Is anyone smiling more than Maria Sharapova right now?
Maybe just Alize Cornet, who defeated Serena Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, in the third round at Wimbledon. Thanks to Cornet, Sharapova is spared a potential clash with Williams in the quarterfinals. Thanks to Cornet, Sharapova is now the 5-2 favorite (via Oddschecker) to win her second Wimbledon—her first since she burst onto the scene 10 years ago in 2004.
She's odds-on to win Wimbledon, but with so much talent still remaining, is she really the favorite? Is she the most likely winner remaining in the field?
Sometimes when you watch a match, you can tell the score just by looking at body language. There was rarely a moment when Williams looked like a lioness hunting an antelope. Instead she looked heavy and drawn. When she lost a point her shoulders sunk faster than the Lusitania.
Cornet became the first player since Nadia Petrova in 2010 to defeat Williams in back-to-back matches. She did it by dropping in shots, making Williams charge the net and gassing her out. By the end, Williams was heaving, floating her volleys and playing like a world No. 50 instead of the world No. 1.
And with the departure of Williams, suddenly the door swings way open—as it had in the Australian and French Opens when Williams ditched those tournaments in the fourth and second rounds respectively.
For Sharapova, who won her only Wimbledon by defeating Williams, she couldn’t be any happier to see her potential quarterfinal-foe exit in the third round. Williams holds the 16-2 edge over Sharapova. Sharapova hasn’t beaten Williams in 10 years.
Cornet, who has won as many times against Williams in the past few months as Sharapova has in 10 years, advances to face Eugenie Bouchard, a young Canadian who is the only player in 2014 to reach the semifinals in each of the Grand Slams. Sharapova faces Angelique Kerber while Simona Halep gets Zarina Diyas.
That’s just the bracket Williams exited. That group will pick and gnaw at each other while Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova reign over the bottom half.
Kvitova is the second betting choice, as cited by Oddschecker. So where will the champion come from now? Will it be the top half of the women’s draw, which has many of the top seeds remaining? Or will it be the relatively soft bottom half of the draw that will likely produce a less physically taxed finalist?
In the top half, Cornet comes into her match against Bouchard riding about as high as anyone. She did the dirty work by disposing of the No. 1 seed. That, in some ways, leads to a let down in the following match. The emotional toll of defeating Williams feels like a championship in and of itself. At least Cornet has Sunday to regroup, digest the win and move on to Bouchard.
Bouchard (9-1 according to Oddschecker), the 13-seed, is just two matches away from reaching her third consecutive Grand Slam semifinal. She’s 0-1 against Cornet, losing her lone match on clay back in 2013. Should Bouchard advance it would be a chance at revenge against Sharapova.
Bouchard lost to Sharapova in the French Open semifinals. The two could square off in the Wimbledon quarters.
Sharapova would first have to get by the nine-seeded Angelique Kerber. Sharapova is 4-1 against Kerber, though they have never played each other on grass. Sharapova is unbeaten in her last three matches against Kerber including one win on hard-court and two on clay.
Sharapova is the heavy favorite on the betting line, but the hurdles for her are daunting. Sharapova has defeated Bouchard twice in Grand Slams—both in the French Open—and has the 3-1 edge. She’s 2-0 against Cornet with the latest a win in the Australian Open and she’s 4-0 against Halep with the latest coming in the French Open final.
Halep faced Diyas in the fourth round and is 1-0 against her, with that win coming in the round of 32 in the Australian Open, a straight-set victory.
Of all those who remain, Sharapova and Kvitova are the only previous winners at Wimbledon, but the young upstarts don’t seem intimidated and don’t seem daunted by any opponent across the net.
Sharapova is the favorite, yes, but it’s as though there’s a feeding frenzy for the Wimbledon title this year, not a yellow-brick road guiding Sharapova to a great and powerful Grand Slam.
*Odds correct as of June 28th