This post covers three match previews from the top half of the women’s singles draw. For a preview of the Wimbledon main draw, click here. For bottom half match previews of Vekic-Stephens and more, click here. Continue reading for previews of Konta-Vikhlyantseva, Niculescu-Osaka and Bencic-Garcia…
Wimbledon, First Round Previews
1.  Johanna Konta (No.22) vs Natalia Vikhlyantseva (No.103)
2017 Wimbledon semifinalist Konta will face an uphill task to defend all of her points from last year, and it will start in the first round as she faces grass-loving 21-year-old Vikhlyantseva. Since reaching the semifinals at the All England Club last year, Konta’s game has dipped into the abyss, dropping to No.23 in the rankings this April, but has finally started to find some form during the grass court swing. Konta reached the final in Nottingham (losing in a close three-setter to Ashleigh Barty) and tight losses to Petra Kvitova in Birmingham and Caroline Wozniacki in Eastbourne showed that she still can put up a close fight with the elite of the game.
If Konta isn’t able to defend those points, she could face a huge dip down the rankings, and that was what happened to Vikhlyantseva as she exited the first round in ‘s-Hertogenbosch where she was the defending champion. Vikhlyantseva lost to home favourite Kiki Bertens in three tight sets and thus exited the top 100, her lowest ranking since January 2017. I watched the Vikhlyantseva-Bertens match and while her power groundstroke game suits the grass perfectly, her lack of tactical awareness in big moments and no margin for error can be a huge problem. The serve can also be shaky at times, especially on the important points.
Thoughts: I think Vikhlyantseva can pressurise Konta in the early stages, but when it comes down to the important moments, she’ll back off and let Konta’s experience at the Slams come back into the match. I think the home crowd will also play a part in this one; with everyone against her, I wonder whether Vikhlyantseva will be able to fulfill her own potential. Konta’s form has been improving week by week and I expect her to pull through with a solid win, perhaps in three sets.
Final Prediction: Johanna Konta d. Natalia Vikhlyantseva in three sets
2. Monica Niculescu (No.61) vs  Naomi Osaka (No.18)
Hipster match-up alert as the queen of slice and dice, Niculescu faces the rising star and power-hitter in Naomi Osaka. If you haven’t heard of Niculescu in a while, it’s because she has been dealing with injury problems during the ITF event in Khimki and had to withdraw from all the tournaments on the clay. It’s a pity for Niculescu because she was enjoying some resurgence in the early stages of the season, making a couple of runs in Doha and Miami. Niculescu returned to action at the 100K ITF event in Southsea where she lost to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 3-6 2-6. Niculescu reached the fourth round of Wimbledon back in 2015 and if fully fit, can be a huge handful to deal with on the low-bouncing lawns.
Osaka is slowly starting to feel comfortable on the grass after three handy wins in Nottingham over Sachia Vickery, Denisa Allertova and Mihaela Buzarnescu, before losing to eventual champion Barty. Osaka retired in Birmingham with an ab-injury but from her 15-minute press conference on Wimbledon’s YouTube channel, she seems fine and should be ready to get some matches at the All England Club.
Thoughts: If Niculescu had played more matches on grass before this match, then I would have given her a higher chance of scoring the upset. Niculescu’s forehand slice and relentless defensive skills has given so many top players troubles, but if something’s up with her body that derails her movement, then she’s way less effective on the court. I think Osaka will do well to attack Niculescu’s vulnerable serve and leave her with little time to use the slice and other tricks in her bag.
Final Prediction: Naomi Osaka d. Monica Niculescu in two sets
3. Belinda Bencic (No.56) vs  Caroline Garcia (No.6)
Just like Niculescu, Bencic has spent a ton of time on the sidelines since the US spring hard court swing and it’s very unfortunate because she was playing so well prior to the Australian Open. After finally returning to action at the French Open, Bencic faced another setback with a retirement at the ITF event in Ilkley. Hopefully she’s feeling alright and ready to participate in Wimbledon because a match-up with Garcia could be a cracker.
While Garcia’s game seems to be a great fit for grass, a quarterfinal loss to Sofia Kenin in Mallorca is really baffling considering how Kenin is so new to the tour and on grass and how Garcia always produces great results in sunny Mallorca. It’s not the first time that Garcia has threw in some shockers throughout the season and I’m highly unconvinced Garcia can still remain in the top 10 during the hard court swing over the next few months.
Thoughts: Just like Niculescu-Osaka, I would have given Bencic a huge chance at the upset if she was feeling healthy prior. Bencic’s game is a great fit for the grass and if she can stay consistent, she still has a shot at the win. However, Garcia’s been able to elevate her game for the Slams and has reached at least the third round in every Slam since Wimbledon 2016. I think that streak will continue (at least for now) and Garcia will seal a tough three-set victory.
Final Prediction: Caroline Garcia d. Belinda Bencic in three sets
Thanks for reading! Check out my Wimbledon predictions here or at the top of the page!