Order, rather than the customary chaos, has been the trend on the WTA tour this year. Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, and Serena Williams have all had their surges, and have all taken their turns in the winner's circle. The trend was temporarily bucked at the French Open, when Serena and Vika went out early, and Sara Errani clawed her way to the final. But in the end order was re-restored, when Sharapova won the tournament, and sent herself to Wimbledon as the freshly minted No. 1.
At the moment, with Maria and Vika at 1 and 2, and Serena gaining, we have clarity at the top. How long will it last? The world awaits a final-round showdown between former Wimbledon champs and Centre Court devotees Maria and Serena. What are the chances the world gets it? The Ladies' draw will give us an idea.
Sharapova, last year's runner-up, comes in with more confidence, and a better serve, than she's had since her shoulder surgery four years ago, and she's returning to the tournament she says she loves best. Her draw? She may have her tests, but her two biggest rivals and nemeses, Williams and Azarenka, as well as the woman who beat her in the final in 2011, Petra Kvitova, are all safely in the other half.
One early obstacle could be Tsvetana Pironkova, a Bulgarian who generally saves her best for Wimbledon; he made the semis and the quarters the last two years, respectively. After that, um, let's see, Sloane Stephens' name sticks out, though she's never played a match at Wimbledon. Petra Cetkovska is the 23rd seed, and she reached the fourth round here last year-not that she's going to upset Maria this time or anything. Sabine Lisicki made the semis in 2011, though her first round opponent, Petra Martic, is no slouch. Lisicki seems to have a knack for being injured a lot, yet still managing to appear in the draw.
First round match to watch: Mona Barthel, a nice young player who was awful in Paris, vs. former finalist Vera Zvonareva
Also here: Christina McHale
First-round match to watch: Clijsters vs. Jankovic
Agnieszka Radwanska: How do we feel about her, after the strange demolition that she suffered at the hands of Kuznetsova at the French? Is Aga, the world No. 3, still ascending? She has been to the quarters twice at Wimbledon, but went out in the 2nd round last year. She's the top seed in this section, though she might have to play five-time champion Venus Williams, for the third time since April, in the second round. It's tough to have any idea how Venus will do from day to day. She's didn't have it against Radwanska in Paris, but Wimbledon is her playground and her refuge.
That second-rounder could be an important one, because this is a wide-open section. Sam Stosur, the second seed, is 5-9 lifetime at Wimbledon, having gone out in her opening round the last two years. Who can take advantage? Li Na, suddenly all the way down at No. 11, has a chance; she's been a quarterfinalist here twice. Ditto for 20th seed Nadia Petrova, who reached the round of 16 last year. How about Melanie Oudin? She just won her first WTA event, on grass, and she made her first breakthrough at Wimbledon in 2009.
Here's a potential blockbuster quarterfinal matchup: Serena Williams vs. Petra Kvitova. Serena is the last woman to beat Kvitova at Wimbledon, in the 2010 semifinals. They haven't played since.
What are the chances they'll make it far enough to face each other this time? Each can obviously be brilliant, but each can have her lapses-do they have a collective eight early-round wins in them?
On the surface, Serena's draw looks safe. The first seed she would face would be Jie Zheng, a semifinalist in 2008 who hasn't been past the second round since. The second highest seed in Williams' half is Errani, who is a career 4-4 at Wimbledon and seems primed for a letdown.
Kvitova can turn any match into a test, but on paper at least, the first one she might get would be in the third round, from either Lepchenko or Pavlyuchenkova. After that, the name to watch is Cibulkova, who upset Wozniacki last year on her way to the quarterfinals. Petra is 4-0 against Domi.
Semifinalist: S. Williams
Which Victoria Azarenka will we see this fortnight? The one from last year's Wimbledon, who reached her first Slam semi? Or the one who looked fed up from day one at the French Open last month? Vika starts with American Irina Falconi, and should, theoretically, proceed from there. The closest seed to her, Anabel Medina Garrigues, has lost in the first round here the last two years. Two players who could trouble Azarenka in the fourth round would be Ana Ivanovic or Julia Goerges-Ivanovic, in particular, who was close to beating Errani at Roland Garros and has mostly lost to top players recently, seems due for a solid Slam result. I'd like her chances better is she weren't opening with Martinez Sanchez, who won their only meeting, in 2010.
Azarenka's unpredictability makes this a section of opportunity, as does the fact that the second seed is the reeling Caroline Wozniacki. Caro, fresh off her poor showing in Paris, tried out a new service stance last week and lost to Christina McHale. Now she gets Tamira Paszek, who is in the midst of a surprise run to the Eastbourne final, in the first round.
Also here: Kuznetsova, Bartoli, and grass lover Kimiko Date-Krumm
First-round match to watch: Wozniacki vs. Paszek
Semifinals: S. Williams d. Ivanovic; Sharapova d. Radwanska
Final: S. Williams d. Sharapova