x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Serena Williams lacking serious opposition on Wimbledon quest

It is not the fault of the world No 1, who faces Sabine Lisicki on Monday, that the women's draw is look rather one-sided, writes Graham Caygill.

Serena Williams has looked dominant in the first week at Wimbledon.
Serena Williams has looked dominant in the first week at Wimbledon.

The groans were loud and regular on Twitter and other social media networks after Maria Sharapova had limply exited the women's competition at Wimbledon on Wednesday.

The 2004 champion had been pegged as the only player realistically capable of challenging world No 1 Serena Williams for the title, but the No 3 seed's meek 6-3, 6-4 loss to Michelle Larcher de Brito ended prospects of meeting in the final and their pre-tournament war of words escalating.

Second seed Victoria Azarenka is also out after she withdrew with injury sustained in her opening-round match when she took a nasty fall, the bottom half of the women's draw has a distinct lack of star quality as we enter the second week of competition at the All England Club.

Williams was the pre-tournament favourite to win a sixth Wimbledon crown and 17th grand slam and that has only increased with the absence of Sharapova and Azarenka.

The No 23 seed Sabine Lisicki is unlikely to cause Williams too many problems in their last-16 tie, on Monday on Centre Court, as the American's dominance on grass shows no sign of abating.

Given the gulf in class between Williams and the rest of the pack you could be forgiven for a certain level of apathy.

But that would be unfair. Williams is her generation's outstanding player and she can only beat whoever is at the other end of the court. It is not her fault the opposition does not amount to much.

Rafael Nadal's dominance of the French Open was celebrated last month, largely because the Spaniard has had to overcome the challenges of men of the calibre of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on his way to a record eight titles at Roland Garros.

Just because Williams does not have that level of opposition at present does not mean her status as a deserving champion should be diminished.

On paper her more demanding games this week are likely to come before the final in the top half of the draw, with a possible quarter-final with home favourite Laura Robson, the unseeded 19 year old Englishwoman, before a semi-final against either the 2011 French Open winner Li Na of China or world No 4 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.

Radwanska was Williams's opponent in last year's Wimbledon final, and the Pole mounted a strong challenge, taking the match to three sets, before losing.

Petra Kvitova is the only top-10 seed in the bottom-half of the draw.

The 23-year-old Czech is the only player left, other than Williams, to have won Wimbledon, prevailing over Sharapova in the 2011 final.

But she has endured an inconsistent season and she was fortunate to prevail in her third-round match with Ekaterina Makarova after trailing by a break in the final set before recovering.

Sloan Stephens has the powerful groundstrokes to make an impact on grass and the 20-year-old American knows what it takes to overcome Williams, having defeated her in the Australian Open quarter-finals in January.

There is also needle between the two after Stephens was critical of Williams in an interview in Time magazine in February, accusing her of playing "mind games" and that she is "who she is, so you just move on".

A grudge match in the final could be just what is needed to add some excitement to the competition, even if it is just a bump on the path to Williams's inevitable coronation.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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