By Kieran Jackson
WIMBLEDON, UK – The third Grand Slam begins in south-west London tomorrow, and we look at the three must-see matches on the opening day.
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Donna Vekic vs Sloane Stephens  | H2H: Stephens leads 1-0
The variation in fortunes for Sloane Stephens over the past 12 months have been remarkable. Following a maiden Grand Slam triumph at the US Open last summer as the World No. 83, and in doing so becoming the lowest ranked US Open champion ever, she failed to win another match in 2017, and was knocked out of the Australian Open in January in the first round. However, she quickly returned to form, winning the Miami Open in March, and reaching the final of the French Open, where she lost to Simona Halep in three sets. She is now the world number four.
However, Stephens’ record on grass makes her first-round opponent Donna Vekic a tough opening encounter. The American has not gone past the third round at the All England Club since 2013 – when she reached the quarter-finals and lost to eventual champion Marion Bartoli – and Vekic’s flat, aggressive game makes the Croat a formidable opponent on grass, a surface which she won the title in Nottingham on last year, beating Brit Johanna Konta. This match opens up play on Court 1, and has the potential to be a fantastic tussle.
Prediction: Stephens in three sets.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs Grigor Dimitrov  | H2H: Dimitrov leads 4-2
Due to three-time Grand Slam champion Stanislas Wawrinka’s near year-long battle with a knee injury, he enters Wimbledon unseeded as the World No. 225 and a first-round opponent any seed would have gladly avoided. Despite underperforming against Andy Murray in Eastbourne last week, Wawrinka’s powerful game will no doubt be a challenge for the world number six Grigor Dimitrov.
A former semi-finalist at the All England Club, Dimitrov’s record against Wawrinka is superb – he has not lost to the 33-year-old since 2013, winning their last four matches including a straight-sets win on grass at Queen’s in 2014. Therefore, Dimitrov should feel confident of getting a win in the third and final match on Centre Court, particularly on a surface he has excelled on over the years.
Prediction: Dimitrov in three sets
Arantxa Rus vs Serena Williams  | H2H: First meeting
There was much discussion in the build-up to Wimbledon about whether seven-time champion Serena Williams should be seeded for the tournament, in light of her year-long absence from the game due to giving birth and her grass-court record. Alas, the All England Club slotted her in at number 25, with a potential third-round encounter against number five seed Elina Svitolina on the horizon.
The 36-year old starts her 2018 campaign against World No. 105 Arantxa Rus from Holland. With her favourite surface being clay, and having never gone past the third round at Wimbledon, Rus will find it tough to impose herself on Williams’ hard-hitting groundstrokes and powerful serve. As long as Williams is fit and her pectoral muscle has recovered, after her withdrawal midway through the French Open, the 36-year-old should get off to a winning start.
Prediction: Williams in two sets
Wimbledon starts tomorrow, Monday 2 July, with play on the outside courts commencing at 11:30 BST and on Centre and No.1 Court at 13:00 BST.
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