The Wimbledon seedings have been announced and, with the same predictability as day following night, Venus and Serena Williams dominated the proceedings.
And that’s taking into account Wimbledon’s unique application of ‘special measures’ that don’t slavishly follow the rankings.
No, they are the top two seeds because of their overall record and, more particularly, their record on grass. There can be no argument.
For a decade, they have been a presence in every final but one, and for eight of those 10 years, a Williams has won.
They have played each other for the title in four finals. And since Venus won in 2007, no one else has had a look-in.
The Williams sisters know how to play the game off the court as well as on, with perfect pace and preparation. Look at the number of events each has played to top the current rankings—15 for Serena and 17 for Venus.
The only others in the top 40 that played less have all lately returned from breaks—Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, and Maria Sharapova. The next player below the Williams is Caroline Wozniacki, who has played 25.
They have always marched to their own tune, and are doing the same once more. Neither has played a single match on grass ahead of Wimbledon.
Yet, who doubts they will be the major obstacles to every other woman when play begins next week?
As top seeds, they are destined, it seems, to progress along trajectories that meet on Centre Court on the second Saturday.
Can anyone defy the odds?
To find out, here’s a recipe of three ingredients that, whisked together with a favorable draw, may result in a new menu: a review of the in-form players, results from the current grass warm-ups events, and past success in SW19.
Power Ranking Top 10: The In-Form Women
1. Francesca Schiavone: Wimbledon seed 5
Last Four Tournaments: French Open [Winner], Madrid [R16], Rome [R32], Stuttgart [R32].
Power Ranking Points: 1,040
It’s hard to believe, seeing the tennis Schiavone’s played to win the French Open, that the 30-year-old had never broken into the top 10 before. Her Indian summer of a career began in 2009, with a final in Osaka and the title in Moscow—only the second title of her career.
She then won in Barcelona this April. So the Paris victory was perhaps not such a bolt from the blue as it seemed.
She has the fast-moving, all-court game for grass, and a decent history to go with it.
She reached the quarters at Wimbledon last year, her best result so far. She’s a powerhouse of a talent, able to play with slice, volleys, drops, and a single-handed backhand that can disrupt the opponent’s baseline game.
So she has the tools and, after Paris, the confidence to do better than ever before.
There’s no doubt the Wimbledon crowd will fall in love with her “old-fashioned” style of play, and that may be worth several extra points a set!
2. Samantha Stosur: Wimbledon seed 6
Last Four Tournaments: French Open [Finalist], Madrid [Quarterfinalist], Stuttgart [Finalist], Charleston [Winner].
Power Ranking Points: 848
The strong, quiet Stosur continues to rise the ranks, and this is down to solid and consistent tennis, as her record of the past few months shows.
She has bounced back from her disappointing loss in Paris to reach the semis in Eastbourne, beating a tricky couple of players on the way—Melanie Oudin and Daniela Hantuchova.
Her best singles performance at Wimbledon was last year, when she reached the third round, though she’s been a finalist in doubles for the last two years. Now she has taken the strengths of doubles tennis to the singles court, with generous help from a heavy swinging serve and powerful forehand.
If she can hold her nerve—and that’s been another improvement this year—she could be a candidate for Wimbledon success.
3. Jelena Jankovic: Wimbledon seed 4
Last Four Tournaments: French Open [Semifinalist], Madrid [Quarterfinalist], Rome [Finalist], Stuttgart [Quarterfinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 620
JJ is the only top woman, apart from the Williams, not to play one of the warm-up grass events. There’s no doubt she’s back on good form, but grass is far from her best surface.
She may have played Wimbledon six times before, and reached the fourth round on three occasions—2006, 2007, and 2008—but that’s her poorest record in any Slam.
It seems unlikely this year will change that picture.
4. Elena Dementieva: WTA ranking 5
Last Four Tournaments: French Open [Semifinalist], Warsaw [R16], Madrid [R32], Rome [R16].
Power Ranking Points: 487
Dementieva was going so well in the French Open until she was forced to retire with a calf injury. She has now had to pull out of Wimbledon*, a big blow for the woman who reached the semifinals there in the last two years.
5. Na Li: Wimbledon seed 9
Last Four Tournaments: Birmingham [Winner], French Open [R32], Warsaw [Semifinalist], Madrid [Quarterfinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 460
The Chinese woman seemed to be taking her golden run from clay through to the grass, winning the first grass tournament in Birmingham.
But she retired from her first round match in Eastbourne with a thigh injury. She has played Wimbledon only three times, making the quarters in 2006, but it now seems unlikely she will match that performance.
6. Serena Williams: Wimbledon seed 1
Last Four Tournaments: French Open [Quarterfinalist], Madrid [R16], Rome [Semifinalist], Australian [Winner].
Power Ranking Points: 444
The remarkable Serena has played just five tournaments in 2010, yet still stands head and shoulders above the competition in the rankings.
And with her record at Wimbledon—three titles plus two more finals—she has proven that she can simply turn up and knock the socks off everyone else, much as she did in Melbourne.
Will it be her title again, or her sister’s?
7. Aravane Rezai: Wimbledon seed 18
Last Four Tournaments: Birmingham [Semifinalist], French Open [R32], Madrid [Winner], Rome [R32].
Power Ranking Points: 422
Rezai has been a star in the making since taking titles in Bali and Strasbourg in 2009. Furthermore, she has truly shone with her Madrid title, and one big match at this year’s French Open.
