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Wimbledon 2018 women's contenders: How are the top seeds and dark horses shaping up as Wimbledon approaches?

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 25 Jun 2018
  • With Wimbledon approaching, how are the top seeds and dark horses for the women's title shaping up?
  • We look at the form and preparations of the Wimbledon title contenders with grass-court season in full swing
  • Serena Williams, Simona Halep and defending champion Garbine Muguruza are among the favourites
Garbine Muguruza is the defending champion and one of the favourites at Wimbledon 2018 but who will emerge as a leading contender for the title? (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Serena Williams, defending champion Garbine Muguruza and world no. 1 Simona Halep are among the favourites to win Wimbledon in 2018: We look at how all the top contenders for the title are shaping up ahead of The Championships.



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With not long to go before the third Grand Slam of the year begins on Monday 2 July, all the players from seven-time champion Serena Williams to the likes of dark horse Anett Kontaveit are racing to be fit and to find their best grass-court form in time for Wimbledon.

International-level events are played on grass in Nottingham, 's-Hertogenbosch and Mallorca as well as the back-to-back Premier events in Birmingham and Eastbourne, with the majority of the top 20 scheduled to play one or both - while others, like Serena and Venus Williams, opt to save their energies for the main event itself and trust themselves to find their best form there (and with 12 Wimbledon titles between them, who's going to argue?). 

Take a look at our rundown of the top seeds, the title contenders and the dark horses, and how they're all looking ahead of Wimbledon 2018.

Serena Williams

Wimbledon titles: 7

2017 result: Did not play

Grass-court schedule: Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

Serena Williams  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
It says something quite impressive about you if you can be joint favourite to win the Wimbledon title when you have only actually played eight singles matches in the entirety of the 2018 season - but such is the legend of Serena Williams.

On a 14-match winning streak after capturing her sixth and seventh titles at the All-England Club in 2015-16, Williams missed Wimbledon in 2017 due to pregnancy and returns in 2018 as the world no. 183 - if she returns at all. Williams's participation is something of a question mark: Although finding rekindling her career after becoming a mother more difficult than she anticipated after a difficult childbirth, Williams was clearly targeting Wimbledon when she made the decision to play the French Open despite not having played any warm-up events on clay - and she swiftly played herself into surprisingly fearsome form, beating three opponents to make the fourth round.

But playing doubles as well as singles in an attempt to find form fast backfired as Williams suffered a right pectoral muscle injury which hampered her serve and caused her to pull out of Roland Garros ahead of a much-anticipated fourth-round clash with Maria Sharapova, something Williams called 'disappointing beyond belief'. 

An MRI did not reveal a muscle tear, however, and as such it looks very hopeful that Williams will play at Wimbledon - although with no warm-up events scheduled, her form remains a bit of a mystery. Nevertheless, the seven-time champion plays some of her most devastating tennis on the grass and no seeded player will want to face the American early on at The Championships, or at all if they can possibly avoid it. 

Petra Kvitova

Wimbledon titles: 2

2017 result: R2 (lost to Madison Brengle)

Grass-court schedule: Birmingham (starts 18 June), Eastbourne (starts 24 June), Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

Petra Kvitova (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
World no. 8 Petra Kvitova is many people's pick for the title in 2018 as the left-handed Czech, whose power game is never more devastating than on the lawns of Wimbledon, returns to bid for a third ladies' singles trophy.

Kvitova's runs to the title in 2011 and 2014, beating Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard in respective finals, both took on the quality of unstoppable triumphal marches as the Czech aced, volleyed and winnered her way to glory - and we've certainly seen that kind of form from Kvitova in 2018. After her career was threatened by suffering serious knife injuries to her left hand during a bungled robbery at her home in the Czech Republic in November 2016, Kvitova made a successful return during the 2017 grass-court season when she won Birmingham in just her second event back, but the emotional magnitude of what she was trying to accomplish got the best of her at Wimbledon and she fell in the second round to Madison Brengle (not that Kvitova isn't perfectly capable of an early exit at the best of times, even at Wimbledon - 2017 was the third year in a row she had failed to advance beyond the third round). 

