The full grass court season has got off to a stuttering start for Britain’s top female tennis players in Nottingham. Wildcards Laura Robson, Tara Moore and Heather Watson all tumbled out of the tournament in the first round leaving question marks over possible Wimbledon wildcards.
The only female British player guaranteed direct entry into Wimbledon is Johanna Konta after Watson and Naomi Broady both left the top 100 this year. This leaves a cluster of players battling over the next week to play their way into contention for Wimbledon wildcards.
First round Nottingham losses for Moore, Robson and Watson
Tara Moore is the largest concern of the Nottingham trio after retiring with a left foot injury in her match against Johanna Konta. The British #4 was 6-2, 3-0 down before the retirement and now, much like British compatriot Dan Evans, she now faces a race to be fit in time for Wimbledon.
Laura Robson had a real chance to progress against Julia Boserup, who had lost seven of her previous nine matches. She was unable to capitalise at the key moments however, converting just 1 of 14 break point opportunities and crashing out 6-4, 6-3.
Robson was quick to acknowledge that the performance could have been better. “This isn’t a big knock for me but following three really good weeks of tennis it’s a shame I couldn’t do better. Either way I always look forward to playing in qualifiers and main draws at Wimbledon.
“I’m really disappointed with how it went today – I really think I could have done better. Changing ends every time did not help and the change of winds didn’t help either.”
Watson could not build on her promising form from the previous week in Surbuton and fell 6-2, 6-3 to last year’s Nottingham runner-up Alison Riske. The Brit grew increasingly frustrated as the match went on, and a catalogue of groundstroke errors followed suit.
“I just have to stay positive after this one”
Following the defeat in Nottingham, Watson said “It was a tough match – I knew it would be. I just felt today Alison was very solid, played very well in all aspects of her game.
“I didn’t feel too bad on the court. I felt a bit flat like I was giving away a few too many points especially when it was close or I had clawed my way back.
“I just have to stay positive after this one. I had a good week last week, I wanted to continue my form here but it was a very tough match today.”
Who else is in the wildcard picture?
These three early exits certainly open the door for other British players to make their case for Wimbledon wildcards. A strong week for Naomi Broady in her hometown tournament of Manchester could secure her a wildcard while Gabi Taylor, Katie Swan, Katie Boulter and Harriet Dart are also in with a chance.
A factor limiting all of these players – and makes the next week so interesting – is that Wimbledon organisers seem to insist on just three British Wimbledon wildcards. Each year for the past three years only three Brits have received wildcards, down from five in 2013. Bare in mind they can offer eight maximum. That means during the next week many British players are battling not just for that particular match, but for their chance at Wimbledon.
Heather Watson is, without question, the front runner to secure one of the Wimbledon wildcards. The 25-year-old is the British #2 and has proven pedigree on grass. Firstly, she is the reigning Wimbledon Mixed Doubles champion after triumphing last year with Henri Kontinen. Secondly, she has reached the third round of the singles twice in her career, most famously getting within two points of upsetting Serena Williams in 2015.
She has already showcased her skills on the grass this year as well. In her first week on the surface she reached the Surbiton final, losing to Magdalena Rybarikova. Admittedly, she failed to back this up at Nottingham but the quality of her opponent – Alison Riske – should not be discounted. It would be a major shock if she were to not receive on of the Wimbledon wildcards.
If Watson earns one, who takes the other Wimbledon wildcards?
If Naomi Broady has a poor week in Manchester it would be less of a shock if she were to not receive one. Since her run to the final of the Midland $100k in early February the Brit has been poor. Three victories in thirteen matches left plenty to be desired but she won two consecutive matches for the first time in Surbiton last week. Backing that up with a strong showing in Manchester should do enough to secure her a wildcard.
If the Wimbledon wildcard committee are to stick to their own script that leaves one further wildcard. It’s going to be an almighty scrap for that third one. Laura Robson has the history. A historic fourth round at Wimbledon in 2013 and a career high ranking of #27 give her the head start. A recent stretch of good form on grass in the Far East, including a $60k title in Kurume has helped the 23-year-old climb back into the top 200. Yet two straight first round losses are indicative of the kind of erratic performances from Robson since her return from the lengthy wrist injury.
The next on the list rankings wise is Tara Moore. Her chances have been plunged into doubt by the left foot injury sustained at Nottingham and her poor form will do little to help her case either. The loss to Konta makes it five losses on the trot and the only thing in her favour is last year’s second round Wimbledon performance against Svetlana Kuznetsova where she took a set and seriously tested the former Grand Slam champion.
Youth over experience?
Behind these three are a handful of young talents rising through the ranks at a similar rate. Katie Boulter has made the most notable progress this year according to the rankings and results. Furthermore, she also has some victories over her Wimbledon wildcard rivals. Twice she has beaten Harriet Dart this year and has also tasted victory over Katy Dunne and Gabi Taylor. She does have a blemish on that scorecard though, losing to Robson in the final of the Kurume $60k.
Harriet Dart meanwhile has found form at the right time with a strong semi-final showing in Surbiton. Combining this result with a positive start to the year on the hard courts she has reached a new career high of #278. She missed a big chance to lay down a serious marker after suffering a first round loss in Manchester to similarly ranked Magdalena Frech.
The final two in with a realistic chance are Katie Swan and Gabi Taylor. Taylor looked imperious on the grass at Wimbledon last year before being struck down by a freak illness which forced her to withdraw from the Girls draw. Swan is the youngest of this collective at 18-years-old and, despite another progressive year, may be slightly too far out of the picture at this stage, especially given her early exit in Manchester to Katy Dunne.
The general consensus seems to be that the Wimbledon wildcard selectors have a tricky task on their hands. No one player has made an insurmountable argument for a wildcard and a balance will have to be struck between 2017 form earlier in the year and 2016 grass court success.