Her all-court game suits the grass, and she reached the semifinals in Birmingham before beating the defending champion, Caroline Wozniacki, in the first round of Eastbourne.
The fly in the ointment is her second round retirement against Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.
If she is fit for Wimbledon, she has the skills and bravado to rattle a few cages.
8. Venus Williams: Wimbledon seed 2
Last Four Tournaments: French Open [R16], Madrid [Finalist], Rome [Quarterfinalist], Miami [Final].
Power Ranking Points: 381
Venus, 30 today [June 17th], has one of the finest grass records amongst active players, and were it not for the arrival of her sister, it would be even better.
She has played 13 Wimbledons, won in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007, and 2008, and was runner-up in 2002, 2003, and last year. She even made the quarters as a teenager in 1998 and 1999.
She has had a good 2010 season, too, and has been relatively injury free, so she may be favorite to take the title back once more.
9. Maria Sharapova: Wimbledon seed 16
Last Four Tournaments: Birmingham [Finalist], French Open [R32], Strasbourg [Winner], Madrid [R64].
Power Ranking Points: 351
Hard to believe that the statuesque Russian won Wimbledon way back in 2004, at just 17. With shoulder surgery behind her, and a recent title in Strasbourg under her belt, albeit not against the most taxing of competition, she is showing signs of reaching something like her old form.
Her performance against Henin in Paris affirmed that, and she has just reached the final on Birmingham’s grass.
Her huge game, if she finds consistency, may be ready to take Wimbledon by storm once more.
10. Nadia Petrova: Wimbledon seed 12
Last Four Tournaments: French Open [Quarterfinalist], Madrid [Quarterfinalist], Rome [Quarterfinalist], Charleston [Quarterfinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 351
Petrova can best be described as solid in her Wimbledon career. She’s played there nine times, reached the quarters twice—in 2005 and 2008—and has consistently made the fourth round.
She has, though, made a tired exit this week from the second round of Eastbourne, 6-2, 6-0.
Her powerful shot-making is effective on grass, but she probably lacks the variety of game to really upset the top players.
The Other Major Contenders
Caroline Wozniacki: Wimbledon seed 3
The Danish teenager has three Wimbledons under her belt already, improving in each successive year (she reached the fourth round in 2009). She was the defending Eastbourne champion, but lost in the first round to Rezai.
That, though, should not preclude her from making waves on the grass at Wimbledon.
Agnieszka Radwanska: Wimbledon seed 7
She has struggled to string the wins together since the spring, but Radwanska has won Eastbourne in the past, and made the quarters of the last two Wimbledons—her best Slam record.
She lost on the grass to Victoria Azarenka this week. But if she is injury free, she has the potential to shine at Wimbledon.
Kim Clijsters: Wimbledon seed 8
Clijsters may be the most dangerous prospect in the draw for the Williams sisters, not least because she beat them in each of their most recent meetings. And her grass record is none too shabby—semis at Wimbledon in 2003 and 2006 (the last time she played on grass!).
Blighted by a foot injury since winning Miami, Eastbourne is her first tournament since April. And she’s hit the ground running.
She lost just three games en route to the quarters, though she fell in the semis. Watch this space.
Victoria Azarenka: Wimbledon seed 14
Still not 20, Azarenka has played Wimbledon four times, and she reached the quarters last year. She’s into the semis at Eastbourne, taking out Radwanska and Clijsters on the way, but the only question mark may be her fitness.
She’s another player plagued by injury this season, and will need to be 100 percent to keep her physical game working through to the latter stages.
Justine Henin: Wimbledon seed 17
She may have made an unexpectedly early exit at the French Open, but Wimbledon has been her declared prize since she came out of retirement—the one Slam to elude her.
She has come close, with finals in 2001 and 2006, and semis in 2002, 2003 (she lost to Venus and Serena respectively), and 2007. She’s also won titles in the past at Eastbourne, and is through to the semis at 's-Hertogenbosch, her first grass in three years.
Henin’s grass record and her attacking all-court tennis suggest that the Wimbledon title is tantalisingly close.
And if she won it, the scenes would echo the one that inspired her to come back and try—Federer at Roland Garros last year.
Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez: Wimbledon seed 22
The 27-year-old Martinez Sanchez won her first singles Premier title in Rome this year, and although she has scored few big wins since, there’s no doubting her talent.
The left-hander is a natural serve-volleyer, skills that have reaped great rewards in her doubles career.
She has only played the singles at Wimbledon three times since turning pro in 1996. But she is playing well in Eastbourne this week, taking out both Vera Zvonareva and Rezai before losing to Marion Bartoli.
Let’s see if she can find the same spirit that brought such good results in the spring.
And Don’t Write Off…Ana Ivanovic: WTA ranking 45
Ivanovic may just be coming back from her period in the wilderness. She took some big scalps in Rome and played Jankovic very close in Madrid.
She has ability on grass, too—she reached the semis at Wimbledon in 2007 and was a fourth-rounder last year (her best Slam finish of the last 12 months).
Although she went out in the second round in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, she showed signs of form with 12 aces and her hefty forehand.
Let’s hope Wimbledon stokes the Ana confidence.
Likely final? Venus taking the slight edge over Serena.
Strongest challengers? Clijsters, Henin, Stosur.
Ones who could spring a surprise? Rezai, Schiavone, Sharapova, Azarenka.
With thanks to Feng, whose unique system produces the Power Ranking points.