Twelve months later and the Czech is in a much better condition to make a serious challenge for the title. Kvitova has picked up no fewer than four titles so far this season, winning 14 matches in a row in February-March as she claimed trophies in St Petersburg and Doha and then winning 13 matches in a row as she triumphed in Prague and Madrid. She fell in the third round of the French Open to Anett Kontaveit in a tight straight-sets match.

Starting her grass-court campaign in Birmingham, Kvitova only underlined her champion credentials with a resounding defense of her Nature Valley Classic title. Starting off in fine style with a 6-3, 6-4 defeat of 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist Johanna Konta, Kvitova went on to beat Daria Gavrilova, fifth seed Julia Goerges and her opponent in the Prague final, Mihaela Buzarnescu, without dropping a set. Facing another player who made the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2017, the in-form, grass-loving Magdalena Rybarikova, Kvitova came back from a set down to claim her fifth title of 2018 - the first player, male or female, to win titles on hard court, clay and grass in 2018. 

Kvitova now looks an even stronger prospect for the Wimbledon title. The Czech is entered in the draw at the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne, where she is due to face Kateryna Bondarenko on Tuesday - could over-playing, or possibly the pressure of her own stellar performances coming into the third Grand Slam of the year, be Kvitova's biggest opposition at Wimbledon?

Garbine Muguruza


Wimbledon titles: 1

2017 result: Champion (d. Venus Williams)

Grass-court schedule: Birmingham (starts 18 June), Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

Garbine Muguruza  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, once again in the run-up to a major tournament it is impossible to know what to expect from Garbine Muguruza.

The Spanish player claims she's still not totally comfortable on grass but you wouldn't know it from her results at Wimbledon, where she made her first major final in 2015, losing to Serena Williams. Although she suffered an early defeat in 2016 in the aftermath of winning her first Grand Slam at Roland Garros, Muguruza shone at Wimbledon in 2017 when she survived a fourth-round tussle with Angelique Kerber - and didn't look back on her way to the title, beating Venus Williams in straight sets in the final.

Muguruza would be briefly ranked world no. 1 in 2017 but comes in to Wimbledon as the world no. 3 in 2018 as she continues to struggle for consistency. One thing is for sure when it comes to Muguruza, though - she often finds her best tennis at the Grand Slams, particularly those played on natural surfaces, and she did so again at Roland Garros, raising her game after a sub-par clay season to reach the semifinals via a dismantling of Maria Sharapova.

Being the defending champion at the French Open in 2017 wasn't an experience that Muguruza enjoyed - how will she cope with it at Wimbledon 2018? Her performance at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham next week should give us some idea.

Muguruza made an impressive start to her grass-court season with a 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in just 59 minutes in Birmingham - but for the second straight year, she lost a Wimbledon warm-up match to Barbora Strycova. The Czech was the last player to defeat Muguruza before the Spaniard won Wimbledon in 2017, and Strycova defeated Muguruza this week in Birmingham 2-6, 4-6. 

The Spaniard opted for practice at the All-England Club over trying to take a wildcard into Eastbourne. The Spaniard typically raises her game at majors, but after so little warm-up match time on the grass, could she be at risk of an early upset at Wimbledon?

Angelique Kerber

Wimbledon titles: 0

2017 result: R16 (lost to Garbine Muguruza)

Grass-court schedule: Mallorca (starts 18 June), Eastbourne (starts 24 June), Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

Angelique Kerber (GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
She may currently be ranked just outside the top 10, but Germany's Angelique Kerber should always be considered a threat on grass. The left-hander's counterpunching game might not be what we traditionally think of as particularly suited to grass courts, but her ability to get low to the ball and attack down the lines is absolutely priceless on this surface and Kerber has proven it in the past - a Wimbledon runner-up to Serena Williams during her own banner year of 2016, Kerber was also a semifinalist in 2012, is a former Birmingham champion and twice a runner-up at Eastbourne. If she can avoid Garbine Muguruza, who beat her in 2015 and 2017, Kerber could be very dangerous at Wimbledon 2018.

