Wimbledon is upon us, and this Grand Slam is filled with interesting storylines as always, including a battle for the world No. 1 ranking and a quarter of the draw with unprecedented star power. Read on to see which players are primed for success on the All England Club grass and which ones could be heading home early, as well as my pick for the title winner.
Serena Williams - Williams has always thrived under adversity, and boy will she be dealing with a lot of it here. Not only is she mired in a nine Grand Slam title drought that ties the longest stretch of her career without winning one, but Serena finds herself in a brutal quarter of the draw, which includes seven Grand Slam champions and five women who have held the No. 1 ranking, including current top player Ashleigh Barty. Despite all these challenges, it's hard not to view this as Williams' tournament to lose. She's the best server in the history of the women's game, and that skill plays up on grass, which is a major part of why Serena has won this title seven times already.
Madison Keys - With so many dangerous players stuffed into one quarter of the draw, there are naturally some softer spots elsewhere. Keys' aggressive style translates well to grass, and she seems to have landed in one of those soft spots despite just missing out on a top-16 seed. The 17th-seeded American has a comfortable early draw – which is exactly what the doctor ordered since she hasn't played since the French Open – and will likely face either Venus Williams or 10th-seeded Aryna Sabalenka in the third round. Venus is always dangerous on grass but is running on fumes at age 39, while Sabalenka is just 1-2 in her career at Wimbledon. After that would be a potential date with Simona Halep, who prefers slower surfaces and lost in the third round here last year.
Karolina Pliskova - Pliskova continues to search for that elusive first Grand Slam title, and Wimbledon could offer her best opportunity to finally get it. The No. 3 seed absolutely steamrolled the competition in Eastbourne last week, losing no more than six games in any match on her way to the grass-court title. Like Serena, Pliskova possesses a big serve that gains even more effectiveness on grass. I have all three of Serena, Pliskova and Keys in the semifinals, along with two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
Ashleigh Barty - Barty has a lot going for her, as she captured her first Grand Slam title at the French Open as well as the No. 1 ranking all within the past month. Grass is also her favorite surface, so what's not to like? For starters, she's battling a chronic arm injury that recently flared up and forced her to miss Eastbourne. Additionally, Barty has been placed into the aforementioned brutal portion of the draw, where former Grand Slam champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Garbine Muguruza lurk in the second and third rounds before a potential quarterfinal showdown with Serena. Given how common it is to see a slight dip in performance soon after capturing a first Grand Slam title, the negatives outweigh the positives for Barty at this tournament.
Naomi Osaka - A potential silver lining for Barty should she exit earlier than she'd like is that she could still hold onto the No. 1 ranking should second-seeded Osaka suffer the same fate. While there's no denying her hard-court prowess, Osaka has never been past the third round on the grass at Wimbledon. That was also the case on the red clay at Roland Garros, where she ended up losing in the third round once again and never looked comfortable. Osaka's lone grass-court tuneup ended with a second-round loss to Yulia Putintseva, whom Osaka will face in the first round here.
Camila Giorgi - Giorgi loves playing on grass. She's under .500 at each of the other three Grand Slams but 14-8 at Wimbledon, including a quarterfinal run in 2018. While Giorgi could create a minor ripple by upsetting 27th-seeded Sofia Kenin in the second round, she would really send shock waves through the draw with a similar result against Osaka in Round 3.
Jelena Ostapenko - Ostapenko suffered a hip injury at Eastbourne, but assuming it's nothing too serious, she could make some serious noise at this tournament. Despite routinely hitting double digits in the double fault category, Ostapenko is no stranger to deep Grand Slam runs, having won the 2017 French Open while reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2017 and the semifinals here in 2018. It would almost be surprising if the 22-year-old Latvian didn't upset No. 28 seed Su-Wei Hsieh in the first round, though toppling Pliskova in the third round will be a tall order for Ostapenko given their disparity in serving prowess.
At the end of the day, Williams will be hungry to prove she can still win here after losing the championship match to Angelique Kerber in 2018. The bottom half of the draw is open, and Keys is a proven Grand Slam performer, having made the quarterfinals or better in five of the past seven slams, starting with her run to the 2017 US Open final. This hypothetical final would feature no shortage of big hitting, but Williams' drive and experience would make her the clear-cut favorite.
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The obvious choice here would be Putintseva over Osaka, but Riske deserves some love after winning one of the warm-up tournaments on grass in 's-Hertogenbosch. Vekic is coming off a Round of 16 appearance at Roland Garros, but she's still just 18-23 in Grand Slams and 5-5 at Wimbledon in her career.