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TTI Talks: State of the WTA (Wimbledon 2016 Edition)

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After making our ATP picks early Sunday, the TTI crew reconvened to hash out the women’s draw at Wimbledon — one that proves to be full of storylines across the board. Between Serena Williams still seeking history and Garbiñe Muguruza adjusting to life as a Grand Slam champion, there’s no shortage of fun to be had for the 126 players in between.

Of the WTA, who is/has:

1. The biggest dark horse?

JEFF

The glory of the women’s draw is that I could spot probably 128 potential semifinalists, but a player who I think might have an outside shot at going all the way? It’s got to be Madison Keys. She made a fantastic run to the Birmingham title through imperious both displays of first strike power-tennis and gritty baseline battles. The fact that she was able to overcome inevitable dips in form throughout several different styles of player in Birmingham makes me think that she could be to take the next step at a Slam. Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza did it this year, why couldn’t an increasingly matured Keys?

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(*Jeff completely forgot that Keys is a Top 10 player and therefore not technically a dark horse pick, but stands by her nevertheless.)

RENÉ

CoCo Vandeweghe is coming off of another title in s’-Hertogenbosch and a semifinal appearance in Birmingham. After making the quarterfinals here last year, don’t be surprise to see 24-year-old equal that result — she’s got the draw to do it.

SAM

I wouldn’t say Lucie Safarova’s form is back to where it was before her injury and illness woes, but she has been playing better as of late. She’s capable of beating anyone on her road to the quarterfinals and I wouldn’t be shocked to see her around late in the second week.

NICK

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Tsvetana Pironkova is on all of our radar’s every year when Wimbledon rolls around. The Bulgarian, despite having lost at the first round in this event the last two years, has an affection for grass and just won five matches in Birmingham before losing to eventual finalist Barbora Strycova. The seeded players in Pironkova’s section includes Kvitova, Strycova and her first round opponent, Belinda Bencic. Outside of Strycova, none of these players has been hot as of late which could allow Pironkova to make a deep run at SW19, similar to the runs she made in 2010 and 2011, where she made the semifinals and quarterfinals, respectively.

DIEGO

Everyone can have her chance to have the role of “party pooper”, but probably is Dominika Cibulkova the one. She won in Eastbourne after three weeks off following her defeat at Roland Garros and she seems ready to make other damages in Church Road. The draw wasn’t a happy one for her, though, as she has to play another potential tricky player as Mirjana Lucic-Baroni first, and the turnaround after her first title on grass could hit a snag. Following that, her situation could be interesting and she could face Radwanska for a place in the quarterfinal. Grass is not her best surface, but 2016 is quickly becoming one of her best season so far.

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VIKA

Barbora Strycova has the chance to do something pretty cool. The 30-year-old Czech comes into Wimbledon in comparatively better form than Petra Kvitova, who anchors the top of her section of the draw, which is full of grass-court lovers. The runner-up in Birmingham, the 2014 Wimbledon quarterfinalist has the game to take on Bencic, Pironkova and Tamira Paszek —  all in this section — offering a bit of a throwback to Wimbledons gone by as she does it.

2. The Early Exit?

JEFF

Not taking away from the awesome run of results that Roberta Vinci has had over the past nine months, but she’s been over-ranked for quite some time now and her No. 6 seeding at Wimbledon seems a bit hard to believe. Like she did at Roland Garros, I expect her to leave a big hole in the draw’s second section, as she’s playing noted grass court specialist Alison Riske in the first round.

RENÉ

Things just haven’t seemed to click for Roberta Vinci at the moment after a number of early losses. While she should have a lot of the ingredients to make a run at Wimbledon, it hasn’t happened since making the round of 16 in 2013 — and drawing Alison Riske in the opening doesn’t necessarily help, considering the American’s fondness of the grass.

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SAM

Roberta Vinci’s first round opponent Alison Riske is at her best on grass and the Italian is yet to rediscover her fantastic form of late 2015.