Now 30 years old, the former world no. 1 - a two-time Grand Slam champion on hard courts in 2016 - has done well to rebound from the difficult season she suffered through in 2017. Kerber made a superb start to 2018 when she won the title in Sydney and narrowly missed out on making the Australian Open final, and although she hasn't won another title since, she has continued to play well, making a confidence-boosting first quarterfinal at the French Open. Likely to be seeded 11th at Wimbledon, Kerber has opted for the smaller event in Mallorca to warm up at - possibly a wise choice as the field is less packed, meaning a greater chance to get a good few matches under one's belt - and will also play Eastbourne the following week, so should be well attuned to grass courts once the main event itself begins on 2 July.

What seemed like a smart decision to play Mallorca backfired, however, as Kerber suffered a shock defeat to Alison Riske in the first round. Their match was rained off after the two split sets and when it resumed the following day, Riske won all five remaining games to seal a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 victory. Kerber shouldn't be too distressed however - Riske is an excellent grass-court player and came in to Mallorca with a 7-1 record already on grass in 2018 after winning the Surbiton $100k and making the quarterfinals in 's-Hertogenbosch. Kerber will hope to do much better in Eastbourne, where she has twice finished runner-up.

Kerber will open her Eastbourne title defense against Dominika Cibulkova, a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist and top-10 player.

Simona Halep

Wimbledon titles: 0

2017 result: QF (lost to Johanna Konta)

Grass-court schedule: Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

Simona Halep  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Romania's Simona Halep comes into the grass-court season on the absolute top of the tennis world. Not only did she fend off five other women who could have taken the top spot to remain world no. 1 after the French Open. but Halep - after three painful defeats in Grand Slam finals - finally broke through to win her maiden major, exorcising the ghosts of last year's defeat to Jelena Ostapenko from a set and a break up when she came back from a set and a break down to beat Sloane Stephens.

Halep has shown in the past that she can play very well on grass, although it isn't necessarily the most obvious match for her game style the way that clay is - she was a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2014 (losing to Eugenie Bouchard) and has made the quarterfinals for the past two years, narrowly defeated by big-serving Johanna Konta in 2017. 

Winning a Grand Slam title for the first time normally brings a bit of a hangover with it (metaphorical as well as literal) and Halep has received an absolute national heroine's welcome in Romania, so it will be interesting to see how she deals with all of that - although it can't be much tougher than being world no. 1 without a major and being asked about that at every press conference. 

Halep announced her withdrawal from her scheduled warm-up event in Eastbourne, writing on twitter: 'I was experiencing Achilles tendon pain and inflammation during the French Open and it has yet to fully recover. I've been advised by my doctors that it needs more rest while continuing treatment.'

This raises intriguing questions when it comes to Wimbledon - should we expect Halep to do well if she has injury concerns and no warm-up matches on grass? Or has the Romanian, by disclosing her physical issues, cannily lowered the expectations that were sky-high after her French Open triumph?

Maria Sharapova

Wimbledon titles: 1

2017 result: Did not play

Maria Sharapova (SUZANNE PLUNKETT/AFP/Getty Images)
Grass-court schedule
: Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

Maria Sharapova's sole Wimbledon title might be a credulity-straining 14 years ago now, but the Russian remains a player you can't afford to overlook coming into any one of the sport's biggest events. 

Although Sharapova's Wimbledon record has become patchy over the past decade - since 2007, she has failed to advance past the fourth round seven times - she is still very capable of putting together a great run on the grass, as she showed when she finished runner-up to Petra Kvitova in 2011 and when she made the semifinals in 2015, losing to Serena Williams.

Absent from Wimbledon for the past two years due to her doping suspension in 2016 and her failure to rebuild her ranking fast enough to play in 2017 (although she ended up missing the whole grass-court season due to injury), it's sure to be an emotional return for Sharapova, whose comeback from her 15-month absence has been a more stuttering affair than she clearly anticipated. After struggling for a win through the first quarter of 2018, Sharapova seems to have found form and confidence once more on the clay, making the semifinals of Rome and reaching the quarterfinals in Paris, where she absolutely demolished Karolina Pliskova (but was probably lucky to avoid Serena Williams, who withdrew from their scheduled fourth-round match) before losing to Garbine Muguruza. Can Sharapova, now back in the top 25, bring that same form to grass? 

