It is that time of the year. When sales of strawberries increase and cries of "Come on Andy" bellow out from the Great British masses as they huddle around their television. Wimbledon. This year's tournament is especially intriguing, with names like Djokovic, Murray and Williams continuing their returns to the game, it really is a year that a dark horse could creep up and claim the title.
This is especially true in the women’s draw. With Williams still not back to her best and Halep and Wozniacki finally claiming their first Slams this year, much like last year, the women’s tournament this years competition is wide open. Last year's winner Garbine Muguruza, Halep, Wozniacki, Sharapova and the returning Williams are all seen as favourites by pundits across the land, but who are the dark horses you should keep an eye on this year?
While it may sound strange to class Kvitova as a dark horse, the truth is she has been somewhat overlooked since making her remarkable return from being attacked during a home robbery at the end of 2016. The two-time winner who made her comeback on the tour last year has really hit the ground running on her return, and she finally finds herself back inside the top 10 after winning titles this year in St Petersburg, Doha, Prague, Madrid and recently on the grass courts in Birmingham.
Her form coming into the tournament has been good, successfully defending her title in Birmingham before she had to pull out of her second round match at Eastbourne due to a hamstring injury. While her fitness may be a small concern, if she finds her form then she has to be considered a contender. She plays Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round with a fourth round match against Maria Sharapova a possibility.
She also finds herself in the same half of the draw as the top seed Simona Halep and defending champion Garbine Muguruza, but as she has shown in her title winning performances in both 2011 and 2014, when she is at her best she is always a danger on the grass courts of Wimbledon. However, so far this year she has struggled at the Slams, losing first round in Melbourne and in the third round at Roland Garros.
The two-time Major winner and former world #1 has impressed this year after a hugely disappointing 2017. Reaching three of the four Slam finals in 2016, she looked to on her way to becoming a major force in the sport only for her game to unravel last year. The fame and expectation perhaps proved too much, and after failing to reach the quarters at any of the Majors Kerber slipped down the rankings, ending the year outside the top 20 after starting it at #1.
With the pressure of being at the top of the rankings off her shoulders, she began to turn things around this year. Starting the year with a win in Sydney before reaching the semifinals in Melbourne, Kerber was finally back in form. She went on to reach the quarterfinals at the French Open, losing to eventual winner Halep in three sets. She will surely now be eager to convert her good form into more tangible success.
Her best performance at Wimbledon was during her brilliant 2016 when she reached the final, so she obviously has the game to go far this year and she is very much in form after reaching the semifinals at Eastbourne. She faces former world #2 Vera Zvonareva in a tough first round and Naomi Osaka and Caroline Garcia are in her quarter. But if she continues her return to form then she really could be a serious contender come the latter stages of the tournament.
The big hitting American has become something of a mainstay when it comes to the latter stages of Slams over the last year. Reaching the final at the US Open last year, she followed it up with a run to the quarterfinals in Melbourne and the semifinals in Paris. Her form away from the Slams has been unremarkable, but when it comes to the big tournaments she seems to find her form.
She also has two grass court crowns having won the title in Eastbourne in 2014 and Birmingham in 2016. Her big serving and powerful game give her the weapons she needs to succeed on a grass court and in 2015 she reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals. What has perhaps held her back from greater success so far at the All-England Club is her movement on the grass, but with her power, that may be an increasingly vanishing issue.
Her first round match against Ajla Tomljanovic could prove tricky and last years semifinalist Rybarikova and the returning queen of Wimbledon Serena Williams both stand between her and a maiden Grand Slam title. But if she plays as well as she has at Slams of late there is no reason that Madison Keys can't be a contender in the latter rounds and possibly the last woman standing in SW19.
The young Russian burst onto the scene this year, reaching back-to-back finals in Dubai and Indian Wells, as well as making a first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros. Finding herself with a ranking of 14th in the world, slightly down from a career high of #11 reached in March, she is certainly a player with a big future in the women’s game. Her all-round, creative game and counter-punching makes her a pleasure to watch.
Her form on the grass is always improving, and her run to the quarterfinals at Eastbourne shows she is on the right track as she heads into Wimbledon. She can be inconsistent at times, as shown by her collapse from 4-2 40-15 ahead in Eastbourne in her defeat to Angelique Kerber. But with her touch and ability to defend from the corners she is a name to keep an eye on this year.
A run to the third round in 2016 is her best performance to date, but she is very much a player on the rise. She begins her tournament against Jana Fett, with a possible third round against Ashleigh Barty an intriguing prospect. Defending champion Muguruza could be her fourth round opponent, which may signal the end of her challenge, but Kasatkina has scored some big wins before.
The 22-year-old Australian is at a career high of 16th in the world after a good year. After beating British #1 Johanna Konta to win the title in Nottingham and reaching the quarterfinals in Eastbourne she is very much a player in form going into Wimbledon. While she has never made it past the first round, she does have history in south-west London, winning the junior tournament in 2011.
The talented all-rounder with a big forehand is a player on the verge of breaking into the elite of the women's game, and although she is still yet to make it past the third round of a Major it is surely only a matter of time before she does so. Stephanie Vogele is her opponent in the first round and with Daria Kasatkina and Garbine Muguruza in her quarter of the draw, she will need to come out firing. But with the form she is in, don't count her out.
Who do you think could make an unexpected run at Wimbledon? Let us know in the comments!