When Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet beat Serena Williams back in February at the Dubai Duty Free Championships, that semifinal result was seen by some as a fluke. That was especially so when sister Venus Williams exacted swift revenge in the final by torching Cornet, 6-3 6-0. Sure, Serena had lost earlier at the Australian Open to Ana Ivanovic. Minor bumps in the road, it seemed. Well, the road in 2014 has become quite a bumpy ride for the world’s #1 ranked player. There have been highlights, namely 3 titles, but there have also been…ummm, not highlights. In a rematch of that Dubai semifinal, Serena looked poised for revenge in the third round of Wimbledon 2014. She blew through two overmatched opponents in the first two rounds and looked to do the same to her first seeded opponent of the tournament. The score was 1-1 in the first set when the match was delayed by rain. When they came back it seemed like another lopsided Serena win was unfolding. Blink and you would have missed the 5 quick games Serena rolled off to take the first set 6-1. Cornet didn’t wilt. She didn’t give up. Instead, she raised her game. Say what you will about Serena being flat energy-wise or getting older or whatever, Alizé must be given her due. She did three things brilliantly. She returned the ball deep off of Serena’s serve, keeping Serena from setting up inside the baseline. Cornet also moved brilliantly, displaying footwork that was impeccable running down shots and being in good position to hit on the move. And lastly, she mixed up her shots. She painted lines but she also had well timed drop shots. By doing that, she didn’t become predictable. I suppose I could add a fourth thing. She kept her unforced errors in check. Serena was even in winners to unforced errors (29-29) while Alizé was +10 (28-18). Cornet made Serena really have to work. Over the next two sets Williams was visibly tiring while Alizé looked like she could keep running into the London night. In the end, the 25th seed more than validated her win in Dubai over Serena by knocking the #1 seed out of Wimbledon in the third round.
What does this mean for Serena? Let’s not go overboard here. She’s still the #1 player in the world. She’s still tied for the lead at the moment with Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova for tournament wins in 2014. That could change if one of them wins this event, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The point is, let’s not shovel dirt on Serena. Her winning ways are not dead. She’s still the favorite in any tournament she enters. She’s just not the overwhelming favorite of recent years. Players like Cornet, Ivanovic, Muguruza and Cepelova, all who have beaten her this year, have no fear of her at 32. Ah, yes…her age. When she’s on, she can blow away anybody. But more and more as she ages she’ll have days where she won’t be the unstoppable force she is at her best. As that becomes more of a pattern, opponents will come on court with the highest respect for her Hall of Fame career, but also expecting to have a chance of winning.
The Betfair betting house has adjusted their top 5 picks to win Wimbledon after the fall of Serena. I will break the top 5 into two groups. The third through fifth picks, Agnieszka Radwanska (7-1 odds), Eugenie Bouchard (8-1) and Simona Halep (9-1) all have the ability to win, of course. What they’ve yet to do is prove they can win a Major. Aga and Simona have been in Major finals, pushing Serena and Masha respectively to 3 sets. Genie has been in back to back Major semifinals this year. With Serena and Li Na gone in the first week for the second Major in a row, the draw could be favorable for a first time winner. The #1 and #2 picks are Maria Sharapova (5-2 odds) and Petra Kvitova (9-2). If you’ve ever read my blog when I write about Petra, then you know I think the 2011 Wimbledon champion is the most talented player on tour…when she’s on. She can also look awful when she’s not. After she beat Venus Williams in a classic third round match I said Petra could win the tournament or get run off the court in her next match. Her highs are that high and her lows are that low. That leaves top pick Masha, the 2004 Wimbledon champion who just won her 5th Major at Roland Garros. She’s a proven champion, a career Grand Slam winner. She’s on fire coming into Wimbledon and through the first week. Whether she goes on to Wimbledon or not, while Masha is still alive in the draw most people will feel it’s her tournament to win or lose.
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25 ALIZÉ CORNET (won 1-6 6-3 6-4 vs 1 Serena Williams)
3 SIMONA HALEP (won 6-4 6-1 vs Belinda Bencic)
5 MARIA SHARAPOVA (won 6-3 6-0 vs Alison Riske)
9 ANGELIQUE KERBER (won 3-6 6-3 6-2 vs 24 Kirsten Flipkens)
13 EUGENIE BOUCHARD (won 6-3 6-4 vs 20 Andrea Petkovic)