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Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, shown here at the Birmingham Classic heads into Wimbledon as the top seed. (Tim Goode/PA via AP)  
Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, shown here at the Birmingham Classic heads into Wimbledon as the top seed. (Tim Goode/PA via AP)  |Associated Press
Tennis

Wimbledon Women’s Preview: Abrams goes through both halves of the bracket and looks at the paths to the final for tops seeds Barty and Osaka

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

I guess it’s not a surprise to report that the Women’s Draw at the Championships, like the Men’s, is simply packed. After reporting on the small 32-draw tournaments over the past few weeks since the French Open ended I got used to seeing three or four big names per event, but looking at the full 128-player draw of Wimbledon is pretty mind bending. For the competitors themselves, it must be daunting.

Ash Barty is the top seed, and a pretty universal favorite to complete the Channel Double, but she has a few players in her way to the finals who absolutely stand a chance of knocking her off. She’s got 4th seeded Kiki Bertens and 5th seeded and defending champion Angie Kerber, lying in wait in her half of the draw and both women have the ability to successfully challenge Barty. But she’ll also have to contend with Sloane Stephens, Belinda Bencic, Johanna Konta, Garbine Muguruza, Amanda Anisimova, Petra Kvitova, Julia Georges, and the always dangerous-on-grass Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, if any of them can get hot and emerge to challenge the top seed in that half.

Second seeded Naomi Osaka, who has become somewhat of a forgotten woman since she lost in Paris, has plenty of competition too, although her path seems far less arduous. Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Vika Azarenka, Madison Keyes, Aryna Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina, and Sofia Kenin are in Osaka’s half, and if she gets through that gauntlet to reach the finals I’ll be very impressed. Frankly, between the two, I think Osaka has the easier road, but whoever reaches the finals will have come through a minefield of potential disaster.

Long shots? Yes, of course. There always are. Muguruza is a real enigma, but as a former champion the 6-foot Spaniard can never be overlooked. She will probably be the first real test for Barty, in the third round, but could come out of there if her power game is on. Either Kai Kanepi or Belinda Bencic should be the next hurdle for the top seed, and then Serena Williams, Julia Goerges, Sam Stosur or Maria Sharapova, or Angie Kerber should come out of the second eighth. In the bottom of the top half lie Kerber, Kvitova, and Bertens, but Sloane Stephens and Johanna Konta could surprise. The only other possibles are American teen Anisimova, and the French 6’ enigma Katie Mladenovic.

Those in the bottom half who could cause trouble include Anastasija Sevastova, Maria Sakkari, Petra Martic, French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova, Jelana Ostapenko, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. Venus can’t be overlooked, as a five-time champion, but realistically, at almost 40-years-old, if she wins two rounds she should be relatively satisfied. Her first round match against 15-year-old American Coco Gauff could be a changing-of-the-guard, and the match-up reminds me of those fixed by the tournament committee in the NCAA basketball tournament. Those match-ups rarely seem random, and the tournament committee often possesses an interesting sense of humor. Still, Venus is very dangerous on grass.

Realistically, both Wozniacki and Ostapenko, who are Grand Slam champions, have little chance to win seven matches on grass, but have the ability to come up with an upset here or there. Sakkari and Martic have games that should be suited to grass, but they can’t go the whole way. And although the jury is still out on Sevastova and Vondrousova, it’s unlikely that either can go particularly far, although the future may hold different conclusions. I think the only two long shots that have a puncher’s chance to cause havoc in the bottom half are Azarenka and Kenin, but they’re long shots for a reason.

There’s a good reason that Barty and Osaka are the two top seeds, and it is likely that one or both will reach the ultimate match and play for the title in London. But in the meantime, there are some great matches to be played, and the story of 2019 is only just beginning.