Karolina Pliskova

Wimbledon titles: 0

Karolina Pliskova (JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
2017 result
: R2 (lost to Magdalena Rybarikova)

Grass-court schedule: Birmingham (starts 18 June), Eastbourne (starts 24 June), Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

Karolina Pliskova's Wimbledon record is, frankly, a bit baffling. Admittedly the grass is slower and it's not the age of Pete Sampras any more, but nevertheless the Czech really should have got past the second round at the very least, instead of exiting at the same unimpressive stage for the last five years. Even while Pliskova has improved her Grand Slam record elsewhere, making the final of the US Open in 2016 and the semifinals of the French Open in 2017, she's continued to struggle at Wimbledon - a struggle exemplified by last year's second-round exit to Magdalena Rybarikova, a player who was in the midst of an incredible run of form and who is an excellent grass-courter, but nevertheless the kind of dangerous floater a top seed with pretensions to winning majors should know how to get past.

Pliskova won Eastbourne in the run-up to last year's Wimbledon and took the world no. 1 ranking as a result despite her early exit, but so far in 2018 the Czech hasn't done too much to catch the eye - she's been immensely consistent, but her only title has come in Stuttgart and she was soundly beaten by Maria Sharapova in the third round of the French Open, where she was defending semifinalist points.

With warm-up events scheduled in Birmingham and Eastbourne, where she is defending her title, can Pliskova finally make the deep run at Wimbledon she's seemed destined for since first breaking into the top echelons - or will her puzzling streak of early exits continue?

Unfortunately for Pliskova, she faced Magdalena Rybarikova in the first round of the Nature Valley Classic and wasn't able to avenge her second-round defeat to the grass-loving Slovakian player, losing 2-6, 3-6 in Birmingham. (Rybarikova would go on to make the final before falling in three sets to Petra Kvitova, so that defeat looks a little better in retrospect.)

The Czech got her first win on grass for 2018 as she began her title defense at the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne, beating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist - to book her place in the quarterfinals, where she will face either Birmingham semifialist Barbora Strycova or Donna Vekic.

Madison Keys

Madison Keys (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Wimbledon titles
: 0

2017 result: R2 (lost to Camila Giorgi)

Grass-court schedule: Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

Another player who seems to have under-performed at Wimbledon given the potential of her big-serving power game, Madison Keys has done better at the All-England Club than Pliskova - she's been a quarterfinalist in 2015 and made the round of 16 in 2016 - but there's still a definite sense that the American, runner-up at the US Open in 2017, could do much bigger things at Wimbledon. 

Previously a champion in Eastbourne and Birmingham, Keys continues to struggle with injuries - she was hampered by recent wrist surgery in her second-round defeat to Camila Giorgi in 2017 - as well as struggling for consistency but the American is still possessed of one of the biggest games out there and her success on clay this spring, when she capitalized on a soft draw to make the semifinals at Roland Garros before falling to Sloane Stephens, seemed to betoken an increased maturity and patience which bodes well for a big Wimbledon result. 

Keys pulled out of Birmingham in the run-up to Wimbledon, though, due to a thigh strain picked up at the French Open. That means the American will come in to the third Grand Slam of the year with no match practice on grass courts, and that could seriously hamper her chances.

Sloane Stephens

Sloane Stephens (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Wimbledon titles
: 0

2017 result: R1 (lost to Alison Riske)

Grass-court schedule: Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

It's remarkable to think that Sloane Stephens lost in the first round of Wimbledon 12 months ago as she played her first match in 11 months after an extended layoff to rehab a foot injury. It was only two months later that the American, for so long tipped for great things, made a sensational run to her maiden major title at the US Open in what was just her fifth event back.

Stephens barely won a match for the following six months, but she is nevertheless determined to prove that she is no one-Slam wonder. Not only did she win one of the biggest WTA Tour titles of the season at the Miami Open in March, Stephens went on to put together a great run at the French Open, beating Anett Kontaveit, Daria Kasatkina and compatriot Madison Keys (also her beaten foe in the US Open final) to reach the Roland Garros final where she delivered a set and a half of unplayable brilliance before succumbing to Simona Halep in three. 

