Serena Williams is ready to make her maiden Grand Slam appearance as a mother. Unseeded at a Grand Slam for the first time in decade, there has been a lot of talk about whether that is unfair or not.
But the biggest question is how will the 23-time Grand Slam champion go? It is dividing the tennis world, including our #Smashtalk team of Vivienne Christie and Leigh Rogers.
Vivienne Christie: My story-writing self wants to say Serena can win the title, or at least make the second week. My more realistic self is tempering those expectations, figuring that the fiercely-competitive Serena is already placing enough pressure on herself. We know how much the 23 Grand Slam champion loves to battle but her initial comeback was – it has to be said – an anti-climax. It doesn’t get any easier: first-round opponent Kristyna Pliskova has amassed a handy 8-4 record on European clay court this season, while Serena hasn’t competed on the surface since she was runner-up at the French Open in 2016. So how far can she go? Let’s get the three-time champ through a first career meeting with the “other” Pliskova and then we’ll reassess.
Leigh Rogers: Serena has landed in arguably the toughest section of the draw – but her ability to rise to a challenge is what makes her a champion. Let’s not forget the last time Serena was unseeded at a Grand Slam was Australian Open 2007 – and she sensationally won it after her fitness levels were questioned. I think Serena can make the second week in Paris and with some momentum behind her, anything is possible.
VC: I love that Stan Wawrinka is maintaining his positive attitude but equally wary of believing he can return to Grand Slam-winning form. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have distorted the reality of injury comebacks after age 30 and Stan is now aged 33. That’ll he need wildcards to enter main draw tournaments compounds the difficulties for Wawrinka and with more than $30 million prize money banked, does he really want to return to the Challenger tour? A top-50 return is possible but it’s just as likely that he spends the rest of his career outside the top 10.
LR: There is no argument that Stan Wawrinka is too good to be ranked outside the world’s top 250. But I have my doubts whether we’ll ever see him back inside the top 10. Consistency has never been one of the 33-year-old’s strengths – and his fitness levels are a long way off where they need to be. He’ll remain a dangerous opponent, but his days as a contender for the game’s biggest titles look over.
VC: With 13 Grand Slam title-holders starting in the women’s draw, it was inevitable that two former champions should meet. What makes this match the most intriguing is not the obvious angle that they’ve each won the title – Muguruza in 2016 and Kuznetsova in 2009 – but that they each bring in such patchy form. When it comes down to who will lift for the big occasion you have to favour the younger, bolder and higher-ranked Muguruza. Especially given that the more recent French Open champion has also won each of their three previous matches on tour.
LR: Muguruza – and if she wins this, she’ll win the tournament. It’s a big call I know, but I think this tough draw benefits the Spaniard. The No.3 seed can struggle to find her best form and focus early in tournaments – but facing Kuznetsova will force her to come out firing. If Muguruza can build her confidence early in the tournament, it will only make her tougher to beat in the latter rounds.
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