Wimbledon 2011: Maria Sharapova Favored To Clinch Her Fourth Major

Linus FernandesAnalyst IIJune 20, 2011

Maria Sharapova
Maria SharapovaGareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Wimbledon, the Williams and Caroline Wozniacki.

The trio of Ws coming together could generate more than enough hype and hoopla to keep sports writers busy for the next 14 days.

Maria Sharapova is making headlines—not for her fashion sense, boyfriends or her clothing line—but for her tennis. A fabulous run at the French Open reminded players and fans alike why she was considered one of the most exciting talents to burst onto the WTA tour at 17.

Li Na's first ever major at Roland Garros and a billion-plus Chinese fans ignited a Marco Polo-like rush to discover the next Chinese star.

The withdrawal of Kim Clijsters—an aggravation of her ankle injury—means that the Belgian is—for all practical purposes—hobbled in her farewell year.

Francesca Schiavone may have made another major final at Roland Garros but she and Samantha Stosur crashed out in the first round at Wimbledon last year. The win’s excitement superseded Schiavone’s desire to do well in her next Slam. This year, the Italian promises to do better.

Samantha Stosur has not quite scaled the heights she reached in 2010. Her all-court game, coupled with a powerful first serve, is well-suited to the grass courts at SW19. She can hope to improve on her past performances.

The Williamses may have returned but, unlike other tennis pundits, I am not quite buying into the theory that the Williams can merely turn up and the others will roll over and play dead. The Williams have enjoyed their best successes in majors at the All-England championships and it is no coincidence that they chose to return at the venue of their biggest wins.

Marion Bartoli is another lurking in the wings. She has made a Wimbledon final before. Her first grass-court triumph on the eve of Wimbledon at Eastbourne augurs well for the Frenchwoman.

Vera Zvonareva returns to the scene of her first Grand Slam final. She crumbled to Serena Williams in a one-sided encounter last year. Has she the mental fortitude to go all the way?

Bethanie Mattek-Sands can be relied on to raise eyebrows with her on-court outfits.Socking stuff, indeed.

Willowy Daniela Hantuchova has rediscovered the form that made her such a threat on the WTA tour. She did not flinch in dispatching Venus Williams at the Aegon International. Expect the Slovakian to do more than turn heads at Wimbledon.

Only the very brave would want to stick their necks out and predict a winner this year especially after the surprise sprung in the French Open. Very few expected Li Na to lift her first major at 29.

It is as though the Williams' absence emancipated players on the WTA tour. What are the odds that there will be a first time winner at this year's Wimbledon?

What are the odds that there will be no Williams in the semis?

My choice for the title is Maria Sharapova. She will have to knock out the No.1 seed, Caroline Wozniacki in the quarters.

Favourite: Maria Sharapova

Dark Horses: Sabine Lisicki/Marion Bartoli

Top Quarter (Maria Sharapova/Caroline Wozniacki quarter)

The No. 1 seed starts out facing Spaniard, Arantxa Parra Santonja in the first round. India's Sania Mirza could be her second-round opponent if she puts it across Italian, Virginia Razzano. Mirza has come back from injury to return to the top 100;she is now ranked 60 in the world. She was once considered a potential top-10 player.

Jarmila Gajdosova of Australia is next in the firing line for the Dane.Either Julia Goerges or Dominika Cibulkova could meet the Woz in the round of 16.

At the other end of this quarter, Maria Sharapova is seeded to meet Samantha Stosur in the fourth round.

The Australian should sail through to the third round where Chinese Shuai Peng awaits.

Maria Sharapova encounters fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze in the first round. Her first serious hurdle is Czech, Lucie Safarova, in the third.

Most Likely Semifinalist: Maria Sharapova

Second Quarter (Li Na/Serena Williams Draw)

If Li Na is not in a hurry to get back to China to catch up with her mother and family, she can make the most of her time in the sun at Wimbledon and post her best results—possibly a second major.

The Chinese takes on Russian Alla Kudryavtseva in the first round. German Sabine Lisicki is full of tricks and has enjoyed a glorious run of form , clinching the Aegon  classic. She is one of a select German  few who hope to emulate Steffi Graf.

Should Na dispatch Lisicki in the second round, she will meet either of Bethanie Mattek-Sands or Chinese Jie Zheng in the third. Zheng could spoil Sands' party.

Serbian Ana Ivanovic or Pole Agnieszka Radwanska are probable opponents in the fourth.

Serena Wiliams is ranked No. 7 despite being out for almost a year. The draw has done her no favours with Frenchwoman, Aravane Rezai, an obstinate adversary in the first.

Maria Kirilenko could pose troubling questions to the American  in the third round.

Marion Bartoli could well be Venus' Waterloo. The Frenchwoman clinched her first grass-court title at Eastbourne on Saturday.

Most Likely Semifinalist: Li Na

Surprise Packages: Marion Bartoli/Sabine Lisicki

Third Quarter (Victoria Azarenka/Francesca Schiavone/Daniela Hantuchova/Andrea Petkovic)

The third quarter is possibly the most open part of the women's draw.

French Open finalist Francesca Schiavone is slated to meet fourth seed Victoria Azarenka in the quarters. The encounter is not guaranteed since resurgent Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova lurks in the third round for Azarenka.

The Slovak can expect Russian teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to fire on all cylinders in the pre-quarters should she dispose of the fourth seed.

Schiavone faces Australian Jelena Dokic in her opening match. The Italian crashed out unceremoniously in the first round last year.The winner of this match should go all the way to the fourth round for a probable matchup with German Andrea Petkovic.

Most Likely Semi-Finalists: Daniela Hantuchova/Andrea Petkovic

Bottom Quarter (Petra Kvitova/Svetlana Kuznetsova/Venus Williams/Vera Zvonareva)

Russian Vera Zvonareva, the No. 2 seed, should have no problems keeping her date with Venus Williams in the fourth round. The aura around the elder Williams has faded; expect the Russian to come through in three tough sets.

Venus will first have to account for Serbian Jelena Jankovic in the third round.

Czech Petra Kvitova is scheduled for a fourth-round encounter with Russian, Svetlana Kuznetsova. Should the Russian pull through, count on her to take no prisoners in the quarterfinal.

Most likely semifinalists: Vera Zvonareva/Svetlana Kuznetsova

"There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from." —Elisabeth Kubler-Ross quotes (Swiss-American psychiatrist and author)