Wimbledon – Women’s Outright Preview
Posted on June 25, 2012 by Sam Foster
The woman’s draw has the opposite feel to the men’s tournament with a host of players seriously fancying their chances of lifting the most prestigious plate around in a fortnight’s time. The much maligned woman’s game should, theoretically, be more exciting than it’s best-of-five-set sibling, with countless upsets, breaks of serve and unpredictable moments making up the volatile personality of the modern woman’s game.
Sadly, this is far from the case, as although fans do not want a procession of predictable results, every sports fan craves for some semblance of continuity, where they can rally behind true champions who they know won’t suddenly implode as so many of the top players on the WTA regularly do. This curse on the women’s game was seen to full effect in this year’s French Open where top seeds tumbled inexplicably to lesser opponents.
This would not be a negative feature if they were playing well and were just outdone on the day. Invariably though, the top players were not beaten by their opponents but by themselves – and this does not make for great viewing. Consequently the prices dictate selections to be chosen from outside the top-four in the betting, as all of those quoted at the top end of the market are riddled with enough mental deficiencies to make them prohibitive.
The most likely scenario is that one of the top players, like Maria Sharapova did to clinch her maiden French Open title a few weeks ago, will navigate their way to victory, but at the current odds there is no value in guessing which one will survive the gauntlet that is the contemporary women’s Grand Slam. As a result the likes of Sharapova, defending champion Petra Kvitova, four-time winner Serena Williams and the most successful women of 2012; Victoria Azarenka need to be ignored on the outright selections as none of the above have shown anything like the reliability needed to justify the prices currently quoted.
Consequently, our attention must be directed further down the outright list and our first selection knows exactly what it takes to win on the biggest stage. Many could be forgiven for thinking that 29-year-old Kim Clijsters had actually retired from the game, but after numerous threats and temporary breaks from the game it finally looks like this will be the last time we see the most successful Belgian player of all time to grace the courts of SW19.
Clijsters is one of the most decorated players on the tour, with four Grand Slam titles and two semi-final appearances here in London. With 41 WTA titles to her name there are no doubts about Clijsters’ ability to finish the job, something that is sorely lacking from many of the more fancied woman on tour. To bolster this belief Clijsters will not feel any of the pressure that many of the more able players will feel, as this is effectively a swansong for the Belgian starlet, rather than a tournament that she desperately needs to do well in.
That relief of tension may be powerful attribute, especially in the second week, as a sense of abandon can be a potent weapon, and more significantly when against an opponent who is feeling the burden of expectation. Although withdrawing from her semi-final in Rosmalen recently, this was more precautionary than anything else and despite having a tough draw, beginning with 20th seed Jelena Jankovic, this will not interfere with the mental preparation of having the greatest possible conclusion to a glittering career.
Next up at a massive price is the future of American women’s tennis, in the form of the likeable and dependable Sloane Stephens. With a ranking of 57 in the world the 19-year-old will have to do it the hard way if she is to conquer at Wimbledon, but with the aforementioned psychological faults of so many of the more fancied players, it is refreshing to see a player who shows no signs of that fragility.
An excellent run at the French Open where she reached the round-of-16 only to be knocked out by eventual semi-finalist Sam Stosur, bodes well for her future, but she may not have to wait long until she is troubling top seeds in the second week of the big events. There is an extremely likeable resilience to Stephens, shown to full effect at her home Slam in Flushing Meadows last year where she battled to a pair of impressive wins. Her price of 200/1 reflects the shock if she was to triumph, but there are numerous players in front of her in the betting, and the rankings, that have nowhere near as much of a chance of winning as she does.
Finally, there were signs in the French Open that former Grand Slam winner, and permanent darling of the women’s game; Ana Ivanovic was getting back to the level that saw her win at Rolland Garros back in 2008. Commanding wins in the opening rounds ended up being a false dawn of sorts as she once again buckled under the pressure of nearing the winning line in her third round tie against Sara Errani.
That defeat however, does not look too bad retrospectively as the Italian then went onto reach the final. Ivanovic possesses the necessary weapons to be successful on grass with potentially devastating ground strokes off both wings and a desire to finish points off quickly. Mentally though she is weak and this usually translated through her serve that can betray her at the most frustrating moments.
The fact is though that the Serb’s odds are upwards of 80/1 and so the criteria that we applied to eliminate the top players at shorter odds, still exists but is pardoned by the price. There is every chance Ivanovic could make it to the second week, and just being there late on in the Slam may rekindle the inner-belief that took her to the head of the women’s game four years ago.
There will be more undulations, upsets and formbook burnings than ever this year, so tread carefully with the favourites and invest small stakes on some less fancied players who could easily capitalise on an odd era of women’s tennis where seemingly anything goes.