Wimbledon women’s draw – analysis and predictions

Serena Williams is always the favorite at any Grand Slam. Unless something happens.

Something happened in Australia. And something happened in Paris. And she hasn't played since.

Something happened at Wimbledon a year ago, too. So it's hard to know exactly which version of Serena Williams will appear. But if it's any semblance of regular old Serena, the tournament remains hers to lose. As it happens, she arguably has the toughest draw of the top contenders (except perhaps for Maria Sharapova, who lines up with Williams for a quarter-final showdown).

Third-round predictions:

[1] Serena Williams vs. [25] Alizé Cornet
[13] Eugenie Bouchard vs. [20] Andrea Petkovic
[9] Angelique Kerber vs. [24] Kirsten Flipkens
[5] Maria Sharapova vs. [26] Anastasia Pavluchenkova

[3] Simona Halep vs. [29] Sorana Cirstea
[15] Carla Suárez Navarro vs. [21] Roberta Vinci
[11] Ana Ivanovic vs. [19] Sabine Lisicki
[7] Jelena Jankovic vs. [31] Klara Koukalova

[8] Victoria Azarenka vs. [27] Garbiñe Muguruza
[10] Dominika Dibulkova vs. [23] Lucie Safarova
[14] Sara Errani vs. [22] Ekaterina Makarova
[4] Agnieszka Radwanska vs, [28] Svetlana Kuznetsova

[6] Petra Kvitova vs. [30] Venus Williams
[12] Flavia Pennetts vs. [18] Sloane Stephens
[16] Caroline Wozniacki vs. [17] Samantha Stosur
[2] Li Na vs. [32] Elena Vesnina

Round of 16 predictions:

[1] Serena Williams vs. [13] Eugenie Bouchard
[5] Maria Sharapova vs. [9] Angelique Kerber
[3] Simona Halep vs. [21] Roberta Vinci
[7] Jelena Jankovic vs. [11] Ana Ivanovic

[8] Victoria Azarenka vs. [23] Lucie Safarova
[4] Agnieszka Radwanska vs. [22] Ekaterina Makarova
[30] Venus Williams vs. [18] Sloane Stephens
[2] Li Na vs. [16] Caroline Wozniacki

Quarter-final predictions:

[1] Serena Williams vs. [5] Maria Sharapova
[3] Simona Halep vs. [11] Ana Ivanovic
[4] Agnieszka Radwanska vs. [8] Victoria Azarenka
[2] Li Na vs. [30] Venus Williams

Here are the potential paths to the title for the top contenders (we include Sharapova, but not Halep, whom we ignore at our own peril):

[1] Serena Williams: Anna Tatishvili (USA - she used to be from Georgia - the country, not the state), Christina Mchale (USA), Alizé Cornet (FRA), [13] Genie Bouchard (CAN) or [20] Andrea Petkovic (GER), [5] Maria Sharapova (RUS), [11] Ana Ivanovic, [2] Li Na.

[2] Li Na: Paula Kania (POL), Vania King (USA), [32] Elena Vesnina (RUS), [16] Caroline Wozniacki (DEN), [30] Venus Williams (USA), [4] Agnieszka Radwanska, [1] Serena Williams.

[4] Agnieszka Radwanska: Andreea Mitu (ROU), Casey Dellacqua (AUS), [28] Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS), [22] Ekaterina Makarova (RUS), [8] Victoria Azarenka, [2] Li Na, [1] Serena Williams

[5] Maria Sharapova: [WC] Samantha Murray (GBR), [Q] Timea Bacsinszky (SUI), [26] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Camila Giorgi (ITA), [9] Angelique Kerber (GER), [1] Serena Williams, [11] Ana Ivanovic, [2] Li Na.

Most of the contenders seem to have routine victories in the early going (more so then the men, although you never know). But even assuming Serena Williams is 100 per cent fit, ready and motivated, she has the most difficult fourth-round match of them all. She could face 2012 Wimbledon junior champion and world No. 13 Genie Bouchard, or the charismatic Petkovic.

As for Li Na, she's been a shadow the last few months. It's hard to know exactly what kind of tennis she'll produce. And for that reason, we have this sneaking suspicion that Venus Williams, seeded No. 30 but obviously with a supreme grass-court pedigree, might – MIGHT – sneak in there and have herself a big tournament.

