Wimbledon: Serena back; other women to watch

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Since April, the biggest story surrounding Wimbledon was their decision to ban all Russian and Belarusian players from competing due to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The WTA and ATP won’t be awarding any ranking points to anyone who plays at the All England Club next week, defanging the third calendar Grand Slam and reducing it to a two-week exhibition tournament with monetary prizes and a big trophy.

But that’s not the biggest story anymore. Because after sustaining a leg injury at last year’s Wimbledon, Serena Williams is finally back. The GOAT herself was awarded a Wimbledon wild-card and competed in doubles with Ons Jabeur at Easbourne. She and Jabeur made it to the semifinals, but were forced to withdraw due to Jabeur’s knee injury.

Williams, despite her comeback attempt, is no longer the dominant force in women’s tennis, and number of American women have risen through the ranks in her absence. Danielle Collins and Jessica Pegula are now in the top 10, and Coco Gauff sits at No. 12. Madison Keys, Amanda Anisimova, Alison Riske and Shelby Rogers are in the top 40. None of them have come close to filling Williams’ shoes (only Poland’s Iga Swiatek can claim that), but Collins, Pegula and Gauff have all shown they have what it takes to make a deep run at Wimbledon and inch closer to the WTA top five.

The last American to hold the Wimbledon women’s singles title was Serena in 2016. Since then, a different player has won each year, and we may be on track to see another first-time winner in 2022. Ash Barty, the 2021 champ, has retired. Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep (champs in 2018 and 2019 respectively) haven’t been serious threats all year. Only Garbiñe Muguruza, who won in 2017, remains in the top 10. Even with Swiatek’s recent dominance, it feels like anything could happen at the All England Club this year.

Players to watch at Wimbledon 2022

Serena Williams

It’s hard to set expectations for Williams. Until last week, she hadn’t set foot on a competitive court for nearly a year. She looked good playing doubles with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne — tentative at times, but still fierce and competitive. But we have no idea how she’ll fare playing singles against a crop of competitors she hasn’t faced in over a year, if ever. Plus, her future plans are a mystery. Is Wimbledon just a test balloon to see if she’s ready to dive back into competing, even on a part time basis? Has she chosen this as her swan song? Or will she say goodbye at the US Open? She’s one Grand Slam win away from tying Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24, a mark she desperately wants to reach. Until she actually starts to play singles, we won’t know if that’s even a possibility. But if there’s someone who can do it, it’s the woman who won the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant, and made four finals and two semifinals after returning from maternity leave.

Serena Williams in action in her ladies doubles match with Ons Jabeur against Shuko Aoyama and Chan Hao-ching on day five of the Rothesay International Eastbourne at Devonshire Park, Eastbourne. Picture date: Wednesday June 22, 2022. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Serena Williams is back at Wimbledon a year after she limped off the court due to a leg injury. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

Iga Swiatek

Watching how Swiatek absolutely mowed down the competition at the French Open, the only players who could have stopped her were pre-retirement Ash Barty and pre-knee injury Serena Williams. That’s how dominant she was, and how dominant she’s been since her last loss in February. And since that straight-sets win over Coco Gauff in the Roland Garros final, Swiatek hasn’t competed at all, choosing to rest a shoulder injury so she can be at full strength for Wimbledon. She’s competed at the All England Club as a pro just twice before, making it as far as the fourth round, but she won the Wimbledon junior title in 2018. But while resting up means no grass court warmup, it also means that she’ll be fresh as a daisy in Round 1, and her 35-match winning will still be intact.

Coco Gauff

At Roland Garros, the 18-year-old Gauff graduated from high school and made her first Grand Slam final. While she’s now had more success at the French Open, Wimbledon is where Gauff broke out as a pro for the first time in 2019 as a 15-year-old. She’s had two fourth-round finishes at the All England Club, but seems poised to make a leap into the later rounds this year. She made it to the semifinals in Berlin recently, her best-ever result at a grass court tournament.

Anett Kontaveit

Kontaveit is now the No. 2 tennis player in the world, despite her early-round loss at Roland Garros. She’s also earned a No. 2 seed at Wimbledon, which should get her something she might need: a favorable first-round matchup. Kontaveit hasn’t played since her first-round loss at the French Open nearly a month ago. She dropped out of Eastbourne, the warmup for Wimbledon, because she was still suffering after-effects from her recent bout with COVID-19. At the very least she’ll be well-rested for Wimbledon, even though she hasn’t played a single grass match this year.

Other notable players

Jessica Pegula

2022 has been an outstanding year for Pegula. She made the quarterfinals at the Australian Open for the second straight year, and made the quarterfinals at the French Open for the first time. She also has a semifinal and a final on the WTA 1000, and she’s made it into the top ten in the WTA rankings for the first time in her career. She hasn’t played since Roland Garros, but the confidence she showed in Paris will almost certainly be on display at Wimbledon.

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 1: Jessica Pegula of USA during day 11 of the French Open 2022, second tennis Grand Slam of the year at Stade Roland Garros on June 1, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by John Berry/Getty Images)
Jessica Pegula looked great at the French Open, but will that translate to Wimbledon success? (Photo by John Berry/Getty Images)

Emma Raducanu

It continues to be a tough year for the 2021 U.S. Open champ. She’s been under constant scrutiny by the British media (including tabloids), split with two coaches (one happened right before Roland Garros), and struggled on the court. She had to retire from the Nottingham Open with a side strain, and pulled out of Eastbourne to continue recovering. There are always high hopes for any Brits playing at Wimbledon, but the upside of that is the support she’ll get by playing in front of a home country crowd.


Naomi Osaka

Osaka’s mission to get back on track keeps hitting potholes. She was hoping to make a triumphant return at the French Open, the same place she’d started a worldwide conversation about athlete mental health in 2021, but lost in the first round. Then she had to pull out of Wimbledon with an achilles injury, so we don’t know when we’ll see her again. She’ll have plenty to keep her busy though, since she recently co-founded a sports agency and launched a media venture with LeBron James.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka has lived in the WTA top 10 for the last two years, but we won’t get to see her at Wimbledon at all. The world No. 6 is from Belarus, and has been banned from competing at the All England Club.

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