Exactly who is prepared to take down five-time champion Serena Williams now that the one woman did on a couple of occasions on grass, her five-time champion sister Venus, is out of the draw? Perhaps No. 3 Maria Sharapova as at least she played her tough in the Roland Garros final? Maybe No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, who bested her the last time they faced off on a fast surface? The 2011 champ Petra Kvitova, if she can shake herself out of her slump? By all indications Serena will waltz to her sixth title, but for the sake of the fans, it would be nice to have at least a little on court drama and a few thrillers to boot.
WOMEN, TOP HALF, FIRST QUARTER
Serena’s draw is actually not that simple; she should crush Mandy Minella in the first round, but then could face former semifinalist Zheng Jie in the second round, who nearly took her down at the AELTC last year. She should waltz past Tamira Paszek should the Austrian get to R3. But in the fourth round, she could face trouble from the service bombing Sabine Lisicki, who upset Sharapova last year, Elena Vesnina, who won in Eastbourne final, and Samantha Stosur, who has never taken to the grass but has beaten Williams with her heavy kick serve. Williams’ quarterfinal fore could be tricky too as lefty Angie Kerber has scored a win over her, but that’s provided that Kerber can find away past Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round, who is powerful and on a roll. Maria Kirilenko and Laura Robson, who meet in the first round, have quarterfinal shots, too.
SEMIFINAL PICK: Williams
FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Robson vs. Kirilenko. If the very smart Russian schools the British teen here, it could throw off the rest of the 19-year-old’s season.
WOMEN, TOP HALF, 3rd QUARTER
Aga Radwanska, the 2012 finalist , has to be pleased with her negotiable draw. She’s been a bit up and down this year, but has gone more or less where she was expected to at the previous two Slams. Her third round could be troublesome as big hitters Mona Barthel and Madison Keys could be there, but she has too much experience for both. Nadia Petrova could take her down on a great serving day in R4, but it’s hard to see Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova doing so, even if the Russian gets past grass court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova in the first round. We all saw how Li Na handled Radwanska in Australia, but the Chinese is going to have to play excellent ball to get there. She opens against Michaela Krajicek, who has done well on the lawns before, could play the red-hot Simona Halep, possibly Birmingham champ Daniela Hantuchova and. in R4, may to get past the nuclear striking Domi Cibulkova or Italian Roberta Vinci, who loves to carve foes up on the turf.
SEMIFINAL PICK: Radwanska
FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Keys vs. Britain’s Heather Watson, pitting Britain’s future against America’s.
WOMEN, BOTTOM HALF, 3rd QUARTER
Sharapova opens against the tall and improving Kristina Mladenovic of France, but she has too much experience for the young Frenchwoman. She might face faces a small roadblock in Melanie Oudin in the second round and could be troubled by either Lucie Safarova or Lucie Hradecka in the third round. But with the way that Marion Bartoli has been playing, Sharapova has to be pleased that the Frenchwoman could be her seeded R4 foe.
Whomever comes out of the other segment to face Sharapova in the quarters will have earned it as a host of talented players are there: Sara Errani, Caro Wozniacki, Varvara Lepchenko, 16-year-old Donna Vekic, as well as Sloane Stephens and Jaime Hampton, two US players with second-week potential who will meet in the first round. If its one of the youngsters who goes up against Sharapova, they have to be very wary because she loves to munch on the kids.
SEMIFINAL PICK: Sharapova
FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Stephens vs. Hampton in an intense match-up that has already likely occurred on back court during USTA Player Development training sessions.
WOMEN, BOTTOM HALF, 4th QUARTER
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see Azarenka face off against Kvitova again, since the two rivals haven’t faced off since 2011, one of those victories coming for Kvitova in three sets in the Wimbledon semis? Azarenka should have little trouble getting to the fourth round, as while Alize Cornet played her tough in Paris, should they meet in the third round on grass, the Belarusian has too much firepower for her. Azarenka’s fourth round could be interesting though with the net loving Kirsten Flipkens, a candidate to be there, as well as the tried-and-true veteran Jelena Jankovic.
Kvitova opens again the big-serving Coco Vandeweghe, and could severely tested in the third round by Ekaterina Makarova, should the Russian keep her head in the match. Carla Suarez, Ana Ivanovic or even 2012 Wimbledon Girls champ Genie Bouchard could be the Czech’s fourth round foe, but in all likelihood, if she doesn’t become distracted, Kvitova will face off against Azarenka in a delicious quarterfinal.
SEMIFINAL PICK: Azarenka
FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Flipkens against the sometimes overly enthusiastic Yulia Putintseva.
NOTE: TENNISREPORTERS.NET’S MATT CRONIN WILL BE LIVE FROM WIMBLEDON BEGINNING ON SUNDAY