Lindsay Davenport believes Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka can qualify for the WTA Finals in Singapore, where the best eight players of the season are set to do battle.
Davenport, who has been announced as a WTA Finals Legend Ambassador, will not be surprised if either one of the former world No1s goes on a strong run over the next few months and books herself a place at the prestigious season finale.
Sharapova returned from a 15-month doping ban at the end of April, reaching the semi-finals in Stuttgart, before falling in the second round in both Madrid and Rome.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam champion pulled out of Wimbledon qualifying due to a thigh muscle injury she picked up in Rome and plans on competing next at the WTA event in Stanford (starts July 31).
Sharapova is currently ranked No180 in the world and is No110 in the Porsche Race to Singapore.
Meanwhile Azarenka is back from her maternity leave and is contesting just the second tournament since her return. The Belarusian, who had her first child, Leo, last December is into the Wimbledon fourth round, where she is playing Simona Halep.
“I would never count out Sharapova or Azarenka from anything,” said Davenport, a former world No1 and three-time major champion.
“These players are competitors. They know how to win. Either one could go on a tear and win a bunch of tournaments in a row. I’m not sure of the deficit they’re under in terms of Race to Singapore and points but either one of them could be holding the US Open trophy (this September) and with that, a lot of confidence, a lot of swag going into the fall as well.
“I think they’re both going to make big runs in the next 12 to 18 months. It’ll be interesting to see how Maria now handles almost the second part of this comeback. It seemed like it was a lot for her in the beginning.
“It’s so good that that’s out of the way — the media, facing the players, being at a tournament. It was a lot of matches for her to start off, her body wasn’t ready. But I think she’s back now training to what her body needs to move forward.”
Davenport, who coaches world No18 Madison Keys, feels the women’s game is in a great place at the moment and is also eagerly anticipating the return of Serena Williams, who is pregnant and plans on coming back to the sport after her delivery.
Williams, who won the Australian Open during the early stages of her pregnancy, has been posting videos of herself playing tennis while seven months pregnant.
Asked if Serena’s absence changes the landscape of the women’s game, Davenport said: “Totally, it changes everything. And I think some players look at it like a big opportunity, I think other players might look at it as a little bit more pressure because they feel like their time is this year.
“It’s amazing to hear her talk about quotes that she plans to be back in January in Australia. I love to that kind of enthusiasm and motivation. Serena posting pictures of her practicing pregnant is obviously a message to everybody of ‘I’m coming back’.”
Serena captured the opening Slam of the year but the second one was clinched by 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko, who had never won a title before on tour prior to Roland Garros.
Davenport predicts we’ll have four different Slam champions this season.
“I think we saw it at the French Open final with Simona Halep, this is her biggest dream and she was so close, she wanted it so badly that it almost got in the way of her being able to play her style of tennis, the thoughts overwhelmed her,” said the American legend.
“But there’s so many players right now, Halep, (Karolina) Pliskova, (Elina) Svitolina, that are so good. It will be interesting when the US Open is over, who the four Grand Slam champions are this year, I’d be surprised if a player won two.”
One player Davenport can see is constantly improving is Great Britain’s Johanna Konta, who came through a huge battle with Donna Vekic to reach the third round at Wimbledon on Wednesday.
Konta, ranked No6 in the world, has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past 20 months or so thanks to a transformation in her mentality.
“I absolutely do (think she’s good enough to be No1),” said Davenport of Konta. “I think yesterday’s match was a great example of that. I always look at players and look at their weaknesses and look if those are improved upon. To see her yesterday to be a mental rock out there under some really difficult circumstances was in a way inspiring.
“We’ve seen her on the court maybe crumble more emotionally than anything else, and in the biggest court with the whole stadium packed for her, you’ve seen other players kind of crumble under the pressure of their home country, she stood up time and time again, 0-30 down, she never panicked, never blinked… she never had that look that I’ve seen before like looking over with almost scared eyes, that was gone.
“So you get a sense that that’s something she’s worked incredibly hard on, the discipline, being just focused on each point of her routine, she’s talked about, and it proved itself in one of her biggest moments here.
“It’s only the first time she’s been to the third round here. But all you need to do is walk around and watch her practice, watch the discipline that she brings, watch the intensity that she brings, it’s hard to see success won’t come for her.”
Thursday was a day where tennis suddenly didn’t matter.
The heartbreaking scenes on Court No. 17 at Wimbledon where Bethanie Mattek-Sands fell and suffered a horror knee injury overshadowed everything else that happened and left us all shocked and struggling to focus.
The sound of Mattek-Sands’ screams were echoing in our minds all night.
Her opponent Sorana Cirstea was shook-up and distraught when she spoke to us in a press conference. The Cirstea, who is a friend of Mattek-Sands’, recounted the whole experience to us, explaining how the American went into a state of shock as she lay on the ground in pain.
“She went into shock. She kept saying, ‘Sorana help me, Sorana help me, Sorana help me’.
