Scott Ferguson previews the ladies' draw at Wimbledon 2019 and identifies four pre-tournament bets including Karolina Pliskova to win the title.
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Once again the ladies’ draw at Wimbledon appears to be wide open with at least a dozen players in contention and virtually all of those having some query over their fitness or form.
The story of the year is Ashleigh Barty. Seeded 17 last year, she has now broken 40-year Australian droughts as French Open champion and WTA number one with the rare air of winning both junior and senior titles at Wimbledon, most recently achieved by Martina Hingis and Amelie Mauresmo, next on her list.
Barty is on a 12-match winning streak and holds a 38-6 record for 2019. After steady improvement throughout last season, everything has clicked for her this year, winning titles on all surfaces and becoming the most feared player on the tour. Her senior record here isn't great, only once progressing past round one, but she is a completely different player over the past 12 months and her fondness for grass is clear.
Yet Barty’s odds have drifted noticeably this week for two reasons - firstly a precautionary elbow injury which kept her out of Eastbourne, and secondly her draw.
The elbow is a managed problem which requires rest occasionally so there are no concerns there, but the draw hasn't done her any favours. In her quarter she has 2017 champion Garbine Muguruza (likely opponent in R3), talented Europeans Donna Vekic and Belinda Bencic (R4), followed by any of seven-time champion Serena Williams, recent Birmingham finalist Julia Georges, former champion Maria Sharapova or defending champion Angelique Kerber in the quarter-final.
As top seed, she's capable of beating all of them but it’s an undeniably cruel run, one which has moved her price from as short as 7/2 out to 6/1 in places.
Kerber hard to beat
Within that quarter, it's Kerber that looks the strongest of her rivals. The defending champion wasn't fit in Paris but has her game purring nicely again on the grass with multiple match wins in Mallorca and Eastbourne over the past fortnight.
As always, write off Serena Williams at your own peril but she has retired or given a walkover in three of her last four tournaments. With no public preparation here, taking single-figure odds about her winning seven consecutive matches is simply burning money.
Bencic has reached the fourth round twice in her past three visits here and reached the final in Mallorca recently, defeating Amanda Anisimova and Kerber before succumbing to Sofia Kenin in three tight sets. She adds further strength to a stacked top section.
Mertens a Belgian treat
In contrast, the second quarter is quite weak. Fourth seed Petra Kvitova missed Roland Garros and Birmingham with an arm injury, the aforementioned French Open semi-finalist Anisimova is also under an injury cloud, Jo Konta's ruthless run has lost momentum, while Sloane Stephens bombed out early at Eastbourne last week and hasn't won a match here since 2016.
That could leave this section open for the rhyming partnership of Bertens and Mertens, Kiki and Elise respectively. Both of them have only fallen to finalists or eventual champions in their two most recent grass tournaments, far stronger form than any of their early rivals.
The Belgian is several times bigger in price which surprises me and looks value to make the semi-finals.
Pliskova in tremendous form
Quarter three is the domain of Karolina Pliskova who has looked in fine form at Eastbourne this past week, dropping just fourteen games in eight sets before the final. Previously grass has been her worst surface, at least in terms of the major tournaments but her form suggests she is better prepared than ever before.
With Elina Svitolina out of form and Marketa Vondrousova having limited exposure to grass, this quarter does look to be at the mercy of the right-handed Pliskova twin.
Take chance on Kenin
The last quarter has an opposable top seed with Naomi Osaka having gone off the boil since the Australian Open following a coaching change and seemingly a struggle to deal with injuries plus her new-found fame. It hasn't clicked for Osaka in months and it would take a big leap of faith to back her for the title, even at the price she has drifted to.
The dangers in this section look to be Simona Halep, who doesn't completely convince me on grass but is capable of stringing a few wins together, and American Sofia Kenin.
Halep's seeds in her immediate path, Daria Kasatkina and Madison Keys, have form and injury concerns while Kenin is the rising star who surprised Serena Williams in Paris and took a set off Barty in the fourth round.
She took out three of the top four seeds to win the Mallorca tournament recently and should be capable of transferring that form to SW19, so let’s get her on-side to win the bottom quarter.
Despite it being 6/1 the field, the most obvious pairing on July 13 looks to be Barty and Pliskova.
The former is out to a tempting price but she does have to navigate through a loaded section, and for that reason, I'm going to focus on Pliskova for my outright pick after winning her quarter.
It's doubling up which I am usually reticent to do, but I can't see her not getting through that section provided she stays fit.
Posted at 1215 BST on 29/06/19