Seeds are being uprooted from Wimbledon, especially on the women’s side of the draw. When so much of the landscape is being shaken and stirred — and boundaries are being stretched and blurred — it is hard to find a sense of place.
It is hard to find your roots and make them stretch deep into the ground, underneath the still-green lawns of Wimbledon on Day 3 of the tournament.
The WTA side of The Championships continues to produce an exodus of seeded players. Madison Keys and Serena Williams are the only seeds left in their quarter. Five of the top 10 seeds are gone after only three days of play. It’s a strawberries and cream smoothie, with so many seeds going into the blender.
A question you might be asking: “How surprised should I, as an observer, be?”
This piece will try to answer that question, and the conclusion is not nearly as complicated as you might think. This Wimbledon tournament will be very complicated, but the notion that this is a surprise does not require a complex answer.
Here are the 32 Wimbledon seeds on the WTA side. The notes attached to most of the names tell this story without need for a lot of elaboration. Notes refer to Wimbledon histories unless otherwise specified:
Simona Halep — last Wimbledon semifinal in 2014
Caroline Wozniacki — never past the fourth round of Wimbledon
Sloane Stephens — never made a Wimbledon semifinal
Elina Svitolina — never past the fourth round
Caroline Garcia — never made a major semifinal
Karolina Pliskova — never past the second round until this year
Petra Kvitova — no Wimbledon semi or final since 2014
Venus Williams — age 38 and going through a challenging season
Madison Keys — never made a Wimbledon semifinal
Jelena Ostapenko – never made a Wimbledon semifinal
Julia Goerges — never made a major semifinal
Daria Kasatkina – never made a major semifinal
Elise Mertens – never made a Wimbledon semifinal
CoCo Vandeweghe – never made a Wimbledon semifinal
Ashleigh Barty – never made the fourth round at any major
Naomi Osaka – never past the fourth round at any major
Magdalena Rybarikova — past the fourth round at only 1 of 39 majors entering Wimbledon
Kiki Bertens — never made a Wimbledon semifinal
Anastasija Sevastova — never made a major semifinal
Johanna Konta — like Venus, a player going through a rough 2018 after a much stronger 2017
Barbora Strycova – never made a major semifinal
Maria Sharapova — no major semifinals since her return from suspension
Daria Gavrilova – never made a major semifinal
Carla Suarez Navarro – never made a major semifinal
Anett Kontaveit — never past the fourth round at a major
Mihaela Buzarnescu – never past the fourth round at a major
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – never made a major semifinal
Shuai Zhang – never made a major semifinal
Agnieszka Radwanska – last major semifinal in 2016 (Australian Open)
If you do the math, that makes 22 of 32 seeds who failed to reach at least one of these two milestones: a major semifinal or a Wimbledon semifinal.
Of the remaining 10 players, Venus is 38 and facing an uphill climb; Rybarikova had one run at Wimbledon last year but has historically struggled at majors; Konta has struggled this year; Sharapova has not done well at Wimbledon in many years; Radwanska is not the player she once was; and both Kvitova and Halep had not made the Wimbledon semifinals (or better) since 2014.
You will note that only three players did not receive a note in the list above: Muguruza, the defending champion and a proven Wimbledon player; Kerber, a relatively recent finalist who is playing solid tennis this season — not as well as 2016, but certainly well enough to merit respect at this tournament; and Serena Williams, who needs no long dissertation or thesis paper.
Whether it’s the 22 players without a Wimbledon or major semifinal; the four players going through noticeable struggles this season; two major champions (Halep and Kvitova) who haven’t done well at Wimbledon in four years; or Rybarikova — the one-hit wonder from 2017 — a total of 29 WTA seeds at Wimbledon entered this tournament with ample reason to be distrusted.
If this had been a hardcourt major and not Wimbledon, this column could not have been written. The top 10 seeds at Wimbledon, if placed in a hardcourt context (which will be worth noting at the upcoming U.S. Open), would not own a hardcourt drought along the lines detailed above.
Halep and Wozniacki made the final of the most recent hardcourt major. Stephens and Keys made the final of the previous hardcourt major. Venus made the semifinals of that major within a 2017 season which sparkled. Elina Svitolina crushed some of the hardcourt Premier 5s last year. Caroline Garcia made her late-season run on hardcourts. Pliskova made hardcourt major quarterfinals in 2017 and reached the semifinals of the WTA Finals, on hardcourts. Players who know how to perform on cement are much more numerous than on grass.
This Wimbledon figured to be chaotic. More precisely, it figured to be a tournament in which seeds mattered very little beyond structuring the draw. (Case in point: Serena at 25 means she could play Keys in the fourth round. Had Serena been seeded at 24, she might have drawn Keys in the third or avoided her in a different section of the draw. Beyond that kind of example, seeds have not mattered.)
If 29 of 32 seeds carry SIGNIFICANT reasons for doubt into a major tournament, an exodus of those seeds after just three days of play at SW19 should not rate as a surprise at all.
Finding your roots on grass is a complicated process for WTA pros right now, but no one should be surprised by this — that point is not particularly complicated in any larger sense.