Wimbledon roundtable: Who will win the women's singles title?

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Wimbledon is entering the quarterfinal stage, when subplots and storylines coalesce into the narrative of the tournament.

Nine days in, and five days out from the final Sunday, Andy Murray has said farewell to Wimbledon — a mixed doubles finale prevented by Emma Raducanu’s understandable desire to protect her singles chances. They ended at the hands of Lulu Sun, the New Zealand qualifier who is making this year’s fairytale run, in a women’s draw whose top three seeds are all out. Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff lost earlier than expected; Aryna Sabalenka had to withdraw with an injury.

So, who is actually going to win this tournament, and why?

The Athletic tennis writers Matthew Futterman and Charlie Eccleshare, and tennis editor James Hansen, offer their thoughts on what’s to come.

The player who has done it before: Elena Rybakina

Matt Futterman: The case for Rybakina, the 23-year-old who was born in Russia but moved to Kazakhstan in 2017 after being offered financial backing from the Kazakhstan Tennis Association, is simple: she’s a brilliant grass-court player, and she has done it before.

Her serve is probably the best in the women’s game when considering the balance of effectiveness and consistency, and her awesome forehand ballstriking gets even harder to cope with on a slick surface.

Rybakina’s biggest opponent may be her own health, which has been touch-and-go for a year. It’s forced her to pull out of multiple tournaments with a series of viral flareups, damaging her hopes of deep runs at several tournaments.

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Rybakina beat Ons Jabeur to win two years ago (Frey/TPN via Getty Images)

The fairytale qualifier: Lulu Sun

Charlie Eccleshare: A lefty with a punishing forehand who has shown great efficiency at the net over the last few weeks, Sun’s ranking will soar inside the world’s top 40 if she can beat Donna Vekic in their quarterfinal. There are many remarkable elements to her story, from her three languages (English, French, and Mandarin) to her completing a four-year degree inside three while becoming a college tennis champion, but the thing that might give her the edge at Wimbledon is a bit more prosaic: she’s brilliant at grass-court tennis.

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Sun’s confident net play has dazzled opponents (Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images)

Sun won 23 out of 27 points at the net in her second-round win against Yuliia Starodubtseva and was excellent there against Emma Raducanu on Sunday (23 from 28); the rest of the draw is largely not composed of players who like being past the service line.



Meet Lulu Sun, the Kiwi qualifier who is taking Wimbledon by storm

The last American standing: Emma Navarro

James Hansen: That Navarro is the last of her country’s representatives in the women’s draw is partly her fault: she took out No 2 seed and American No 1 Coco Gauff on Centre Court on Sunday.

If everybody left in the draw plays at their highest level, she — despite thrashing another Grand Slam champion, Naomi Osaka, in the second round — is not the pick.

Tennis doesn’t work like that. Navarro is a hugely accomplished mover, uses slice and shape on her skidding backhand and heavy forehand to disrupt rhythm, and creeps closer and closer to the baseline until her opponent is forced to relinquish ground.

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Navarro’s rock-solid game will be difficult to shake for any opponent (John Walton/PA via Getty Images)

She might not have the destructive peaks of Rybakina or Jelena Ostapenko but she probably does have the highest “bottom level” of any player left in the draw: the ability to be good when playing badly that Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel memorably ascribed to Paul Scholes. That’s the kind of attribute every Grand Slam champion needs.

The efficient destroyer: Jelena Ostapenko

Charlie Eccleshare: It wouldn’t be Wimbledon without Jelena Ostapenko making a terrible Hawk-Eye challenge, as she did on a couple of occasions against Yulia Putintseva on Sunday, in a match that had the potential to be a combustible classic.

In the end, it wasn’t competitive enough to truly catch fire, Ostapenko winning 6-2, 6-3 to reach her second Wimbledon quarterfinal. Ostapenko is yet to drop more than three games in a set; has won all four of her matches in straight sets; and is doing it with a scarcely believable economy of movement.

She’s run 3.34km (2.07 miles) in four matches, winning with the efficiency that matters in the final stages of a Grand Slam. She’s also one of three former Grand Slam champions left in the draw, along with Rybakina and Barbora Krejcikova, having won the French Open in 2017.

