Let's be honest, for the women, the story going into this year's Wimbledon can be summed in one word: Williamses. Having the Williams sisters will be back on the turf they've dominated, bidding for their tenth Wimbledon crown in the last 12 years has electrified the women's draw. Why are they the story when they've played a total of 3 events since the last Wimbledon? Because in the year since Serena sliced her tendon in Munich none of the other women have merited more than momentary plaudits. The WTA house is in a state of post-kegger disarray and only the Sisters Sledgehammer seem to have the juice to set things right.
Will they win it? That's another story and in the bigger picture an irrelevant one. There is positive intrigue around the women's side of a major right now for the first time in a long, long time.
How do we expect things to shake out in the 2011 Wimbledon women's draw? Read on...
Caroline Wozniacki is the World No. 1 and the top seed in this quarter, but a) We'll use any excuse to throw a shot of Maria Sharapova up on the blog and b) Do you really think we're picking the Woz to get to the business end of a major? Well, actually Wozniacki, whose idea of a tuneup was an indoor hardcourt event in Copenhagen, landed in a pretty soft section of the draw. We expect her to blow past Arantxa Parra Santonja, Sania Mirza and Jarmila Gadjosova in her first three rounds and then face a stiffer, but passable test against Julia Goerges in the round of 16. The bottom half of this section however, is loaded. We're looking forward to a marquee third round faceoff between Shuai Peng and Samantha Stosur. Maria Sharapova will do perhaps her heaviest lifting in the first round versus long struggling compatriot Anna Chakvetadze. If she can keep her serve in working order long enough, she'll get the Stosur/Peng winner in the Round of 16 and a sunshine vs. ice battle against Wozniacki in the quarters
Super Fan Special, Best 1st Rounder: (5) Sharapova vs. Chakvetadze
Popcorn Match: QF: (1) Wozniacki vs. (5) Sharapova
Dark Horse: Peng
Housing three major champions, this is the section of the draw to watch. Current French Open champion Na Li is the top seed here at No. 3, but 4-time Wimbledon champion and 7 seed Serena Williams is the de facto favorite. Having only played two matches since the last Wimbledon, Serena's form is a mystery Sherlock Holmes couldn't unravel. Williams opens against troubled Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai, an opponent good enough to send a subpar Serena packing, but one who may have trouble holding her nerve. In fact, we can't pick Serena to win this, not because she can't, but because just there's too little evidence to go on. The woman with the best chance to upset Williams is quirky, unpredictable Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, her likely fourth round foe. Bartoli, FYI, just won this week's tune up event in Eastbourne. Na Li will face resurgent wild card Sabine Lisicki in her second round and could take on Bethanie Mattek-Sands and her knee socks in round three. Should Li win there, she would likely face the winner of erratic Ana Ivanovic and steady Agnieszka Radwanska for a shot at the quarters. Li's certainly a trendy pick given her French Open crown and the "win like you've been there before" attitude she donned accepting the trophy, but she's only ever won five tour level events. I have a hard time believing a second consecutive major will be number six.
Super Fan Special, Best 1st Rounder: (7) S. Williams vs. Rezai
Popcorn Match: 3rd Round: (18) Ivanovic vs. (13) Radwanska
Dark Horse: Mattek-Sands
Seven qualifiers and only one major champion (Francesca Schiavone) fell into this wiiiiiide open section of a wide open draw. The other top seed is Belarus' Victoria Azarenka whose affinity for the eject button has been well-documented. Andrea Petkovic, Shahar Pe'er, Anastasia "Alphabet Soup" Pavlyuchenkova, Daniela Hantuchova and an unseeded Nadia Petrova are some of the other highly talented contenders. On paper, Azarenka's your pick, she's got the highest seed, the biggest game and has long been tipped to win a major. Mentally, she remains a bit of a question mark. Petkovic is the hot hand and certainly the favorite in the top half of the section while Azarenka, Alphabet Soup and Hantuchova should contend out of the bottom.
Super Fan Special, Best 1st Rounder: (6) Schiavone vs. Dokic
Popcorn Match: QF: (11) Petkovic vs. (25) Hantuchova
Dark Horse: Hantuchova
Vera Zvonareva headlines the draw as the 2nd seed, but all eyes will be trained on Venus Wimbledon. The 5-time champion and grass court specialist will be making her first start since a hip injury knocked her out of the Australian Open. The seeding committee elevated Venus from her current ranking, an injury deflated 33rd to being the 24th seed here. I'd argue that's far too low and she should probably have Petra Kvitova's line as the 8th seed at the top of the quarter. Falling where she is, Venus will likely face 41 year old Kimiko Date-Krumm in a Metamucil sponsored second rounder, before potentially facing against the always demonstrative Jelena Jankovic in the third round. Her reward for beating Jankovic would be a match with Zvonareva in the fourth round. In other words, this is a packed section of the draw. Much like her sister, we don't know how Venus is playing, but the bigger question mark is could even a healthy Venus contend at this stage in her career? She made an inspiring run to the US Open semifinal last fall, but her section is full of land mines. The rust may be too much to survive, especially if she takes on an inspired Kvitova in the quarters.
Super Fan Special, Best 1st Rounder: (15) Jankovic vs. Martinez-Sanchez
Popcorn Match: 3rd Round: (15) Jankovic vs. (23) V. Williams
Dark Horse: Wickmayer
Semifinals: Bartoli d. Wozniacki, Kvitova d. Petkovic
Final: Kvitova d. Bartoli
Prediction: Wozniacki will get to the penultimate match and answer the same question exactly 41 times for the press, before falling teary-eyed to the inspired Frenchwoman, while Kvitova takes a slugfest against Petkovic who will moonwalk her way home to Germany. On the women's side, it looks like a new generation is going to break through, Petra Kvitova will hold her nerve and her serve in the final and claim the first major win for Generation Next. She's been close before and she'll be facing an opponent who won't strike fear into her heart. NBC on the other hand will look at this matchup and wish they could pre-empt the final for Celebrity Bowling, unfortunately no such luck. It's past time for the new names to emerge to unseat the champions of the last era. Go figure, it'll happen at the most traditional of majors.