NICK

Coming off the high of winning the French Open, Garbiñe Muguruza will be tested early and seemingly often in the first week of the tournament. Muguruza faces hard-hitting Italian Camila Giorgi, who is arguably one of only several players on the planet that can outhit Muguruza from the baseline when she’s on. In the third round, Muguruza could face 2015 French Open finalist, Lucie Safarova. Safarova, a hard-hitter herself, is a former Wimbledon semifinalist and has the experience necessary to take out any opponent at any stage of a Grand Slam.

DIEGO

I wonder how Garbiñe Muguruza reacted when she saw she has to face Camila Giorgi in the first round. I’m guessing she probably didn’t smile…

Even though she’s coming off her first major title and is a contender for the title here, Giorgi is one of the worst match up she could have first up, even if she is having a 2016 full of issues.

VIKA

Belinda Bencic‘s tough year continues. The Swiss has dealt with injury this year — and the bug bit her in Birmingham, too — but her draw here isn’t kind either. The No. 7 seed opens against Pironkova, who she defeated in three sets here in the first round last year, but I’ll say that the Bulgarian is certainly in better form than the Swiss — despite the massive gap between them in the rankings.

3. The Toughest Road?

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JEFF

It doesn’t really feel like Simona Halep‘s game should work on grass even though she made the semifinals at Wimbledon two years ago. She’s never enjoyed unpredictable conditions and grass is probably the most imperfect of surfaces in tennis. Her incoherence with the surface isn’t helped by a difficult draw that — aside from Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in the first round, who has only won *two* matches all year — includes Anastasija Sevastova, Kiki Bertens and Madison Keys. If she makes it to the quarterfinals, it likely won’t be on the back of an easy draw.

RENÉ

Belinda Bencic opens against Tsvetana Pironkova, only to potentially play Elena Vesnina and Petra Kvitova or maybe Barbor Strycova in the round of 16. That’s a tough ask.

No one should be envying the No. 7 seed.

SAM

From the second round on, Serena Williams could play opponents more than capable of pushing her to a higher gear. Heather Watson or Kristina Mladenovic in the third round is a definite potential upset spot if the World No. 1 has an off day, and one of Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki or Svetlana Kuznetsova wouldn’t be easy in the fourth round either.

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NICK

It would be easy to go with Muguruza here, but Roberta Vinci does not have it easy either. She starts off with the Pennsylvania native and grass-court-inclined Alison Riske and could find herself in a third round tussle with popular dark horse choice CoCo Vandeweghe, who is coming off a title in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and a semifinal appearance in Birmingham. In the fourth round, Vinci’s likely opponent would be Timea Bacsinzsky, whereas Muguruza would likely be facing Stosur or Svitolina.

The edge goes to Vinci based off the fourth potential matchup with the Swiss.

DIEGO

Even if Roberta Vinci has the tools to play really well on grass — a lot of variety, sublime volleys — she’s never had the best Wimbledon results. She has to play lot of shots in every single point in order to have the chance to go to the net and her forehand, with a big swing, is not so well suited for grass, where you have to be really quick and approach the net as soon as you can. That, plus her draw, does her no favors.

VIKA

Who knows what we’re going to get out of Simona Halep here? The Romanian hasn’t played a match on grass this year, and her draw is full of unheralded stumbling blocks — and for me, that’s as early as surging Latvian Anastasija Sevastova in the second round.

4. The Most Exciting R1?

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JEFF

You know it’s 2016 when Svetlana Kuznetsova plays Caroline Wozniacki in the first round of a Grand Slam – and Wozniacki is the unseeded one. While Kuznetsova has had a bit of a revival this season with an excellent run to the Miami final, the former World No.1 Dane has had a falling out. Marred by injury, inconsistency and passive play, Wozniacki is looking for her own revival and she’s always enjoyed playing on grass despite never reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Kuznetsova is much less of a grass court specialist, so I’m certifying this first round match as ‘must-watch’ on the basis of WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

RENÉ

Tamira Paszek vs. Elena Vesnina. There’s a myriad of exciting first round matches but I’ll go with the encounter between two former Eastbourne champions — this should and could be a really fun one that might be floating under the radar of a lot of people.

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SAM

If Tamira Paszek can recover from her marathon win-via-retirement in the final round of qualifying, she and Elena Vesnina could make me go through two or three bags of popcorn. They both love grass and are playing much better than their rankings suggest.