Yes, that's a total longshot. Williams's days of being a Slam contender are long behind her. All of this, of course, is assuming Venus's health allows her to compete every two days. That's something she's always battling. She's as likely to lose in the first round, or pull out together before it even starts, as she is to go deep into a draw these days.

But with No. 6 seed Petra Kvitova battling a bit of injury (her withdrawal from the grass-court tuneup was likely just out a precaution, but you never know), and players like Li, the rusty Azarenka, the recently-inconsistent Radwanska and Sloane Stephens in her quarter, it's all lining up for something potentially heartwarming for the now 34-year-old.

Once again, French Open champion Sharapova's path goes through Serena – no matter where she's seeded, it seems to be a magnetic attraction. Serena didn't make the date in Paris; we suspect she'll make this one.

It's probably not going out on a limb to predict that if that quarter-final happens, the winner will take home the champion's dish.

And if there were betting in tennis, we'd put a few quid on a Williams vs. Williams final. Well, maybe one quid. It used to be that was an ordinary occurrence, and it wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience for either players or fans. But in 2014? It's unlikely, obviously, but wouldn't that be something?

Players you don't want to run into
in the early rounds

That category would belong to Italy's Camila Giorgi, who cranks the ball and is capable of pulling off a win at any time – especially on a fast surface like grass, if she's on. Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova could get her in the second round.

First-round matches to watch:

There are a TON of them on the women's side.

[13] Genie Bouchard vs. Daniela Hantuchova: The elegant Slovak and the up-and-coming Canadian will meet on grass, a place both are comfortable. This one was supposed to happen in Fed Cup as the countries battled for a spot in World Group I in April. But Hantuchova decided not to play.

[24] Kirsten Flipkens vs. [Q] Tamira Paszek: The first thing is that Paszek is going to have to calm down from the major emotions she let loose after winning her final-round qualifying match Thursday. But she's got time to do it. Flipkens's slice backhand is a great strength on grass; but until last year, when she surprised everyone by defeating former champion Petra Kvitova and making the semi-finals (losing to eventual champion Bartoli), her results on the green hadn't been much. She's got all those ranking points to defend. Let's see how the Belgian handles it.

[11] Ana Ivanovic vs. Francesca Schiavone: Two former French Open champs who aren't what they once were, although Ivanovic is getting a lot closer to her 2008 No. 1 form than she has been in a long time. A great contrast in styles in what possibly could be Schiavone's final trip to the lawns.

[21] Roberta Vinci vs. Donna Vekic: This one is a study in contrasts in every day. There the 30-something vs. teenager aspect. There's the all-around game (featuring the most beauteous slice you'll see in the women's game) against the straightforward power game. There's even the brunette vs. blonde thing. As well, the Croatian Vekic lives and trains in the U.K., so it's almost home court for her. The two are in a section of the draw where they could do some damage, if they get past this one.

[31] Klara Koukalova vs. [WC] Taylor Townsend: The young American loves the grass. Koukalova (formerly Zakopalova, before she unloaded the hubby and went back to her maiden name), not so much. After her French Open effort, everyone's excited to see what Townsend can do.

[19] Sabine Lisicki vs. Julia Glushko: No, you've likely not heard of Glushko, who is from Israel. But she's not a bad player. The thing is that the emotional Lisicki inherited that uber-traditional Tuesday opening-match slot usually reserved for the "lady champion". But that champion, Marion Bartoli, has retired. And so the runner-up gets it. It's hard to believe that Lisicki defeated Serena Williams and reached the final a year ago. It's even harder to see it happening again. This one could be scary if Lisicki's head isn't in the right place.

[27] Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Coco Vandeweghe: She hasn't quite maximized her talent yet, but it says here that it's far too late to give up on the American Vandeweghe. We still put her in the same category as the other tall, great-serving up-and-comers in the women's game even though it seems she's been around longer. But she's only 22, and she's at a career-high No. 69 this week and rising. Muguruza is one of those (Tomljanovic, Keys, Mladenovic, Garcia are some of the others). So it's a great "state of the game" matchup. Vandeweghe is still alive in the grass tuneup event this week.

That's just a few of them. Check back each day for the Busted Racquet Wimbledon daily preview to see which ones are scheduled.

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