of the first week with recent French Open semi-finalist Zidansek R1, Vekic/Potapova R2, Riske R3.

28. Alison Riske. Quarter-finalist here in 2019 with all five rounds going the distance. Beat 22nd Vekic, 13th seed Bencic and top seed Barty before losing in three to Serena. That came after winning a lead-up event, this time she has gone 2-2 through Nottingham and Eastbourne. Should go a few rounds at least.

22. Jessica Pegula. Was playing ITF events immediately before the tennis world shut down, came back reaching the QF at the Aus Open, a finalist in Doha,  QF in Dubai, R4 in Miami, QF in Rome, and now she's in the top 25. Has brought that form onto the grass, lost a tight one to Azarenka in the Berlin QF, then in another three-setter to Siniakova in Bad Homburg, R2. Has only ever made the main draw once here, back in 2019 when she exited meekly in R1 at the hands of Buzarnescu. Unlikely but might cause some early damage.

10. Petra Kvitova. Two-time champion who had to pull out of the French Open after winning her first match when she injured her ankle during her press commitments but put that behind her in Bad Homburg this week, losing a semi-final in a third set tiebreak to eventual winner Angelique Kerber. Mixed fortunes here since her last title in 2014, with only a R4 result in 2019 making it into week two. Too erratic these days for my liking, faces Stephens in R1.

13. Elise Mertens. Lost in the fourth round to Strycova in 2019 and leading in this year has lost both R1 matches, although 7-5 and 7-6 in the deciding sets gave her considerable time on court. Consistent in the majors, has reached at least R3 in her last 13 Slams, but the only ventures into the last eight or even four have been on hardcourt. Gets the draw to fix that gap here, in a soft quarter.

23. Madison Keys. Has the power game you'd think would be suited to grass but has regressed since reaching the quarters back in 2015: R4,R2,R3,R2 in the years since. Played Berlin as her only lead-in, lost to eventual winner Samsonova in a third set tie-break. Capable but hasn't delivered on grass for years. 

29. Veronika Kudermetova. Also beaten by Samsonova at Berlin (R2), then by Riske at Eastbourne. Made the main draw for the first time in 2019, lost R2 to Wozniacki. Seems capable across all surfaces, but only just grabs a seeding and unlikely to do much here.

4. Sofia (Sonya) Kenin. Hasn't played since the French Open, not ideal preparation. R2 exits at her only two main draws here, plays hardcourt very well so no obvious reason why she hasn't gone well here as yet. Perhaps this time, but would need a big step forward. 50/1 here for a reason.

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7. Iga Swiatek. Won junior Wimbledon in 2018 but has only played a handful of matches on grass since. Lost R1 2019 then played six sets this week at Eastbourne, beat Watson and lost to Kasatkina. In top form on other surfaces, has the game to be able to mix it with the best here. This side of the draw is winnable.

26. Petra Martic. Lost to Bencic in consecutive weeks at Berlin and Eastbourne, reached the fourth round here in 2019 on the back of a semi-final at Birmingham. Unlikely to surpass that effort. 

21. Ons Jabeur. Riding high on a career-best ranking of #24 after winning the Birmingham title, dropping just the one set. Lost to eventual winner Ostapenko at Eastbourne in three sets. In great form this year, 29-11, but has only won a single match here in three main draws. Expect her to fix that this year but has Venus Williams to worry about in R2. 

11. Garbine Muguruza. Beat Cirstea and Rybakina before losing to Cornet at Berlin. Finalist in 2015, winner 2017, but R1/R2 exits in her other five trips. On the right side of the draw to go a long way if revisiting old form.

15. Maria Sakkari. R3 here in 2017 and 2019, no lead-in events after reaching the semis at Roland Garros. Capable but just doesn't strike me as a successful grasscourt player.

18. Elena Rybakina. Semi-finalist at Eastbourne, losing to Ostapenko after beating Svitolina and Sevastova along the way, a better result than two R1 losses in juniors here as a seed. Just turned 22, taking big steps forward each year on the tour. Bit much to ask at her first time in the main draw, but big fan of this player.

32. Ekaterina Alexandrova. Qualified here in 2016 (lost R2), followed up with three R1 exits. Beat Svitolina at Berlin before losing in a third set breaker to Bencic. Last of the seeds, doubt she'll see the end of the week.

2. Aryna Sabalenka. Qualified here in 2017 and reached R2, before losing R1 the following two years after arriving with a solid preparation on the surface. Lost R1 Berlin then reached the quarters at Eastbourne (def Riske R2), losing to Giorgi in three sets. At a career-best of fourth in the world, winning five events in the last 18 months. Capable of turning her results here around, and the draw sets up nicely for her. Third in the betting for a reason.