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NICK

Giorgi vs. Muguruza is must watch tennis as the defending runner-up faces an incredibly tough first round test in the form of the Italian. Both players hit very flat and can hit winners from any part of the court. On freshly cut grass, the shot-making in this one could be spectacular.

DIEGO

What I really want to see if I were at Wimbledon is Timea Babos vs. Katie Swan. Swan is one of the most talented young players — the youngest in the whole main draw — but she has a really good game. For her size, she has a strong serve — last year, she competed in the junior tournament and she served out 16 aces in the first round. The Hungarian has a strong season, and was Top 20 in the WTA Race for the start of it. No­ one is probably expecting too much from this match, so I’m here to say, “You heard it here first.”

VIKA

I want to watch all 64 of these first round women’s matches — no joke. If you force me to choose, though — I’m going with the unconventional and all-unseeded tilt of Monica Niculescu vs. Aleksandra Krunic. This is one for the hipsters who can appreciate unique shotmaking — if Niculescu is healthy after the injury that’s kept her out since Roland Garros, bring your popcorn.

5. The Unheralded Opposition?

JEFF

Watch out for Tsvetana Pironkova. She’s got the draw and the Wimbledon experience to do that thing she does, which is basically shock everyone into remembering she’s actually a pretty good tennis player.

RENÉ

Out of 52 weeks a year, these are the two weeks when Sabine Lisicki tends to come alive — no matter how terrible the rest of her season has been. The German comes into Wimbledon in the midst of one of her worst years in memory, but during Wimbledon — all bets are off.

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SAM

It’s weird to put Ekaterina Makarova in this category when we’re so used to her being a high seed and virtual lock to at least live up to her ranking, and yet here we are — Makarova is unseeded. I still think she has the tennis, experience, and guts to mess around and knock out two-time champion Petra Kvitova in the second round — and from there, who knows?

NICK

Ekaterina Makarova has made the fourth round in nine of the last 14 Grand Slams. Despite the fact that just one of those nine came at Wimbledon, Makarova has demonstrated, at least for one event, that she can put together a run on grass. The Russian would likely be facing Kvitova in the second round, who we know, despite her successes at Wimbledon, can be as hot and cold as anyone on the planet. If Makarova can take out Kvitova early, this Radwanska-Bencic quarter of the draw may be waiting for her to break through it.

DIEGO

Monica Puig has a big chance to do really well on the lawns of SW19 after a great run in Eastbourne. Her opening match against Johanna Konta is a 50-50 affair, and she’s had success at Wimbledon before — making the fourth round in her debut in 2013.

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VIKA

Watch out for a curly-haired German — and not the one you’re thinking of.

Anna-Lena Friedsam has had a quiet season in terms of flashy results but has very rarely lost matches she shouldn’t over the past 12 months. Owner of a big serve and strong baseline game, she could very well crash the party in that section of Karolina Pliskova and Ana Ivanovic.

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6. The Semifinalists?

JEFF

I think the WTA will be at its chaotic best this fortnight, and its lone beacon of consistency, Serena Williams (yeah, only one title but four finals in five tournaments is pretty good), is going to take an early exit – somewhere. CoCo Vandeweghe is coming for the semifinals and she doesn’t care what you think about it. Who she’ll face is a bit of a toss up, but I’m compelled to with Agnieszka Radwanska, who is a fantastic grass court player but just needs to avoid rain delays and peaking opponents — neither of which can be a guarantee.

Keys was my dark horse pick, but I think Angelique Kerber, who says she’s at peak fitness and preparation for the tournament, might be a safer pick. There really isn’t a defensive player out there who moves better than she does on grass and her draw isn’t as littered with land mines as other players in the section. The bottom quarter is tough to call, with Muguruza now playing with the pressure of being a Slam champion on top of having to defend her final from last year. Instead, I think I’m going with former Wimbledon semifinalist Lucie Safarova, whose forgettable 12 months is due to become less forgettable any time now.

