Rybakina opens title defense vs. Rogers; Venus Williams will play Svitolina

Elena Rybakina will have to navigate a draw filled with upset performers and well-informed grass courts when she begins her Wimbledon title defense next week.

The Kazakh No. 3 seed opens against Shelby Rogers, who has seven Top 10 wins in her career and has defeated Rybakina twice in five previous meetings. In the second round, she could face Alizé Cornet, whose 25 triumphs over Top 10 opponents include an upset of Iga Swiatek at Wimbledon 2022 that snapped the world No.1’s 37-match winning streak.

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Three of this year’s grass court winners have also landed in Rybakina’s neighbourhood: Nottingham champion Katie Boulter, Birmingham champion Jelena Ostapenko and Berlin champion Petra Kvitova. There could also be a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon final in the quarter-finals, where Rybakina is expected to face No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur.

Swiatek, fresh off a successful Roland Garros title defence, opens against Zhu Lin, while No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka starts against Panna Udvardy. Sabalenka could face a rematch of the Roland Garros semi-finals, where she lost on match point to Karolina Muchova in the round of 16.

Popcorn first-round matches include a clash of wild cards between seven-time major champion Venus Williams and Elina Svitolina, who returned from maternity leave in April; and No. 7 seed Coco Gauff against former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, who successfully made it through qualifying this week.

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2023 Birmingham

First quarter

Despite being a former Wimbledon junior champion, it’s no secret that Swiatek feels she hasn’t quite mastered grass courts yet. The Pole’s learning curve on the surface is a story to behold, especially after she made her first semi-final on grass in Bad Homburg this week. The highest-ranked player between Swiatek and a first Wimbledon quarter-final is No. 14 seed Belinda Bencic, who withdrew from all her pre-Wimbledon grass warm-ups due to injury.

Swiatek is expected to face No. 7 seed Gauff, against whom she has yet to drop a set in seven meetings, in the quarterfinals. However, Gauff, who is currently in the Eastbourne semi-finals this week, has some exciting obstacles in his way. Her head-to-head match against first-round opponent Kenin is perfectly fine at one win apiece, and the 2020 Australian Open champion is in strong form after dropping just 14 games in three qualifiers.

Gauff could also face the winner of the Williams/Svitolina tie in the third round, followed by either No. 11 seed Daria Kasatkina or No. 19 seed Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round.

First rounds to watch: Martina Trevisan vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo; Linda Fruhvirtova vs. [30] Petra Martic; [28] Elise Mertens vs. [Q] Victoria Hruncakova; [WC] Venus Williams vs. [WC] Elina Svitolina; [Q] Sofia Kenin vs. [7] Coco Gauff

Second quarter

No. 4 seed Jessica Pegula heads into the second quarter, starting with a familiar foe: American Lauren Davis, whom she first played in 2012 and has faced five times in total, winning the last three.

Pegula is expected to face No. 5 seed Caroline Garcia, who was forced to withdraw due to a shoulder injury in Eastbourne this week, in the quarter-finals. Garcia is one of several big hitters lurking in this section. Potential fourth-round opponents for Pegula include 2021 Berlin champion Liudmila Samsonova, the No. 15 seed; No.24 seed Zheng Qinwen; or Alycia Parks, whose formidable serve saw her capture a first WTA title in Lyon in February.

Meanwhile, Garcia could face either ‘s-Hertogenbosch finalist Veronika Kudermetova, the No. 12 seed, or No. 20 seed Donna Vekic in the last 16. Before then, the Frenchwoman could face a rematch of her first-class Australian Open second-round tilt with Leylah Fernandez on the same stage.

Former world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit, who is playing the final event of her career, has also been drawn this quarter. The Estonian will play qualifier Lucrezia Stefanini in the first round.

First rounds to watch: Camila Osorio vs. Elisabetta Cocciaretto; [24] Zheng Qinwen vs. Katerina Siniakova; Alycia Parks vs. Anna-Lena Friedsam; [12] Veronika Kudermetova vs. Kaia Kanepi; Anett Kontaveit vs. [Q] Lucrezia Stefanini

Third quarter

The third quarter, arguably the most stacked section of the draw, puts last year’s finalists, No. 3 Rybakina and No. 6 Jabeur, on course for a rematch as early as the quarterfinals. Not that either have smooth routes to get there themselves.

If Rybakina, who was forced to pull out of Eastbourne this week due to illness, survives renowned giant killers Rogers and Cornet in the first two rounds, home hope and recent first-time titleholder Boulter could await in the third round.

Potential fourth-round opponents include No. 13 Beatriz Haddad Maia, who won the first two titles of her career on grass last year and is fresh off her first major semifinal at Roland Garros; No. 17 seed Jelena Ostapenko, a perennial threat on grass who captured her sixth career title in Birmingham last week; or the difficult slice-and-dice test of last year’s semi-finalist Tatjana Maria. Ostapenko, who lost to Maria in the fourth round last year, could face the German mother-of-two in the second round this year.

Jabeur opens against Magdalena Frech, fresh from back-to-back quarter-finals in Nottingham and Birmingham, and could face either No. 30 seed Anhelina Kalinina or former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in the third round. The Tunisian’s expected opponent in the fourth round is No. 9 seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who enters this year’s tournament on a five-match winning streak after winning her second 2023 title in Berlin last week.

First rounds to watch: [6] Wednesday Jabeur vs Magdalena Frech; [18] Karolina Pliskova vs. [Q] Natalija Stevanovic; [13] Beatriz Haddad Maia vs. Yulia Putintseva; Sorana Cirstea vs. Tatjana Maria; Shelby Rogers vs. [3] Elena Rybakina

Fourth quarter

This year, Australian Open champion Sabalenka has paired her formidable power with week-in-week-out consistency. She has reached at least the quarter-finals in eight of her 10 tournaments so far in 2023 – although last week she suffered a second-round exit in Berlin to Kudermetova.

Sabalenka, whose best Wimbledon performance to date was her semi-final run in 2021, could have a chance for revenge in the fourth round. No.16 seed Muchova, who denied her from match point down in the Roland Garros semi-finals, is her expected opponent; The Czech is a two-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist but has not played since the Roland Garros final.

Before then, the magnificent Camila Giorgi lurks for Sabalenka in the second round. Muchova will have to navigate past last year’s quarter-finalist Jule Niemeier in the first round and potentially two-time ‘s-Hertogenbosch champion Ekaterina Alexandrova, the No. 21 seed, in the third round. Rising 18-year-old Linda Noskova is also one to watch: The Czech, who could meet compatriot Muchova in the second round, only played her first grass-court tournament last week in Birmingham but has all the tools to excel on the surface with more experience .

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No. 8 seed Maria Sakkari is Sabalenka’s expected quarterfinal opponent. The Greek player is bidding to reach the quarter-finals of a Slam for the first time since the 2021 US Open and will open against talented Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk. No. 10th seed Barbora Krejcikova, fresh from the Birmingham final last week, is a potential fourth-round opponent for Sakkari. However, the 2021 Roland Garros champion has a tough test for herself to get through: Krejcikova could face 16-year-old sensation Mirra Andreeva, who successfully qualified at the first attempt in the second round.

First rounds to watch: [8] Maria Sakkari vs. Marta Kostyuk; [22] Anastasia Potapova vs. [Q] Celine Naef; [Q] Mirra Andreeva vs. Wang Xiyu; [WC] Heather Watson vs. [10] Barbora Krejcikova; [16] Karolina Muchova vs. Christmas Niemeier; Madison Brengle vs. Sara Errani; [Q] Yanina Wickmayer vs. Anna Blinkova

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