Draws are fascinating entities, regardless of whether they come to fruition in later rounds or not. Draws, as I so often like to say, shape stories. They mean one of two prominent players won’t get past a particular threshold. They mean that superstars will meet earlier rather than later, or vice-versa. They can also put certain nations in the spotlight.
That last possibility has become a reality at Wimbledon in 2018. The women’s draw has thrust America into the center of the discussion… or should we say the bottom of it?
While the top half of the draw owns some fundamental questions — “Will Simona Halep be hungry or spent after her emotional Roland Garros title? Will Petra Kvitova handle hot weather in week one (the forecast is in the 80s, Fahrenheit)? Will Garbine Muguruza regroup after her semifinal loss in Paris?” — the bottom half is conspicuous in its proliferation of Americans who all have good chances to make deep runs. More precisely, the bottom half of the draw includes a large number of Americans in the right spots. Their places in the draw were evenly distributed, such that only two of them have to worry about an earlier-than-hoped-for meeting.
Look at the four sections (groups of 16 players) in the bottom half. Venus Williams got a great draw in her section. So did Sloane Stephens. So did CoCo Vandeweghe. Serena Williams didn’t get a great draw through four rounds, but she got a favorable draw through three, facing the struggling Elina Svitolina in the third round should both players get that far. Madison Keys, of all the American women with a strong chance of doing well at SW19 in the coming fortnight, received the worst draw. Grass sage Magdalena Rybarikova potentially awaits in the third round. If Keys can get past that test, Serena would loom in the fourth round.
Bad luck for Serena and especially Madison? Sure… but in a larger context, this is the landscape of the bottom half of the WTA draw at the All England Club: If you thought American influence and stature were on the decline in Europe these days, women’s tennis is likely to be an exception because of this draw.
Venus, Stephens, and the Keys-Serena winner will all be favored to win their sections. Yes, Venus is included here, since the other top-10 seed in her section, Karolina Pliskova, has never been particularly comfortable on Wimbledon lawns. The Czech has never reached the third round at the Big Dubya. Vandeweghe might not be a clear favorite to win her section, but she has as good a chance as anyone. Her draw isn’t simple, but one could have imagined more threatening possibilities.
Yes, this Wimbledon promises to be unpredictable, so maybe only two of the five American women will make the quarterfinals on July 10. Even then, if those two quarterfinalists are in separate quarters, an all-American semifinal — which is what the French Open produced with Keys and Stephens — is not only very much in play, but likely to occur.
Not one of the five best American grass threats went to the other half of the draw. Not one was placed in the path of defending champion Garbine Muguruza, World No. 1 Simona Halep, or two-time Wimbledon champion and legitimately realistic title contender Petra Kvitova. These American contenders share real estate in the bracket with Pliskova, Wozniacki, Svitolina, Julia Goerges, and other players who have never gotten past the fourth round of Wimbledon.
Even before Friday’s draw was revealed, the lack of Wimbledon success among the top 10 seeds was noticeable. Of the top 10 seeds, only three — Muguruza at 3, Kvitova at 8, and Venus at 9 — had ever made a Wimbledon final. Of those same top 10 seeds, only two have made a Wimbledon semifinal over the past three years (Venus and Muguruza). In contrast, of the top 10 seeds, a majority — six players — have never gone past the quarterfinals at the Big Dubya. The four who have: Venus, Muguruza and Kvitova, of course, plus Halep back in 2014.
This was — and is — a tournament in which a lot of unproven seeds will meet profound challenges. The five Americans with the best chances of making deep runs did not receive equally easy draws — just ask Madison Keys — but their biggest obstacles on the road to July 14’s women’s final comes from each other, not from other nations.
The United States has a green field of opportunity in the bottom half of the WTA Wimbledon draw. We will soon see if summer gardening and lawn care are given the attention they need.
Image source – Jimmie 48