There was a time when I thought women's tennis was in a perfect place. There were five players who I thought were the very best in the game, and all of them were champions. I truly believed they were ready to dominate the game and give us some incredible matches and rivalries for years to come. The five players were Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. That was five years ago.
Much has changed since then, and due to injuries and retirements, things haven't worked out like I thought. However, four of them are here at Wimbledon and are still major threats at the All-England Club.
Sharapova is No. 1 in the world and coming off her fourth major and a career slam. Serena is trying to get back to the top after being out for almost a year with an illness and an injury, all the while fighting off the fact that she's 30. Venus has an illness, which will make it very tough for her to win here, but she could still beat anybody on a given day. Clijsters is ready to retire in a few months, and wants very badly to go out on top.
This is one of the last times we will see these greats all together in a tournament, so I hope all the fans enjoy watching them.
There are, of course, plenty of newcomers who are threats here. Most notably are No. 2 Victoria Azarenka and defending champion Petra Kvitova. Azarenka hasn't been as sharp the last few months, and will look to regain her early-season form. Kvitova is hoping that returning to Wimbledon will bring back the magical game she had last year.
Here's a look at how I see things going:
First quarter: This is Sharapova's section and I don't see much standing in her way. She could meet Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round, but Pironkova has been battling a back injury, and I think Sharapova will simply be too much for her.
Sloane Stephens could make a run to the fourth round, but again I think Sharapova's experience will pull her through.
Sabine Lisicki is also there, but she has struggled this year.
Clijsters is also on the other side of this section, and she has to play Jelena Jankovic in the first round. I think Clijsters gets through that match and will make it to the quarters to play Sharapova one more time. Sharapova has been on a roll, and even Clijsters won't be able to stop it.
Second quarter: This is Aggie Radwanska's section, but she potentially has to play Venus in the second round.
Haven't we seen this before? That's right, they played in the same round at the French Open. Last time Radwanska won, but this is on grass, and I'll take Venus this time.
Unfortunately for Venus, I don't see her getting much further. It's just tough to see her going too far with her health the way it is. I'd actually like Daniela Hantuchova to emerge. We haven't heard from her in a while, and she's had some of her best results at Wimbledon.
On the other side of this section is Sam Stosur, who hasn't played well on grass over the years. I think Li Na could be a factor here.
Third quarter: This is probably the toughest section, if nothing else because Serena and Kvitova are here. I don't see much keeping them from the quarters. If Serena can make it past her first couple rounds, she should cruise to the quarters.
Varvara Lepchenko could pose a threat for Kvitova early on, and Dominika Cibulkova would be a tough fourth-round opponent. I think it will be Kvitova and Serena in the quarters in a thriller, and I think Kvitova will pull it out in three tough sets.
Fourth quarter: Azarenka is the top seed here and she has a tough first-round opponent in Irina Falconi. Ana Ivanovic or Julia Georges could pose a threat in the fourth round, but I see Azarenka making it to the quarters.
In the other part of this section is Caroline Wozniacki, but I think she will lose in the first round to Tamira Paszek.
I think Marion Bartoli will make it back to the quarters, but I Azarenka will pull out that showdown.
Sharapova vs. Na: These two have had some good battles over the years, and Na won a few years ago on grass in a Wimbledon tuneup. However, Sharapova is playing with so much confidence, and now I think the pressure is off of her.
Winner: Sharapova in two sets
Kvitova vs. Azarenka: I thought at the beginning of the year that these two would be the best players in the world and would have a great rivalry. Kvitova hasn't emerged like I thought she would, but maybe this tournament will be the start of something special for her.
Winner: Kvitova in three sets
Sharapova vs. Kvitova: At the start of the year I would've said this would be a no-brainer for Kvitova, but things have definitely changed. Sharapova hasn't lost to Kvitova this year and seems to be getting in her head a little bit.
Winner: Sharapova in two sets
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