“I said, ‘I’m here, I’m here, I’m here’.
“I think was tough because she was stuck on this, ‘Sorana, help me, Sorana, help me’.
“I said, ‘I am here, you are strong, you can do this’.
“I was trying, but of course I felt useless. In this kind of moment when she was screaming so loud, you watch the knee, it was a very uncomfortable moment.”
Asked about how she was feeling, the Romanian added: “It’s not about me. It should be at this point zero about me, it should just be about her. She’s the one suffering, in hospital right now.”
Mattek-Sands’ doubles partner Lucie Safarova was watching the match on a TV screen when the incident happened and rushed to the court to go see her friend. Just before Mattek-Sands fell, Safarova’s second round was called for a court change and she was heading to the locker room to get ready for her match.
After seeing her partner in serious pain like that, Safarova had to go play her own match in the state of mind she was in, and ended up losing to Shelby Rogers in three sets after being up by a set and a break.
Speaking to the press afterwards, Safarova’s voice was barely audible, and her eyes were red from crying. Almost whispering she said: “It’s a shocking few hours obviously. I mean, it’s just terrible what happened. Obviously I’m very sad for her. Doesn’t matter about whatever goals we had. It’s just about her being healthy.
“I know what she has been through with the injuries. Everything was going so well for her. We’ve been going, like, we had amazing run. I’m just, like, really hurt for her that she’s hurt again like that.”
Mattek-Sands and Safarova had won the last three consecutive doubles Grand Slams and they were going for four in a row. But at times like these, tennis takes a backseat and even talking about a match is insignificant.
It was brutal for Safarova to have to go step on a match court after witnessing the scenes on Court No. 17 and it seems her defeat was the last thing on her mind.
“Shelby is also her good friend. It was not nice situation for any of us. Obviously it’s been on my mind. I wasn’t playing the greatest. But, yeah, it is what it is,” said Safarova of her second round with Rogers.
Novak Djokovic and Ernests Gulbis claimed victories on Thursday to set up a third round Wimbledon showdown.
Djokovic eased past Adam Pavlasek 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 while Gulbis, a former top-10 player who is now ranked 589 after a long injury layoff, upset No29 seed Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (3).
Gulbis didn’t play a match between June last year and February 2017 as he struggled with a wrist problem. The Latvian, who has never made it past the third round at Wimbledon, then tore a calf muscle ahead of Roland Garros two months ago and tore an abdominal muscle ahead of the action at the All England Club.
He came to Wimbledon with little to no preparation but has managed to reach the third round thanks to a serving masterclass he displayed against Del Potro (he hit 25 aces, saved two of the three break points he faced, and won 82 per cent of the points on his first serve).
Gulbis’ first round win on Tuesday was his first tour-level main draw victory in 13 months.
“I played really, really great tennis. I served well, I returned well. In my opinion, Del Potro is one of the best players. I mean, for sure he has one of the best forehands. He’s really tough to beat,” said the 28-year-old Gulbis.
“I was happy that in the third set, even that I got a little bit maybe tight and he played well when he broke me back in the third set, I still managed to win in the tiebreak.”
Gulbis, who knew Djokovic since they were young training at the Niki Pilic academy in Munich, attributes his success this week to his state of mind.
“I was very relaxed. Didn’t really surprise me (playing well against Del Potro) because I’m just in a relaxed state of mind right now coming into this tournament,” he said.
Meanwhile, Wimbledon title favourite Karolina Pliskova crashed to a shock second round defeat against world number 108 Magdalena Rybarikova.
Rybarikova battled back from a set down to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 on Centre Court, earning the Slovakian a last 32 clash with Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko.
Pliskova reached the US Open last year and the French Open semi-finals last month, but the Czech world number three has a dismal record at Wimbledon and for the sixth successive year she failed to get past the second round.
Despite her defeat, Pliskova could still be world number one by the end of the tournament, depending on the how far Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep progress.
“For the first two seeded girls, Angie and Simona, they have also some tough draws,” Pliskova said. “But for me, the tournament is over. So whatever happens happens. I’m not going to pray for somebody losing or winning. That’s not my thing.”
Asked what causes her Wimbledon woes, Pliskova admitted she still finds it hard to adapt to the grass courts.
“You have to get used to it. It’s different, tennis here. You cannot compare to clay or hard courts,” she said. “The jump from the ball is always different. It doesn’t go high. You have to bend your knees, which is always trouble for me.
“There are few other things which I really don’t like on grass. Probably something in the air here! Obviously it’s disappointing. I don’t think I played bad. I’m just waiting for one or two good matches here in a row.”
It is only the second time Rybarikova has reached the last 32 at Wimbledon in 10 main draw appearances.
“I didn’t think ‘I’m going to lose this match’, but I was not that confident. I’m speechless right now and I’m so happy,” said Rybarikova who has a 15-1 record on grass this season. “It’s an amazing feeling. It’s special. I had two surgeries and I haven’t played for seven months and right now I’m in the third round at Wimbledon.”