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RENÉ

While I do think there are a couple of landmines in Serena Williams‘ draw, I can’t help but feel that she’ll get through to the semifinal stage. Petra Kvitova‘s road to the semifinal is probably even tougher with Strycova, Bencic and Radwanska but if a two-time Wimbledon champion can’t get through that, who can?

In the bottom half, I’m a little — or rather far less certain — with my predictions but if Madison Keys has bottled up some of the form of the past couple of weeks, she has a shot at going at least one further than last year — and we’d all want to see a Kerber vs. Keys quarterfinal, right?

Muguruza was one of the winners of Friday’s draw ceremony and her road looks primed for her to be in the mix for another major  title again, despite a tricky opener against Camila Giorgi.

SAM

Serena vs. Radwanska and Keys vs. Venus.

Each of these four are the best on this surface in their respective quarters…when they bring their best. I have faith in them to navigate their quarters.

Also: how fun would these semis be? GIMME.

NICK

Serena Williams vs. Johanna Konta and Angelique Kerber vs. Venus Williams

If you’ve been following my picks, it takes a really, really tough draw for me to pick against Serena making the final, yet alone the semifinals. As far as Konta is concerned, I believe she’s got a fabulous game for the grass and a wonderful mentality on the court. Her draw presents some very tricky matches along the way (Monica Puig, Eugenie Bouchard, Dominika Cibulkova, Radwanska), but for no reason other than gut feeling I think she gets through it.

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Kerber’s quarter of the draw is one that she should be able to roll through. Halep is the other top eight player in that quarter, but she has not set foot on a grass court for an official match. Kerber seems like the easy call there. Venus is in Muguruza’s quarter and I’m picking her to get to the semifinals largely based on the postulation that Murguruza is going to take an early exit in this event. Outside of Muguruza, Venus could not have asked for a better draw.

DIEGO

Pretty sure I’ll be wrong, but I see the semifinal of the top half of the draw as something completely unexpected.

Like, for example, Vandeweghe vs. ­Cibulkova.

The bottom half? Keys vs. ­Muguruza would be unexpected too — maybe — but both are in the Top ­10 now.

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VIKA

Serena Williams vs. Agnieszka Radwanska and Madison Keys vs. Garbiñe Muguruza.

Three of these four are at their best on grass, and I think will come through what will be a very eventful women’s tournament. As far as Muguruza goes, she’s a Grand Slam champion now and despite falling to Kirsten Flipkens in her only match on grass this season, she’ll come through and anchor that bottom portion of the draw.

7. The Champion?

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JEFF

I can’t believe I’m putting Agnieszka Radwanska as the champion but I’m doing it. (Or Serena. Or someone else. Bye.)

RENÉ

After banking on Serena Williams for the past four Grand Slams with regards to the winner, I am going out on a limb this time — but how much of a limb is it, really? Out of the semifinal line-up that I have assembled, why not Madison Keys? Why can’t she lift that trophy? I see Kvitova upsetting the World No. 1 in the semifinals and Keys eventually grabbing the Venus Rosewater Dish.

SAM

Serena def. Keys — I went with my gut over my head and correctly called Garbiñe Muguruza to lift the trophy in Paris, but this time my head and gut agree: the World No. 1 will break her slam drought and finally win No. 22.

NICK

Venus Williams def. Serena Williams.

I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, but this is my thinking. Assuming Venus gets to the final, which of course is a big if, she will have virtually no pressure. Sure, it would probably be the final time she participates in a Grand Slam final, but she’s Venus and she doesn’t seem to be dazed by anything. On the other hand, Serena has already lost the first two major finals of the year and certainly would not want to go down in a third, even if it’s against her sister. Venus last won Wimbledon in 2008, beating Serena in straight sets in the final. If all goes well and Serena is feeling the pressure of the record books and her previous slam final losses in 2016, Venus could very well be your 2016 champion.

DIEGO

I’ll take Madison Keys to win her first Grand Slam title because — well, why not?

VIKA

Wimbledon has long held special memories for the World No. 1, and after falling short in tying Steffi Graf at the first two slams of 2016, I have a feeling Serena Williams will have another special memory for the Wimbledon scrapbook at the end of the fortnight.

Who are your WTA Wimbledon picks? Sound off in the comments!

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