Stephens is clearly out to prove that she's a force to be reckoned with on all continents and surfaces and although some aspects of her game don't seem to translate naturally to grass-court success, the American is increasingly adept at adapting and playing smart tennis suited to the conditions and opponent under the guidance of Kamau Murray. Like her compatriots Serena and Venus Williams and Keys, Stephens is opting not to play a warm-up grass event - could that hurt her at Wimbledon? If she can find her feet quickly enough to get through the first few rounds, Stephens could be very potent at The Championships.

Venus Williams

Venus Williams (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Wimbledon titles
: 5

2017 result: Runner-up (lost to Garbine Muguruza)

Grass-court schedule: Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

Not too many people seem to be picking Venus Williams to win Wimbledon this year, and it's true that the 37-year-old American hasn't won a Grand Slam title until 2008 when she claimed her fifth title at the All England Club. 

But it's not only the fact that a five-time champion will always deserve respect that leads to her inclusion on this list - Williams has played herself back into the Grand Slam conversation in recent years, making the semifinals at Wimbledon for the first time since 2009 in 2016, then making it back to the final 12 months later (the second major final of the veteran's 2017 season). 

It's true that Williams has struggled for much Grand Slam success in 2018 - in fact, she lost in the first rounds of the Australian and French Opens to Belinda Bencic and Wang Qiang respectively, and has only won one match off American soil (although on it, she did make the semifinals of Indian Wells and the quarterfinals of Miami). But you can never count out Venus Williams when it comes to Wimbledon, and she should be a formidable opponent for anyone unlucky enough to find her in their part of the draw.

Ashleigh Barty

Ashleigh Barty (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Wimbledon titles
: 0

2017 result: R1 (lost to Elina Svitolina)

Grass-court schedule: Nottingham, Birmingham (starts 18 June), Eastbourne (starts 24 June), Wimbledon (starts 2 July)

Could Australia's Ashleigh Barty be emerging as a force on grass?

Runner-up in Birmingham to Petra Kvitova in 2017, where she beat Garbine Muguruza among others, Barty has earned her place on this list by virtue of her run to the title at last week's Nature Valley Open in Nottingham. The affable, multi-talented 22-year-old picked up the second WTA Tour title of her career after beating Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka - a popular dark horse pick for the Wimbledon title this year - in the semifinals and Johanna Konta, a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2017, in the final.

Barty is a phenomenally talented player with an all-court game that could work very well on grass, especially when it comes to her brilliant net game. The young Australian took a year-long sabbatical from the game after her first burst of success as a teenager but has returned with a vengeance. Since coming back to the game unranked in May 2016, Barty has shot up the rankings, establishing herself firmly inside the top 20 after making finals in Wuhan and Birmingham in 2017 and so far in 2018, has been runner-up in Sydney to Angelique Kerber and made the semifinals in Strasbourg before picking up her first grass-court title in Nottingham. 

Barty went out in the first round of Wimbledon last year at the hands of high-seeded Elina Svitolina and has never been beyond the third round of a Grand Slam but the Australian is certainly a player to keep an eye on as the short, intense grass-court season continues. 

Barty made a winning start to her Nature Valley Classic campaign, beating qualifier Oceane Dodin 6-4, 6-3 to get underway in Birmingham, but fell to fifth seed Julia Goerges in the quarterfinals, 6-7(6), 3-6. She is still scheduled to play a third grass-court warm-up event at the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne - Barty will face either Heather Watson or Kristina Mladenovic in the second round after a first-round bye.

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We'll be updating this list with the latest results over the next couple of weeks and adding new names as various players round into form in the run-up to Wimbledon, so stay tuned!


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Wimbledon 2018 women's contenders: How are the top seeds and dark horses shaping up as Wimbledon approaches?

Serena Williams, defending champion Garbine Muguruza and world no. 1 Simona Halep are among the favourites to win Wimbledon in 2018: We look at how all the top contenders for the title are shaping up ahead of The Championships

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