1. Barbora Strycova v Sloane Stephens (Wimbledon, R1)
This is a first round match!!! Sloane Stephens missed out on a seeding by nine places and it’s poor old Babs who has drawn the short straw. Since Indian Wells, Stephens has posted an 19-8 W-L record which has included semi-finals in Strasbourg and Eastbourne, quarter-finals in Miami and fourth rounds at the French Open and Indian Wells. The partnership of Stephens and Nick Saviano has really blossomed and he seems to have instilled her with a much tougher mentality. In her first venture on the grass courts this year, Sloane reached the semis of Eastbourne with victories over Naomi Broady, Carla Suarez Navarro and Heather Watson. The match against Broady threatened to get away from Stephens but she did well to come back and win it in the third set tiebreak.
Strycova had a terrific grass court season last year. This year hasn’t been quite as rosy; the Czech player won two matches in Birmingham and just the one in Eastbourne, falling to Sara Errani in a delightfully wild and wacky ride that I got to enjoy the end of. Strycova had strapping on her leg and was clearly hampered by an injury and/or cramp. That match was on Tuesday so she will have had some time to recover. Strycova and Stephens are tied at 1-1 in their head-to-head; Strycova won their first match in Miami in 2011, but Stephens won their most recent clash in Cincy last year. To be honest, this wasn’t a difficult one for me to make a pick. Sloane is in great form and in my opinion, will carry her confidence and form from Eastbourne into Wimby…
Prediction: Stephens d. Strycova in 2 tight sets
2. Maria Sharapova v Johanna Konta (Wimbledon, R1)
Maria Sharapova‘s first match on grass in 2015 won’t be an easy one as she takes on the in-form Brit, Johanna Konta. Konta played all three grass court tournaments in the UK and improved with each week. In Nottingham, she reached the quarter-finals with victories over Monica Puig and Magdalena Rybarikova. While she only won one match in Birmingham, she played a superb match to defeat Jarmila Gajdosova in the first round before taking a set off the eventual finalist in Karolina Pliskova. Playing in her current home town, Konta racked up back-to-back top 20 wins in Eastbourne over Ekaterina Makarova and Garbine Muguruza. For a player currently ranked at number 146 in the world and who hadn’t won a main draw match on the WTA tour in 2015, this was a stunning effort. It does beg the question though what Konta has been doing for the rest of the year when she is capable of these results.
Sharapova hasn’t played a competitive match since losing in the fourth round of the French Open to Lucie Safarova. She was obviously struggling with illness there and needed recovery time but I thought she might take a late wildcard into Birmingham. While she didn’t play any tournaments, she’s had much longer to adjust to the grass in practice and also, didn’t go particularly deep in Paris. I feel Konta can win a set in this one, taking Sharapova by surprise early on. She’s been playing some superb tennis and confidence will be high. I’d expect Maria to be too strong in the end though.
Prediction: Sharapova d. Konta in 3 sets
3. Lucie Safarova v Alison Riske (Wimbledon, R1)
I repeat… Lucie’s a top eight seed! After a magnificent run to her first Grand Slam final in Paris, Lucie Safarova returned to action in Eastbourne where she lost her first match to Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets, 7-6 6-4. Lucie didn’t play a bad match at all, but she failed to take advantage of her opportunities including two set points in the first set tiebreak. Her first opponent, Alison Riske is an accomplished grass courter and she has had three completed wins on the grass this year with the best of those coming in Eastbourne where she thrashed the world number 25, Alize Cornet, 6-0 6-3. In their only previous match, Safarova defeated Riske on the clay courts of Madrid earlier this year, 6-4 6-2. I’m wary of this match for Lucie because Alison does well on grass and has reached back-to-back third rounds at SW19. Lucie though, has bigger weapons (notably the serve) and ultimately, I believe she will come through in a tight match.
Prediction: Safarova d. Riske in 2 tight sets