With the French Open title in the bag and a complete set of grand slam titles to her name, Maria Sharapova should be nice and relaxed when she begins her quest to win Wimbledon for a second time, eight years after her breakthrough win in 2004 when she was just 17.
In the aftermath of her win in Paris, Sharapova said she was not done yet and the confidence of her victory means she is hugely dangerous this time on a surface that suits her game more than clay – although she has improved immensely on the latter in recent times.
The Russian was runner-up to Petra Kvitova 12 months ago and has been more consistent since then than at any time her career. Finally free of the pain from her shoulder operation of late 2008, she is a better mover now and her ball-striking is just as good as ever. Crucially, her serve is now becoming a weapon again, rather than a weakness. The top half of the draw is not as strong as the bottom half so Sharapova will fancy her chances of making another final. At a best-priced 14-5, she is well worth a saver.
Serena Williams is in the bottom half of the draw and that spells trouble for almost everyone else. When the American is in the mood and when her body allows her, she remains the best player in the world, and on grass her power and athleticism gives her an added advantage. My concern for her this year is that her form appears to have dipped lately and the way she lost in the first round in Paris was as much a worry as a shock. She is vulnerable early on but of course, if she finds herself in the latter stages, she knows what to do and could easily add to her 13 grand slam titles.
However, at 3-1, she is particularly tight given everything I just said. Moreover, she is seeded to face last year’s champion Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals and that is a massive match to look forward to. If she stays healthy, I can see Kvitova winning several Wimbledon titles, so perfect is her game for the grass. Her big lefty serve is a huge weapon in itself, but she backs it up with powerful groundstrokes and when she’s on, she can blow even the best players away, as she showed when beating Sharapova in straights sets in the final last year.
The Czech reached the semi-finals of the French Open earlier this month, losing to Sharapova in the semis, but was delighted with a first grand slam clay-court semi-final so her form is there. There are bound to be a few nerves flying round when she plays her opening match but if she survives that, no one is going to want to play her. At 6-1, she is decent each-way value.
Victoria Azarenka made the semi-finals here last year and won her first grand slam title in Australia at the start of the year but I am a little bit worried about her form and confidence. She did not play between an early loss in Paris and Wimbledon, so she is a bit of an unknown quantity, strangely.
I can see a repeat of last year’s final but if you’re looking for an outsider, you could do worse than Angelique Kerber. The German was beaten in round one 12 months ago but is now in the world’s top 10, showed form in the warm-up event in Eastbourne and did well in Paris, too. At 40-1, she could give you a decent run for your money.