Serena not a lock, Keys could shock
WIMBLEDON, England -- No. 20 seed Kirsten Flipkens. No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska. No. 23 Sabine Lisicki. No. 20 Marion Bartoli.
They were the 2013 Wimbledon semifinalists and all you need to know about trying to predict who will claw through the hay fever and high pressure of a fortnight here.
Serena Williams an automatic? Not so fast.
Of course, in 2012, the last time Williams won, all four semifinalists were in the top eight, but the year before -- when No. 8 Petra Kvitova took the women's title -- Lisicki made it in as a wild card. In other words, count on something weird in the women's draw.
And on that note, here are a half-dozen random predictions for this year's Wimbledon, which begins Monday:
1. Lisicki won't make it to the finals. She could very well not even make it out of the third round. Last year's runner-up to Bartoli and the slayer of Williams (in the fourth round) plays the women's "opener" Monday on Wimbledon's Centre Court (traditionally an honor given to the defending champion but was given to Lisicki because Bartoli retired from the sport).
Lisicki, who retired in the second round of the French Open with a wrist injury, is seeded 19th this year. After last year's collapse in the final, she admitted to being "overwhelmed by the whole situation," saying she hoped "I get the chance one more time." In the third round, Lisicki would most likely face No. 11 Ana Ivanovic, who is regaining the form of years past and was a semifinalist in '07 (although she hasn't been past the fourth round since).
2. Madison Keys, a rising American star for a few years now, will take her next big step here this fortnight. At 19, Keys is the youngest player currently ranked in the top 50 and will make her top-30 debut this week after defeating German Angelique Kerber in the Eastbourne finals in a prime Wimbledon tuneup.
By getting into the top 30, Keys will bypass Venus Williams. But more important than the numbers, Keys has the game and now the confidence to make a big splash on a surface she clearly loves. As a side note, Keys may face 18-year-old American Taylor Townsend in the second round in what could be a great match.
3. Maria Sharapova's woes against Serena Williams will continue. Despite Sharapova's terrific tennis over the last year, including the French Open title, her record against Williams is stark and not to be denied (16-2 in Williams' favor with Sharapova's last win coming in 2004).
The two should meet in the quarterfinals here, which is unfortunate for Sharapova, because Williams will likely come into Wimbledon as determined as ever after fourth-round and second-round losses in her last two Grand Slam tournaments and a fourth-round defeat here last year. She is also the only player who can reduce Sharapova, one of the most competitive players in the game, to just another in the field.
4. Don't count out Venus Williams. Even at 34 and with the chronic fatigue condition that has limited her in recent years, disregarding her at Wimbledon, where she is capable of fast, easy matches, is a mistake.
The other reason that Venus, seeded 30th, should not be overlooked here is a draw that has her in the same quarter as No. 2 Li Na, who has been uneven since winning the Australian Open in January, and the same half as No. 8 Victoria Azarenka, who is still coming back from a foot injury. She'd have to get past Kvitova, the enigmatic No. 8 seed, in the third round, but she certainly could. A terrific All-American fourth-rounder could see Venus versus Sloane Stephens.
5. And speaking of Stephens, expect her to take the next step. Though she does field criticism for not breaking through and competing for a Grand Slam title, the 21-year-old American and No. 18 seed here also happens to have reached the fourth round in her last six majors and the third round in the past nine.
Giving skeptics more ammo is Stephens' play in non-Grand Slam events, evidenced this year by five first-round exits. But she does like a big stage and she does have a decent half of the draw here if she can get past Venus Williams, a seemingly less than 100 percent Kvitova, and Li, who's not a dominant grass court player. If Stephens meets Williams in the fourth round, the winner could very well make it to the finals.
6. Among the most intriguing players to watch early on will be Azarenka. Anyone else who came into Wimbledon with just two matches played over the last five months (because of a foot injury) would automatically be ruled out in her first Grand Slam back. But Azarenka is a different animal (re: a great player and even better competitor).
I'm not saying she is going to get past the first week; just don't be surprised if she does. Though she has never won here, Azarenka is a two-time Grand Slam champion, and although she lost last week in Eastbourne to Camila Giorgi (Azarenka's first match since Indian Wells in early March), she pushed Giorgi to three sets in 2 hours, 47 minutes. This is the same Giorgi who had beaten top-10 players Sharapova and Dominika Cibulkova this season.