The month of July honors America’s independence from Great Britain, and this July, American dreams of calendar Grand Slam glory will either reach a crescendo or die a fiery death across the pond.
Later in July, Jordan Spieth will head to the British Open trying to do the unthinkable. He’ll attempt to capture the third leg of golf’s calendar Slam and create over-the-top excitement for the PGA Championship in August.
Earlier in July, however, the tennis community will watch Serena Jameka Williams as she tries to tuck away her third major in as many tries this year. If she can win Wimbledon, she’ll head to New York for the U.S. Open with a level of publicity which will drown almost anything that’s come her way to this point in her spectacular journey… which is saying quite a lot.
It is obvious, then, that solely in terms of attention and buzz, Serena Williams stands at the center of Wimbledon in 2015.
The Championships might occasionally feature Richard Krajicek (1996) or Marion Bartoli (2013) as the beaming winners at the end of a riveting fortnight, but The Big W and the U.S. Open have long been the provinces of the heavyweights. Great players win everywhere, but they have historically felt particularly at home in suburban London and New York. As the tennis season moves along and as the surfaces continue to shift, the top players exhibit more versatility and adaptability. They also have the bigger weapons which end points more quickly on grass. Their defensive skills give them more staying power.
Serena certainly rates as one of those players. It’s why she’s created such a magnificent legacy, with 20 major singles titles now belonging to her name.
Yet, while Serena inhabits the center of this tournament in terms of prominence and visibility, another player — before the announcement of the draw later in the week — stands in the middle of this tournament in terms of being a pivot point, a player who will either make or ruin others’ draws based on her own performance.
Remember the spring of 2012?
Petra Kvitova had just made the semifinals of the French Open, her second major semifinal in as many tries that year. Having won the 2011 Wimbledon title, Kvitova had reached the semis or better in three of four majors. As she came to SW19 to defend her Wimbledon crown, Kvitova looked every bit like a force who would be a constant in women’s tennis for many years.
However, since that promising start to 2012, Kvitova has run up against nerves, limitations, and atmospheric conditions. Her allergies act up in New York at the U.S. Open. The searing heat of Melbourne leaves her worn out at the Australian Open. Slow red clay — not quite the high-bouncing stuff in Madrid, where she clocked Serena this past May and won the tournament — doesn’t suit her game. Kvitova has not been able to get past the fourth round of any clay or hardcourt major since the 2012 French. She has not become an all-surface player for all times and seasons. In that regard, her career has left something on the table.
However, in 2014, the trajectory of Kvitova’s career — and the way in which we’ll all remember it — changed profoundly.
She not only defeated Venus Williams in a sun-kissed Friday afternoon classic on Centre Court in the third round; Kvitova used that narrow win as a catapult for the rest of her fortnight in England. She blitzed Eugenie Bouchard (interestingly enough, in the last match the Canadian played at her peak; she’s never been the same since…) in a 55-minute masterclass on grass in the final.
When Kvitova won her second Wimbledon, she was no longer the possessor of “one great run” at a major, in much the same way that Stan Wawrinka had to wear that label for a year and a half. Like Wawrinka a few weeks ago in Paris, Kvitova took that huge step from “one-time champion” to “repeat achiever.” Isolated greatness remains greatness, but duplicated greatness is always a supremely profound statement of a player’s ability. More than a statement, it is also a powerful revelation. Kvitova crossed a very important threshold in her career last summer at the All-England Club: Even if she doesn’t regain winning form in Melbourne, Paris, or New York City, she has earned the right to be seen as a top-tier threat for the rest of her Wimbledon existence.
While Simona Halep ping-pongs from one coach to another, in a restless search for peace of mind, and Maria Sharapova offers few signs of being a genuine Wimbledon threat with a game that’s become more suited to clay, it’s Kvitova who most centrally stands in Serena’s way at SW19. Victoria Azarenka’s place in the draw will always be a point of intrigue before the brackets are revealed, and Ekaterina Makarova is the kind of player who will cause discomfort to the opponents in her section, but when you reduce Wimbledon 2015 to its championship essentials, there’s Serena, and then Kvitova, and then everyone else.
Serena is the center of the tennis world’s attention. That’s indisputable on the eve of The Championships.
That said, this upcoming Wimbledon tennis festival might very well turn based on the way Petra Kvitova pulverizes the little yellow pill on English lawns.