When Serena Williams won Wimbledon in 2015, she had gone three-quarters of the way through completing the Calendar Slam (which would have been the second of her brilliant career), and had moved within one major of equaling Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam singles’ title.
She somehow conspired to lose to the threat-less game of Roberta Vinci in the 2015 US Open semis, fell in the Australian Open final to an inspired Angelique Kerber, and was out-hit by Garbine Muguruza in the French Open final.
Very much has been made of Serena’s serve, her power, her athleticism; but perhaps, she doesn’t get as much credit for her remarkable longevity.
The American has had to battle through different generations and rivalries. From Martina Hingis, to Kim Clijsters; Maria Sharapova to Madison Keys, Serena keeps going strong.
The latest rival to join the mix is Angelique Kerber. From virtually out of nowhere, Kerber turned into a Grand Slam demon in 2016. She had already stung Serena at the Australian Open, and attempted an encore at Wimbledon, having beaten Venus Williams in the semi-finals to prevent an all-Williams final. Kerber was a woman on a mission to stop all things Williams, it would seem. Like an agent sent by countrywoman Graf to prevent Serena Williams from matching her record. The 2016 final was another tight affair, but Williams just about kept her composure to keep out the impressive Kerber in straights sets and capture that 22nd Grand Slam title, seven of them at Wimbledon. It had taken longer than expected, but Serena could finally celebrate.
Angelique Kerber was a woman on a mission in 2016. (Photo by: ANDY RAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Having equalled Graf’s record, attentions immediately turned towards breaking it, but for the second straight year, Serena fell in the semi-finals of her home Grand Slam in New York. The last fifteen months have thought us not to take anything for granted. If Karolina Pliskova can bully Serena at the US Open, why can’t she do the same at Wimbledon?
Pliskova’s big-hitting game seems tailor-made for Wimbledon, and having got her Grand Slam break through, she will look to step on the gas in 2017, and the All England Club will undoubtedly be one of her big targets. If she finds her range, she can be almost impossible to stop.
With Serena Williams in the draw, it is hard to crown any other woman as Wimbledon favourite, but the route to an eighth title at SW 19 will be very treacherous.
Angelique Kerber has shown herself to be a very capable grass-court player. The German gets a lot of plaudits for her court coverage, but she also has one of the best transition games in the sport, and her ability to switch quickly from defence to attack played a major role in her fantastic 2016. That offensive edge in her game serves her very well on grass.
Even before her 2016 surge, Kerber’s first real mark on women’s tennis was at Wimbledon in 2012, where she made the semi-final (losing to Agnieszka Radwanska). Radwanska strangely does well at Wimbledon. The crafty Pole made the final in 2012 (and even managed to take a set off Serena), and she has made two more semi-finals since then.
Wimbledon always brings out the best in the crafty Radwanska. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Those two semi-final losses have come against the booming serves of Sabine Lisicki (9-7 in the third in 2013); and the power of Garbine Muguruza in 2015; and therein lies the problem for Radwanska, particularly at Wimbledon. She can trick her way past one or two big-hitters, but she will eventually bump into one that will find her range and blow/edge her off the court. Regardless of whether she wins or not, Radwanska’s variety has been a delight to watch at Wimbledon over the years, and she will again entertain, at the very least, in 2017.
Those big-hitters cannot be excluded from the Wimbledon conversion. Former finalist, Garbine Muguruza retains a threat, so does Madison Keys, and maybe Venus Williams has still got one last performance in her. Let’s not forget also that Maria Sharapova, 2004’s teenage champion should be back for Wimbledon 2017.
One thing we know for sure, and possibly the only thing we know for sure, is that Wimbledon will as always see some big upsets as players try to find their feet on grass. Will Serena Williams survive the upheaval, and add another Wimbledon title to her collection? There’s only one way to find out – and that’s to watch live when Wimbledon 2017 begins on Monday, July 3.