In these central weeks of preparation for Wimbledon — the brief burst of activity in the conspicuously limited grass-court season — the foremost question on the two tours is not necessarily who is the most rested or tired. The more precise line of inquiry which most urgently arises at this time of year is this: How much benefit can one derive from a big week at a grass-court warm-up if s/he made a relatively deep run in Paris at Roland Garros?
In recent years, Serena Williams has not needed to play well — or even play at all — during the warm-up stages of the grass season after making French Open finals. Venus Williams did not need to play the warm-ups last year to make a run to the Wimbledon final. On the other hand, Garbine Muguruza made the Birmingham semifinals last year before winning Wimbledon. Magdalena Rybarikova thrashed the competition in a series of grass tournaments to build up her ranking, make the main draw, and then roll to the Wimbledon semifinals. As is often the case in tennis, “one size fits all” generally doesn’t apply. This is a case-by-case situation.
What is the outlook as 2018 leaps onto the lawns of Europe?
This is not meant to be exhaustive and comprehensive, but offer a look into several specific player profiles on the WTA Tour:
Jo Konta made the Nottingham final — where HawkEye did not exist — and game unglued in the face of what she felt were bad linescalls. She won’t have to worry about a lack of HawkEye at Wimbledon, so that’s not a concern. What is a concern? Her lack of composure.
It’s understandable that Konta is feeling stressed. She switched coaches, and the change has generally not worked out for her. She has not developed her forehand side to the extent she has needed to. A certain degree of trust is still missing.
However, Konta did produce a full week of tennis in Nottingham. Given that she plays grass legend Petra Kvitova in the first round of Birmingham, she probably won’t get through that test. If she loses, she has still accumulated matches and thereby performed enough work to suggest that she can rev up the engines at Wimbledon. Had Konta lost early in Nottingham, the Kvitova match would have carried much more significant consequences. As it is, Konta has been able to shake free from the misery of clay season. The next step: acquiring a calm and more rooted focus on her game, worrying less about the pressure of the moment and defending Wimbledon points from last year.
Donna Vekic and Ashleigh Barty also did well this past week. Match play is not an essential need for them in the rest of the pre-Wimbledon grass calendar, as is the case for any player who plays a full week of tennis in what is generally a two-week warm-up season. (Some players will play in the first and second weeks after the French Open, others the second and third weeks. Rare is the player who will play in all three weeks. Getting one full week is the minimum desired goal. Two full weeks generally work better for someone who did not play much on clay, as is the case for Barty, Vekic and Konta.)
Who needs to play tennis either this week or the next? Not any of the four French Open semifinalists. Garbine Muguruza can turn on the jets at Wimbledon — she has shown she can raise her game when she needs to on non-hardcourt surfaces.
Simona Halep needs rest and can play her way into form the first week at SW19. The same should be true for Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys.
A good example: the aforementioned Magdalena Rybarikova, whose victory over Karolina Pliskova on Monday represents a huge result. Rybarikova short-circuited the big-hitting Pliskova last year at Wimbledon, so the ability to replicate that feat 11 months later should give Rybarikova all the belief she needs as she tries to defend all her grass points from 2017.
Another good example: Anastasija Sevastova. The Latvian carried high hopes into Paris as someone who could cause trouble, but she crashed out in the first round of Roland Garros. When one considers how well Rybarikova fares on grass with her slices and off-pace shots, Sevastova has a similar toolbox of skills and adaptable qualities. Emotive on court and unafraid to display her true feelings in any moment (sometimes to the point of being overly negative toward herself), Sevastova needs to get some work done in Mallorca this week, starting with her Tuesday match against 2017 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Attritional nutrition on the WTA Tour heading into Wimbledon means getting enough match play to feel confident, but not more match play than the body reasonably needs. We will see in five or six days how the calculus of the grass season evolves before the most famous tournament in tennis.