Cornet’s defeat of Serena clears the way for other Wimbledon contenders

Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka also reach end of their tournament

First match on Centre Court today is Alize Cornet against Canadian Eugenie Bouchard ranked 13. Hands up for that prediction? The clearing out of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, as well as under-cooked Victoria Azarenka has instantly spawned a group of a dozen or so players who now believe they can win this year's title.

Don't doubt it, Serena's name was on that opening Centre Court ticket, not that of Cornet. The 25th seed from France, who took care of Serena in three sets, booming and bashing with the best of the Americans, has done the rest of the players some service. But don't expect them to thank her, even though her unlikely win has been like a breeze blowing through the All England club.

Despite Serena's struggles in past years with Wimbledon since winning her fifth title in 2012, her 17-Grand Slam shadow has always loomed large across the courts, her threat overarching and never less than significant.

Maria Sharapova, not the next highest seed remaining as that belongs to Romanian third seed Simona Halep, moves into the role of queen bee and brings status and form to the position. Sharapova won the title here in 2004 and, 10 years on realistically chases a French Open-Wimbledon double.


Her 6-3, 6-0 win over American Alison Riske sets her up in this week’s last 16 with the loss of only seven games, her best start here in 12 years. In a touch of irony, Sharapova is chasing a double cast as far back as Wimbledon in 2002, when Serena followed up her first Roland Garros with a first Wimbledon crown.

Sharapova can thank Cornet for smoothing her path in the top half of the draw and may get the chance in person in a way only she knows how, the quarterfinal later this week, if both players get through the fourth round.

Fifth seed Sharapova faces Germany’s Angelique Kerber, seeded nine, on the first match on Court One. “I’m happy. I’ve gone further than last year, erasing those memories and trying to form new ones,” said Sharapova, who slipped in the second round last year. “After last year’s result I wasn’t satisfied and I was looking forward to coming back.”

There are round three matches outstanding in both the men’s and women’s singles to complete after Saturday’s torrential rain disrupted play on all courts other than the roofed Centre Court. Poland’s Agnieszka Radawanska, the fourth seed, is still hovering as is Petra Kvitova, the big-hitting Czech player seeded six, who put Venus out of the competition in three sets.

Caroline Wozniacki is having one of her best runs for some time and meets Barbora Strýcová, who mercilessly broke the hearts of a large portion of 1.35 billion people in China. Her two set wins on tie breaks sent second seed Na Li spiralling out. More reason to feel she can step up to the Dane.

Of them all, Halep has probably been the least spoken about player, the least visible in the sports pages and in the television coverage. Even her rise in Paris, where she lost to Sharapova in the final, has garnered little purchase in the public mind. Hers is an adapted clay court game and she plays well tactically, with a strong double-handed backhand a real point winner for her. She has to face down the unseeded Kazakh Zarina Diyas, ranked 72 in the world.

There are endless possibilities, although really not that many probabilities. Of those players remaining, only Sharapova, with five, has won more than one Grand Slam in her career.

Ana Ivanovic won on the clay in Roland in 2008 before almost vanishing and she must still play a third-round match against Germany’s Sabine Lisiki. Petra Kvitova earned her only win over Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon final. Otherwise they are all rookies.

In the quickly changing landscape, previous wins are something to have in the locker when the players get tight. For now, still three or four games away from Saturday’s final, the 6ft 2in Russian ice-queen has got to be thinking very positive thoughts.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times