The field on the WTA is as open as it has ever been. A case to prove just that was seeing heavy-hitting 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko smash her way through the field at Roland Garros–she has always been talented, but it was a surprise for many, given the form that Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, and Kristina Mladenovic showed for most of the clay court swing.
Now we move onto the grass and the candidates for the third Grand Slam of the year could really go into double figures. There are experienced former champions, promising youngsters ready to make their move, and good grass court players that are flying under the radar that should really be named as ones to look out for over the course of the two weeks in Wimbledon.
Today I will break down my five contenders for the prize in Wimbledon and the reasons why I think they stand the best chance of going all the way in a very open field.
The Top Five Female Contenders for Wimbledon
The tall, huge-serving Czech is many people’s favourite for her maiden Grand Slam title this year and there’s a plenty of reasons to back that up. The fact that she can finish points early with relative ease suggests that she can make a real impact on the grass of Wimbledon and the serve of Pliskova is one of the biggest weapons in the women’s game and buys her so many free points, which is essential on a grass court. She has the experience of being in a Grand Slam final, having played World No. 1 Angelique Kerber at last year’s US Open and she delivered an impressive run to the semifinals of the French Open, narrowly missing out on World No. 1 herself. The problem for Pliskova was winning titles when she got to the final, as we saw many times in 2015, but this year she is unbeaten when she makes it to the final match, with wins over Alize Cornet in Brisbane and Caroline Wozniacki in Doha.
The conundrum of whether she can survive on the grass with the really low bounce of the ball is something that needs to be addressed. But if the World No. 3 and Fed Cup winner can put together great results on her least-favourite clay surface then you would expect that the grass courts has come at a perfect time for her. No Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova at this year’s Wimbledon also makes a huge difference when electing to pick which WTA player will make the biggest splash at SW19 this year.
Venus Williams’ season so far is great. Her runner-up showing at the Australian Open, where she lost to sister Serena, was the highlight of her year and reminded tennis fans that she is not ready to go away quietly just yet. That was the first Grand Slam final she’d made since Wimbledon 2009, which is remarkable when you think about, to have the desire and belief that winning at the highest level can still be done, even at the age of 37. The important thing about this grass court season is that Venus has not overplayed–in fact she hasn’t played at all. She is managing her schedule nicely, which is essential at her age and it is key to a lot of her success in picking and choosing the right moments and the right tournaments to turn up to. That is integral to many of the top players success in professional tennis.
Williams is one of Wimbledon’s greatest ever champions. Her game suits a grass court, she’s a five-time Wimbledon winner, and at two stages dominated this event. Also let’s not overlook the fact that she made the semifinal last year and still can play great tennis on this surface even in her latter years.
Ostapenko never shies away from the big pressure moments on tour and she certainly didn’t do that in her maiden Grand Slam final against Simona Halep. Halep took a front row seat for large periods of that final as she watched winner after winner connect with the lines, it was a fearless, astonishing performance from a 20-year-old. The reason why Ostapenko is one player to look out for isn’t necessarily because she’s now a Grand Slam champion, but it is because of her reliability under the extreme conditions of a Grand Slam final. Also having the knowhow of realising you know what it takes to make that impression at a major really counts for everything. The young Latvian also understands the dimensions of a grass court and surprisingly performs better on grass in comparison to clay, where she won her Roland Garros title.
How can you discount Petra Kvitova? Two-time Wimbledon winner, who won her first in 2011 and second in 2014, maybe she can win three years later once again? There’s questions over Kvitova’s readiness because of such a long layoff, but there are no questions about what she can do on a grass court on her day. Some would even argue that her best tennis beats virtually anyone on tour, because of the consistent bludgeoning of the ball on a grass court in particular. Kvitova really has taken grass court tennis to an even greater level and still remains a danger because of her star quality. She may not go all the way this year, but if she continues to gain confidence in Birmingham and Eastbourne and has that competitive matchplay, she can really make big waves even as near as Wimbledon.
Vandeweghe’s also taking to grass exceptionally this year and is a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist. There is no one she’d particularly fear playing on this surface and she has said as much in the past. The win over Brit Johanna Konta in Birmingham was a real message to everyone else in the Wimbledon draw that perhaps she could back up the Australian Open semifinal appearance this year by going two steps farther at SW19.