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Ostapenko has quietly and efficiently gone about her business (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The subplot storyline: Donna Vekic

James Hansen: If this year’s Wimbledon storyline is injuries, then Donna Vekic lifting the trophy on Saturday July 13 would be the ending it deserves. The Croatian came close to quitting tennis after surgery on her right knee left her unable to find her best level in 2021. It was devastating for a player who had reached top 20 in the world and a Grand Slam quarterfinal before the procedure. Further injuries, including a plantar fascia tear in her left foot — caused by putting more weight on her left leg after the surgery — made her consider quitting. Having reached a first Wimbledon quarterfinal, she’s glad she didn’t.

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Vekic defeated Paul Badosa to reach the quarterfinal (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

The form favourite: Jasmine Paolini

Matt Futterman: Reaching two Grand Slam quarterfinals in a row is not all that easy. Jasmine Paolini has, for the most part, made it look that way, despite not passing most of modern tennis’s eye tests.

She’s listed at 5ft 4in (163cm), and seeing her around the grounds, it’s possible she was wearing shoes or pushing up on her toes at the moment of measurement. Surely someone that diminutive will just be a scrambler who chases down balls and loops them back until the sun sets.

Wrong: Paolini has pop on her serve. Her forehand is a missile, and she has the guile to throw an opponent off rhythm. Sometimes she’ll even loop a ball in, just to live up to type.

When she won a 1,000-level event in Dubai in February, it felt pretty flukey — not because of her tennis, but because the women’s tour throws up some pretty random winners year in, year out. It wouldn’t happen again.

Wrong again: she plowed her way into the French Open final, meeting the one immovable object in Iga Swiatek.

This version of Jasmine Paolini is just a darn good tennis player who has figured out how to make the most of the physical gifts she has, without worrying about the shortcomings of playing opponents six and nine and 12 inches taller than she is.

She loses eye tests every day. Then she wins tennis matches.

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Paolini is on a hot streak at tennis’ biggest tournaments (Rob Newell/Camerasport via Getty Images)

The form reverser: Barbora Krejcikova

James Hansen: A quarterfinal is as far as Krejcikova has gotten in any tournament this year, but the two she has made came in a Grand Slam tournament (the Australian Open, where she lost to eventual champion Sabalenka) and a grass-court tournament (Birmingham, where she couldn’t recover from hitting one winner and 15 unforced errors in a dismal first set against Anastasia Potapova.)

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Krejcikova has serious Grand Slam pedigree (Francois Nel/Getty Images)

She’s faced similar injury woes to Vekic but has recovered; she has the heaviness of Navarro’s forehand and the intelligent net game of Sun; and is the last Grand Slam winner in the draw after Rybakina and Ostapenko. That’s a lot stacked in her favour, but form and confidence is one of the intangibles less on her side — at least, until she took out Danielle Collins, the American No 11 seed who has been having one of the form years of her career.

The crowd favourite: Elina Svitolina

Charlie Eccleshare: This time last year, the Wimbledon crowd adopted Elina Svitolina as their favourite. Her compelling story — returning to tennis after giving birth, under the weight of the Russian invasion of her home country, Ukraine — made her an easy player to root for.

The atmosphere when she beat Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals was particularly memorable, and while Svitolina has gone under the radar more this year, an emotional victory over Wang Xinyu in the fourth round on Monday has put her back in the spotlight.

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Svitolina has a huge affinity with the Wimbledon crowd (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Will it be enough to inspire Svitolina to what would be a hugely popular victory? It should certainly give her a lift against Elena Rybakina on Wednesday, when she’ll likely have a huge majority of the fan support.

Last year, Svitolina ultimately ran out of steam against Marketa Vondrousova in the semifinals — but that was at the end of a run where she had had to cope with a huge amount of attention. It’s not been quite like that this year but, with the crowd definitely on her side, it could be the lift she needs to get over the line.

The Athletic tennis team picks a winner — that will most likely be wrong

Matt Futterman: Barbora Krejcikova

Charlie Eccleshare: Jelena Ostapenko

James Hansen: Emma Navarro

Tell us your pick for the women’s singles, and why you’ve picked them, in the comments.

(Top photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

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