Commentary

Game's top stars looking for retribution at Wimbledon

After their respective clay-court demises at the French Open, Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters are seeking vindication on a surface much more comfortable to their playing styles. But viable competition likely will make their Wimbledon paths difficult.

Updated: June 19, 2008, 6:55 AM ET
By Sandra Harwitt | Special to ESPN.com

Maria SharapovaAP Photo/Christophe EnaMaria Sharapova was knocked out of the French Open by Dinara Safina in the fourth round.
It's a new fortnight. It's a different Grand Slam.

And that signals there'll be a number of smiling faces among players on the WTA Tour who think gliding on grass at Wimbledon is far more appealing than coasting on clay at Roland Garros.

Certainly, it can be taken for granted that three of the top 10 players will be giddy when they arrive at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club only two weeks after the close of the French Open.

Maria Sharapova, the No. 2 player in the world who picked up the first of her three Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon in 2004, has a game that translates well to a faster court. So does defending champion and No. 7 Venus Williams, who has already won on the great lawn four times during her career. And No. 6 Serena Williams, the back-to-back Wimbledon champion in 2002 and '03 who owns a more natural grass-court game, could use a confidence boost after her shocking third-round demise at the French Open.

Though Sharapova and the Williams sisters might have experience and the right type of game for the surface, another strong candidate -- recently crowned French Open champion Ana Ivanovic --- must now be considered a potential Wimbledon victor this year. Along with collecting her first title at a major, Ivanovic delivered Serbia its first-ever world No. 1 player after her dazzling performance in Paris. Ivanovic appears more dauntless than before, certainly more so than she did during her first two Grand Slam final appearances at the 2007 French Open and 2008 Australian Open.

"The favorites have to be Sharapova, the Williams sisters, but I think you have to throw in Ivanovic now," said Mary Joe Fernandez, a former Wimbledon semifinalist and current ESPN commentator. "I think that Ivanovic is in the mix. She has to be feeling very confident, reaching the semis there [Wimbledon] last year and just winning the French.

"But it's hard to go against Venus. She's proven how her game rises when she's on the grass."

But neither of the Williams sisters nor Sharapova reached the French Open quarterfinals. Of the three, it would be remiss not to put the biggest question mark next to Serena Williams' name after she showed little fight during her loss to Katarina Srebotnik. Plus, the younger Williams has not gone beyond the quarterfinals in her past five majors since winning the 2007 Australian Open title. Will she have gotten past her demoralizing French Open loss and be fired up to restore her reputation, or will she be ready to head home practically when she arrives in London?

"I don't know," Fernandez said. "I think the grass really rewards the big serve, big hitter, so she should be better without the longer rallies and having to be patient. I think the big thing is she has to control her nerves a little bit and not show them on the court."

Other top-10 entrants who bear watching at Wimbledon are No. 3 Jelena Jankovic, a fellow countrywoman of Ivanovic, and recent French Open finalist Dinara Safina, who has a potent game  and, at times, a hot temper to match.

[+] EnlargeVenus Williams
AP Photo/Laurent BaheuxVenus Williams, a third-round loser in Paris, has reached only one semifinal in 2008.
The other name that seems to come to the surface is 1999 Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport. A three-time Grand Slam champion, Davenport is a surprise consideration under the circumstances -- the SoCal native had been assumed to have retired from the game when she announced in December 2006 she was pregnant. She gave birth to her son, Jagger, only 15 days before the start of the 2007 championships.

"I say watch out for Lindsay, she's going to be a dangerous floater," Fernandez said. "I don't really see her winning, but she's definitely the dark horse from the lower-ranked players. It depends on the draw, whether she comes up against a Maria, Venus or Serena early on."

U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said he thinks the American women will perform well at Wimbledon. "We have Venus and Serena, who should be champing at the bits to play well there. It will be nice to see Lindsay back there, and I think she'll have a good tournament as well. And we'll get to see how the younger players perform, as it's a good opportunity for them."

Recently retired Justin Gimelstob added, "I think Lindsay Davenport has a good chance or Sharapova. I think those two. Many people think Venus and Serena. But I think Davenport is a great dark horse this year."

Four teens ranked within the top 20 -- No. 14 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, No. 15 Agnes Szavay of Hungary, No. 16 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and No. 17 Alize Cornet of France -- are also bound to be scrutinized depending on their travels through the draw.

Nevertheless, it seems that the prevailing opinion is that when the 2008 Wimbledon women's champion is feted on Centre Court on Saturday, July 5, it will be a woman who already has her name etched onto the famed Venus Rosewater Dish trophy.

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.