Ash Barty at centre of extraordinary $3 million drama at Wimbledon

·Sports Editor
·3-min read
Simona Halep, Ash Barty and Serena Williams, pictured here in action before Wimbledon.
Simona Halep, Ash Barty and Serena Williams are all contenders for the Wimbledon title. Image: Getty

UPDATE: Simona Halep has withdrawn from Wimbledon since time of publishing.

Wimbledon will kick off next week with unprecedented uncertainty surrounding the women's draw.

The women's field is wide open with top seed Ash Barty and defending champion Simona Halep both heading into the grand slam tournament without a single match on grass this season.

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World No.2 Naomi Osaka has also withdrawn as she continues to battle mental health issues, while 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams is struggling with inconsistent form.

The French Open recently crowned a first-time women's major winner for the sixth-straight year, and it might be Wimbledon's turn to witness a new grand slam champion for the first time since Marion Bartoli lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish in 2013.

Top-ranked Barty, who says grass is her favourite surface despite winning her maiden major at Roland Garros in 2019, retired from her last two tournaments due to different physical ailments.

The 25-year-old's Roland Garros campaign was curtailed in the second round when she had to retire due to a hip injury, while a muscle strain in her serving arm forced her to quit during the quarter-finals in Rome.

Halep was denied a chance to defend her 2019 title when Wimbledon was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a pall of injury worry will hang over the second-seeded Romanian when she starts her campaign next week.

Like Barty, Halep also exited the WTA 1000 event in Rome after suffering a calf injury during her second-round outing against Angelique Kerber and was subsequently forced to miss the French Open.

With injury worries to the top two seeds and World No.2 Osaka also missing in action, a new set of challengers could stake their claim for the $3 million in prize money.

Another proven contender on grass and a two-time Wimbledon Champion, Petra Kvitova also injured her ankle at Roland Garros in a freak fall while performing her post-match media duties.

The decision of the French Open organisers to delay the clay-court major by a week has also left players with little time to switch their game for grass ahead of Wimbledon.

Naomi Osaka, pictured here in action at the 2021 French Open.
Naomi Osaka withdrew from Wimbledon due to mental health reasons. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Stage set for Serena Williams to equal Margaret Court?

With no standout favourite in the women's field, it could provide an ideal stage for Serena to finally end her quest for an elusive 24th grand slam title.

Since winning the 2017 Australian Open, Williams has stayed in the hunt by reaching four major finals but has failed to win the title that would see her match Margaret Court's record haul.

"If ever the field was at its most vulnerable, I would think it would be this year with the injuries, with the lack of grass court practice," ESPN tennis analyst Chris Evert, an 18-times grand slam singles champion, said.

"This is to me her (Williams) golden opportunity."

Williams has come within one win of a 24th major title the last two times Wimbledon has been held, but lost both finals - to Angelique Kerber in 2018 and Halep the following year.

The Australian Open and the Wimbledon remain Williams' happiest hunting grounds with seven titles each.

The American's long-time coach Patrick Mouratoglou believes grass amplifies Williams' strong points as a player and the shorter points on the surface also poses a lesser challenge for her physical fitness.

"She will always have more chances to win on the surface that highlights her biggest qualities, which are the serve, the ability to accelerate the ball," Mouratoglou told Reuters.

with Reuters

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