MANILA—It has been an open field for the women’s game in recent years, without great rivalries even if up-and-coming players have stepped up to clinch a grand slam. Because of this, 23-time grand slam singles champion Serena Williams of the United States remains to be a top contender for the Wimbledon crown, a title she has won seven times.
Williams, eyeing to equal the 24 grand slam singles titles record of Australian Margaret Court, is among the Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles frontrunner choices of FOX Sports Asia pundits Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand. Williams, the No. 6 seed, will face Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus in the first round.
“Obviously, we’ve got Serena on grass, which you can never underestimate,” reminded former World No. 5 Hantuchova in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News.
Despite mentioning younger players, former World No. 19 Tanasugarn ended with: “Actually, Serena is still there.”
The Thai star added that Williams, who turns 40 on September 26, is out to show her “mother power.” Williams last won Wimbledon in 2016 after overpowering Angelique Kerber of Germany. She was a runner-up to Kerber in 2018 and to Simona Halep of Romania in 2019.
In addition, Tanasugarn mentioned the strong chances of two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic, who was also chosen by Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, the third FOX Sports Asia pundit. The 31-year-old No. 10 seed Czech will go up against 2017 US Open Champion Sloane Stephens of the United States in the opening round.
“She won Wimbledon before and she’s still hungry after the hand incident that happened a few years back,” Baghdatis said, pertaining to the knife attack that injured Kvitova’s left hand in 2016.
Despite that and a freak ankle injury suffered during her Roland Garros post-match press duties that forced her to withdraw with a first round finish, Baghdatis continued, “She still wants to win a grand slam and I think she’s hungry. I believe that her biggest chance of winning a grand slam [again] will be at Wimbledon.”
Former World No. 8 Baghdatis noted that it is difficult to say who could gain success on the women’s side at The Championships, Wimbledon from June 28 to July 11.
“There’s no big difference between the new generations and the old generations, especially now Serena is not out of the game but close to out of the game. It’s very tough to say who will go far. Anything can happen in early rounds as we saw in the French Open,” he said.
Hantuchova agreed that it is tricky to share a lot of possible frontrunners, so she named one more player, 25-year-old No. 15 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece.
“I really like Sakkari's chances just because of how hard she works. She stays really low with her legs on grass, which is one of the keys to play well. She moves incredibly and she was very close to having an incredible Roland Garros as well. I mean, the semis was already a great result.”
Other players with big serves and big groundstrokes will have a greater opportunity to do well in London, added Tanasugarn. She cited No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, and No. 8 seed Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic. “We would like to see Pliskova win one of the grand slams as well,” Tanasugarn said of the former World No. 1.
The historic and elegant slam
Wimbledon is making a comeback this year after its 2020 edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The better news is that The Championships is opening its doors to crowds with a minimum 50% capacity. A full capacity of 15,000 spectators was approved for the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Singles Finals on Centre Court.
“There is something so special entering those gates,” recalled Hantuchova, a career Grand Slam champion in mixed doubles who won the 2001 Wimbledon title with Czech Leos Friedl. “I would say it’s the respect to the tradition and the elegance of the game that I appreciate the most whenever I go there.”
The 2002 quarterfinalist who lost to eventual champion Williams went on, “It’s the beauty and the artistic part of playing on grass. Everyone respects the tradition, plays in white, and it transfers to the elegant styles and the way you have to play on grass. You can’t really get away with not a good technique. I think that’s the part I enjoyed the most as a player, you have to have really nice timing and smooth shots.”
Tanasugarn, the 2008 quarterfinalist who was defeated by the eventual champion, Serena’s sister Venus Williams, treasures her Wimbledon memories. “I didn’t grow up on grass court. I grew up with a really fast hard court so I got used to grass court quite well because it is low and fast. And you don’t have time to think a lot on grass court because every ball was coming so fast,” she said. “I’ve been in the Round of 16 for quite many years and to be in the quarterfinal was really my dream. I’m glad I made it and it’s a good memory for me.”
Baghdatis, the 2006 semifinalist who lost to runner-up Rafael Nadal of Spain, talked about the surreal feeling whenever he entered the Millennium Building at the All England Lawn Tennis Club at SW19.
“Every year going there, for whenever you enter the Millennium Building where they drop off the players, you have goosebumps every time you enter because for me, it’s the history of tennis. Since I was young, Wimbledon was the only tournament that was shown on TV in my country,” shared the Cypriot.
“It’s where every player, every person who loves tennis wants to be and wants to compete one day,” said Baghdatis, who played his last professional match in 2019 at the Wimbledon second round where he lost to Italian Matteo Berrettini. “It was sad because I didn’t wanna leave the sport I love but on the other hand, it was the best gift I ever had in my life to have such a career and finish it at Wimbledon.”
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