On the 19th of April, it was the 30th birthday of Maria Sharapova, who is ready to come back on court next week, in Stuttgart, after her ban. However, there’s a woman who stole the spotlight on her birthday only with a Snapchat photo. I’m dealing, of course, with Serena Williams, who announced the world she is 20 weeks pregnant, and so her baby is going to be born this fall.
Her pregnancy means that she won’t compete for quite a long time – indeed, more than some even think about her retiring from tennis, though she has explicitly stated that she will return in 2018. So that, even though the WTA will regain Maria Sharapova ahead of the clay season, the current #1 in the world won’t be out there competing, as well as Victoria Azarenka, who set her return date for the US Open Series and, probably, as well as Petra Kvitova. The Czech, still injured after the terrible assault she suffered at home last December, published a message on her Instagram stating that there is a possibility she will be competing at Roland Garros, though it’s far more probable that we’ll see her a little bit after.
I’ve dealt with the current state of the WTA more or less a hundred times, both writing articles and just chatting with friends. This time, I decided to make a list of seven players that, given this big absences, do own the chance to do well – and, who knows, maybe win a major…
Even though her last official match was at the Australian Open last year, and so her shape is really in doubt, one couldn’t not include the Russian in this list. Her comeback is set for Stuttgart next week, a tournament she won three times. Her motivation is certainly high as the sky. The question is whether her tennis will be that high. Further words are actually quite useless regarding her comeback. Let’s just sit and see what happens.
Actually, the only reason why I chose to insert her in this list is because, with Serena’s pregnancy, she is going to return #1 in the world, and she will probably stay there for quite a long time. However, even in 2016, her life-time season, her clay court season has been awful – apart from the title in Stuttgart – including a R1 loss at Roland Garros.
Given her 2017 performances, I have some big doubtsabout how her clay court performances are going to be.
Her 2017 has been poor, not only looking at her results, but also if looking at her game and, even more, at her on-court attitude. More than once, she told reporters that clay is not her favorite surface at all, since her powerful groundstrokes perfectly cope with grass or hard court. However, in 2016, she was able to win Roland Garros. Hence, for sure every opponent should be afraid of Garbine, or, better, of ClayBine.
2017 has been so far one of the worst seasons of the Romanian’s tennis life, at least one of the worst since 2013, when she entered Top 20 for the first time and won six titles. However, she reached quarterfinals in Miami, displaying a confident game and, even more, a confident attitude. She defends the title in Madrid, and hopefully this is going to motivate her to show her best skills. An in-form Halep is always one of the trickiest opponents to face.
What a terrific year the Czech is having! Two titles, and semis in both Indian Wells and Miami. Her phenomenal serve and her groundstrokes have little to do with clay, though, right now, she seems to be the best player on tour. What’s more, she’s made massive improvement in the last year, so that it’s going to be quite a surprise to see this Pliskova on clay.
The former number one in the world has reached two Slam finals in her career, losing both of them. The former to Kim Clijsters, the latter to Serena Williams. I’ve dealt twice (here and here) with her resurgence and with expectations on her ongoing season. She is going to play totally mind-free, since she skipped the entire clay season due to an injury in 2016 and so she has no points to defend. Would this be the time for her to win her first Slam? Once again, I do hope so. Once again, let’s see.
The Brit is probably going to be galvanized by her title in Miami. Moreover, her game perfectly cope with clay. I still can’t see JoKo as one of the protagonists of the WTA tour, though she owns a big chance to prove me wrong. I’d be more than happy to admit my mistakes.
Let me add a wildcard to the list up there, which is Francesca Schiavone. If I follow tennis so hard, it’s all her fault! Being the first Italian to ever win a Grand Slam – Roland Garros in 2010 – remains, to me, one of the most emotional sport moments ever, together with Roberta Vinci defeating Serena Williams at 2015 Us Open and Italy winning the World Cup in 2006 against France.
With a Wild Card, she conquered the title in Bogotà last week, and earned a spot in the main draw of Roland Garros. Of course, I don’t expect her to appear at the final stages in big tournaments. But I’d die for another entertaining match, even in a first round, even if she’d end up losing it. I just want to see her amazing tennis once again and her terrific fighting spirit, since I’ll never get tired of them, and I’ll never get used of not seeing them again, when she retires. Good luck, Francesca!
These are only some of the names of players that should have a chance to claim big achievements during the clay season. Even without Serena, the WTA field seems entertaining and competitive. Let’s make it start in Stuttgart!