Ninth seed and five-time former champion Venus Williams will begin her quest for a first Wimbledon title in a decade when she takes on Sweden’s Johanna Larsson. Williams had an excellent season last year, reaching two Major finals at Melbourne Park and the All England Club. But her form has tailed off this year raising concerns that 2017 was something of an Indian summer for the American. But will Larsson, who has never won a match at Wimbledon, be able to stop her?
Despite both Williams and Larsson both having been touring professionals for well over a decade, two in Williams’ case, the pair have only met once previously. That match came in Fed Cup action five years ago in the World Group playoffs. Williams won fairly comfortably, 6-2 7-5, in a 3-2 victory for the United States over Sweden in Delray Beach. Williams’ victory levelled the tie, before Larsson and Sofia Arvidsson were forced to retire ahead of the decisive doubles match, handing the US the win.
Last time out
Williams’ clay court season was a disappointment by the high standards the American sets herself. She won just one match, defeating Elena Vesnina of Russia in three sets in the first round of the Italian Open, before losing 2-6 6-7 in the round of 32 to Anett Kontaveit. Surely the most disappointing result was her straight sets loss to Wang Qiang, who had just one previous win in Paris, in the first round of the French Open.
Larsson will also have been disappointed by her performance at Roland Garros, where she lost 4-6 3-6 to Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round. The Swede then qualified into the main draw at the Mallorca Open, her first grass court tournament of the year. There she beat Sorana Cirstea in the first round before losing to the top seed Caroline Garcia in straight sets. She then lost first round to Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic at the ITF tournament in Southsea.
How do they match up?
Williams’ success in her career has stemmed from her powerful groundstrokes and one of the most effective serves in the women’s game. Indeed, she long held the record for the fastest ever serve in a WTA match and still holds the record for the fastest serve hit at three of the four Majors. Her movement has also generally been a strength, and the American’s defensive skills enable her to stay alive in rallies lesser athletes would have lost.
Larsson’s forehand is memorable to say the least, with the Swede’s lassoing technique reminiscent of Rafael Nadal, although it is more extravagant in its execution. Her backhand is a simpler looking shot, but Larsson’s takebacks on both wings are large which may explain her lack of success on grass courts. She is also not blessed with massive power, although she makes up for that lack with consistency. But against a player of Williams’ quality she may need to push the envelope a little more.
It has been a torrid few months for Williams, who has found wins hard to come by indeed. Whilst that run of poor form may rule her out from really contending for the title this year, she will at least rediscover that winning feeling against Larsson, who doesn’t have the power or the grass court skills to knock the 38-year-old off her perch at Wimbledon. Expect Williams to reach the second round a straight sets winner.