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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Analysis: The ladies' draw

Photo Titled Dinara Safina
Dinara Safina

The chances of the Wimbledon ladies' title remaining in the possession of the Williams family, where it has reposed for seven of the past nine years, improved with the news from today's draw that the sisters Serena and Venus are in opposite halves.

Serena, the second seed, reigning US and Australian champion and Wimbledon winner in 2002 and 2003, is offered an undemanding opening match against the Portuguese qualifier Neuza Silva, ranked 155 in the world. Venus, holder of the title and a five-time Wimbledon champion, is in top seed Dinara Safina's half of the draw and comes up against the 98th-ranked Swiss Stefanie Voegele in the first round.

A potential fourth round opponent for Venus is Serbia's Ana Ivanovic, last year's French Open champion, who has suffered a thin time subsequently and another Serb, Jelena Jankovic, recently world number one, is a possible quarter-final barrier for the title holder.

There are two other former champions in the draw, the 2006 winner Amelie Mauresmo of France and the Russian Maria Sharapova, who lifted the title in 2004 at the age of 17. Mauresmo, now the 17th seed, could meet the official favourite Safina, sister of Marat Safin, as early as the third round but will not be unduly worried about her chances since Safina's number one ranking does not yet encompass a Grand Slam title, whereas the Frenchwoman won the Australian Open in the year of her Wimbledon triumph.

Perhaps the biggest interest, though, surrounds Maria Sharapova, whose appearance at The Championships will be only her fourth tournament since returning to tennis following a ten-month absence because of a shoulder operation. Though her official ranking is only 59 because of that lengthy absence, Sharapova's previous record here persuaded the All England Club to place her among the 32 seeds, albeit at 24.

Sharapova, who was a quarter-finalist at the recent French Open and semi-finalist at the Aegon Classic at Birmingham, will open against a qualifier, Viktoriya Kutuzova of the Ukraine, but opposition of the calibre of the eighth seed Victoria Azarenka and the tenth-seeded Nadia Petrova lies in wait, before a possible quarter-final collision with Serena Williams, whom she defeated on Centre Court in that 2004 final.

The growth of tennis skills in Europe, particularly eastern Europe is reflected by the names in the draw. Including Sharapova, there are 20 women whose name ends in 'ova' and a further seven who terminate in 'eva'.

Similarly, there is a notable eclipse of the two nations, the United States and Australia, which dominated Wimbledon in the second half of the last century. Apart from the Williams sisters, there are only three other American women in the draw and one of them is a qualifier, Alexa Glatch.

Things are even more bleak as far as Australia is concerned. Apart from the 18th seed Samantha Stosur there are only two others in the draw from Down Under, and one of those is Jelena Dokic, a native of Serbia whose association with Australian tennis has, in the past, been a stormy one on occasion.

Dokic, a Wimbledon semi-finalist nine years ago, has embarked on a comeback and is ranked 75th in the world at the moment. Even if Dokic and Stosur win their first round matches they are drawn to meet in the second round, which means disappointment for Australia no matter what.

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