FLOATERS

Carla Suarez Navarro - on her farewell tour after fighting off Hodgkin's Lymphoma and nearly 17 years on the circuit. Gets a proper Centre Court send-off facing Barty in R1 as well. 

Coco Vandeweghe - American big-hitter on the way back from a dreadful run of injuries that dropped her from #9 out to the 600s. Qualified Nottingham, lost R1, then qualified at Birmingham and went as far as the semis, falling to Kasatkina. Quarter-finalist here in 2015 and 2017. Drawn to face Barty R3, can win through to that match at least.

Anastasija Sevastova - was ranked 12 last time we were here but her ranking plummeted as her best results fell off the 12-month cycle. Has shown a bit of form this year, R4 in Miami and winning four matches in Madrid, then switched to grass to qualify at Eastbourne to reach the quarters, losing to Rybakina in a final set breaker, after beating Gauff along the way. Has gone well at the grass event in Mallorca in the past (warmer weather, baked courts, higher bounce), but never here (four main draws, never beyond R2, in cooler weather, lower bounce). Soft section of the draw for week one if she found some form.

Sorana Cirstea - 13 trips to Wimbledon with only three third-round appearances to show for it. In good form on the clay of late, but straight sets R1 losses at Berlin and Bad Homburg doesn't suggest the dirt form will extend to here.

Amanda Anisimova - was on the verge of cracking the top 20 after reaching the semis in Paris in 2019 but has fallen to #81 now that success has fallen out of the rankings cycle. Lost R1 in Paris then went straight to the grass, losing R1 Berlin but then getting three matches in at Bad Homburg, losing to eventual winner Kerber in the quarters. That's twice as many WTA matches as she has played on the grass in the past.  

Camila Giorgi - enigmatic Italian who looked in fine shape at Eastbourne, winning five matches, including qualifying, to reach the semi-final before retiring with a left thigh injury - although it seemed precautionary as there was no specific incident in the match which brought it on. Lost to Serena in the quarters in 2018, her best result which she is capable of repeating or even improving on if fully fit.

Jelena Ostapenko - winner at Eastbourne this week, French Open winner a few years back (2017) and girls' champion here in 2014. Has the tournament-winning pedigree which many of her rivals lack. Can make the seeds sweat.

Donna Vekic - former top 20 player now out to #50. Was beaten R1 last time here, but that was by Riske, 7-5 in the 3rd,  which turned into pretty strong form. Reached R4 the previous year, losing to Goerges, and has a grasscourt trophy in her cabinet, Nottingham 2017. Could shock some seeds if they are slightly off their game.

Liudmila Samsonova - Russian who received a wildcard after winning the Berlin grass tournament, defeating Vondrousova, Kudermetova, Keys, Azarenka and Bencic after progressing through qualifying. To be brutally honest, I'd never taken any notice of her before that tournament and while it would have been the first grasscourt event this season for most of those opponents, that's still solid form as these official highlights show. As short as 25/1 in places which seems a bit ridiculous but if she played like that again, she could really do some damage in the softer half of the draw.

Sloane Stephens - showing some form again on clay, after a pretty dreadful run in the previous year and a half. Made the quarters here in 2013, but otherwise it's been R1 or R3 each time. Could surprise Kvitova in R1 or revert to form and be terrible. One player I can just never get a handle on...

Venus Williams - still going at 41! But one has to wonder for how much longer, the last time she won two matches in a row was Cincinnati 2019. 1-8 last year, 2-7 this year. Iggle Piggle, it's time to go...


SUMMARY

Cracking tournament made all the more intriguing by having Barty, Serena and Gauff all in the top half. The youngest one of that trio will take the next step soon and when that happens, we'll never see a price like this again. It'll be a bumpy road facing Bencic and Serena just to get out of her quarter but I'm ready to climb onto the Coco bandwagon.

There's another in the top half who might just sneak through if the cards fall her way. Vika Azarenka is playing her best tennis in years and at 40/1 in many places, can give a good run for our money. 

Also in the bottom half, there's a big opportunity for a new name to emerge, and that could be the time for Elise Mertens. There really isn't much ahead of her in her quarter and 66/1 in places underestimates her talent.

Outright:

Coco Gauff 2pts Win 20/1
Victoria Azarenka 1pt EW 40/1
Elise Mertens 1pt EW 66/1

Quarters:

Q1 1pt Azarenka 9/1
Q2 - sit back and watch
Q3 1pt Mertens 9/1
Q4 Sabalenka 3/1 but not keen to bet.


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