| By Brian Coleman

The 130th edition of the Wimbledon Championships gets underway on Monday as the top tennis players in the world will battle for the sport's most prestigious trophy. Serena Williams is the defending champion and without players like former number one Victoria Azarenka and former champion Maria Sharapova out of the tournament, the biggest question is can the American repeat. We broke down some of the contenders, pretenders and sleepers for this year's tournament at the All-England Lawn Club. 

Contenders

Serena Williams (USA): It is hard to believe that the clear world number one hasn’t won a major title since Wimbledon last year, but the American has yet to win a Grand Slam since she triumphed over Garbine Muguruza in London last year. It was the sixth Wimbledon title of her career and her first since 2012. Rust may be the only thing that could get in her way this time around. She has played just five tournaments in 2016 (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Rome and the French Open) and has one title to show for it. When on her game, she is still the best player in the world, and she will need to be quickly find her rhythm on the grass if she wants to defend her championship.


Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland): The “Ninja”, as she is referred to by her peers and fans, is one of the most entertaining players on the women’s tour. She can hit an array of shots and has a finesse-style game that keeps her in almost every point. Despite being ranked second in the world and a mainstay inside the top 10 since last summer, the Pole has reached just one Grand Slam final in her career, at Wimbledon four years ago. Her ousting at the French Open was tough to swallow for her as she blew a one-set lead, thanks in part to multiple rain delays that forced that match to be played over multiple days. The grass surface has always been her favorite, and look for Radwanska to bounce back with a strong showing on the All-England Lawn Club.


Madison Keys (USA): 2016 has been Madison Keys’ best season to date, and her recent play during the grass-court season has seen her catapult into the top 10 for the first time in her career, and with her talent, she looks to remain there for years to come. She captured the title in Birmingham leading up to Wimbledon and her power-style seems to be perfectly suited for the grass. Her best showing at Wimbledon was a quarterfinal appearance last year, and with former world number ones Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova both missing from this year’s draw, this could be the tournament that sees Keys break through with her maiden Grand Slam title.

 

Pretenders

Garbine Muguruza (Spain): Listing Muguruza as a pretender was not a decision that came easy. Just weeks ago, the Spaniard captured the first Grand Slam championship of her career with a win over Serena Williams in the French Open final, and she also reached the finals of Wimbledon a year ago. But as we saw with Angelique Kerber after she broke through at the Australian Open, the following Grand Slam tournament can be a tough one. Whether it is a hangover or too high of expectations, players pour a lot of energy into winning a major title, and sometimes the effects of that can be evident in the proceeding tournaments. Muguruza lost her first match following her win in Roland Garros, a straight-sets defeat to Kirsten Flipkens in Mallorca. It is the only match she has played since Paris and the combination of rust and players gunning for her could result in an earlier Wimbledon exit than the Spaniard would hope for.


Belinda Bencic (Switzerland): Bencic, like Muguruza, is another one of the young and talented players who look to be consistent stars on the women’s tour for years to come. She is just 19 years old and reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals at the tender age of 17 two years ago. The Swiss has had an up and down 2016 so far, posting a record of 14-12, with recent early exits in Nottingham and Eastbourne, key grass-court tune-ups, as an indication of her inconsistent play. After going 14-3 on grass last year, Bencic is just 3-3 in this year. She has the talent to beat just about anybody on tour, but she also has the tendency to lose to inferior opponents as evidenced by losses to Kristyna Pliskova, Magdalena Rybarikova and Elena Vesnina this year. While Grand Slam titles should be part of her future, don’t look for Bencic to make a deep run in England next week.


Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic): The 11th ranked Czech is a two-time Wimbledon champion, having raised the trophy in 2011 and 2014, so it is tough to list her as a pretender. But injuries and recent inconsistent play have hampered Kvitova’s progress. 2015 was not kind to her as she dealt with mononucleosis which zapped her of energy and forced her out of a lot of big tournaments, and she has struggled to regain her top form since. She dealt with gastrointestinal illness to start this season and has posted a record of just 15-11, including winning just one match in Eastbourne before falling to Johanna Konta in the Czech’s only Wimbledon tune up. In that loss to Konta, Kvitova was bageled in a set for the first time in her career on grass, a clear indication of her inconsistency and lack of top form. While she has certainly shown that she can dominate on the grass, Kvitova is still working her way back from a tough 2015, and that will show on the Wimbledon courts this year.

 

Sleepers

Venus Williams (USA): The five-time Wimbledon champion has had a career resurgence over the last year or so. She made it to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2010 at last year’s Australian Open, and followed that up with a quarterfinal run at the U.S. Open. The Wimbledon courts have where she has found the most success in her career, and with her health improved, Venus could be poised to make another deep run, especially with the fact that the absence of top players like Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova opens up the draw even more. She hasn’t played since the French Open and that rest can help an older player. Venus has the experience on the grass courts that will neutralize any rust she has, and look for the American to surprise folks with a deep run over the next couple of weeks.


Eugenie Bouchard (Canada): Two years ago, a young Canadian burst onto the scene with a run all the way to the Wimbledon final. She would lose that final to Maria Sharapova and since then, Bouchard has had her struggles. Even after a fourth-round appearance at last year’s U.S. Open, she fell and hit her head in the locker room, sustaining a concussion which forced her to withdraw. Her ranking has dropped to 48th in the world but she has shown signs of health thus far in 2016. Her record isn’t outstanding, just 22-13, but she has been played three grass-court tournaments leading up to Wimbledon, and that match play experience could help her regain the form that saw her reach the finals two years ago. She certainly has the talent, and if she can find consistency, Bouchard could make a deep run in London.


Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic): There are very few players on the women’s tour who possess the power and strong serve that Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova has. Her game is suited for the quick grass courts, and if she can find consistency on her serve she is tough for anyone to beat. Despite winning titles in her career, she has never performed well at the Grand Slams. Her best showings were third-round appearances at the U.S. Open two years ago, and at the Australian Open the last two years.  The 17th ranked Pliskova has shown good signs on grass over the last couple of weeks, raising the trophy in Nottingham, and making a deep run in Eastbourne. She will have plenty of grass experience heading into Wimbledon, and this could be the Grand Slam that Pliskova finally breaks through on the big stage.

 

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com