After Friday's complete washout both semi-finals and the final had to be played at Eastbourne yesterday in the Aegon International. Marion Bartoli, French No 1 and the sixth seed here, beat the fifth seed, Czech left-hander Petra Kvitova, 6-1 4-67-5 in conditions that beaten semi-finalist Sam Stosur described as the worst she has ever played in.
The prevailing gusty wind played havoc with the finalists' serve and groundstrokes alike, although both were valiantly going for the lines, only to see some beautifully played shots sailing out, carried by the wind. But Bartoli, who was togged out against the freezing wind in leggings and jumper, appeared to adjust to the conditions more quickly.
Bartoli, 26, a beaten semi-finalist four years in a row at Eastbourne, is now at a career-high world ranking of nine after reaching the semi-finalsof the French Open. The former Wimbledon finalist, who lost in straight sets to Venus Williams in 2007, is like a jumping jack on court at the best of times, bouncing and bobbing between each point, and yesterday looked like a woman possessed – or at least a woman possessed of an urge to go into the warm for a nice cup of tea and a bun – and after taking an early break to go 3-1 up took the first set 6-1 in 30 minutes.
In the second Bartoli, who has an unorthodox style in which she plays two-handed on both forehand and backhand, immediately broke Kvitova's serve and then held her own, and again took a 3-1 lead. But Kvitova, 21 – who broke into the top 10 earlier this year after winning three WTA titles, and who was beaten in last year's Wimbledon semi-finals by the eventual champion, Serena Williams – wasn't finished yet. There followed several games of fine rallies, with the Czech more willing to come to the net and winning several points as she passed Bartoli. She went on to take the set 6-4.
Games went with serve in the third set until Bartoli broke Kvitova to take a 4-3 lead. But again Kvitova rallied to get back at five-all. Kvitova's forehand, which had provided so many of her winners, deserted her and Bartoli broke to lead 6-5. She had two match points but needed only one as another Kvitova forehand sailed out.
Bartoli and Kvitova, seeded nine and eight respectively at Wimbledon, will play qualifiers in the first round. No such luck for the Williams sisters, who are both back from long injury layoffs. Venus, seeded 23, meets Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan, while the defending champion Serena faces a tough opponent in Aravane Rezai of France. Before Eastbourne, where she went out in the second round, Serena had not played a competitive match after winning her fourth Wimbledon crown last year.
It appears to be the most open competition in years for the women's title at Wimbledon and Daniela Hantuchova, semi-finalist at Eastbourne and seeded 25 at SW19, believes it makes it more interesting for fans. "It's great when so many players could win," she said. She also welcomed the return of the Williamses, saying: "It's great to have such big champions back and it shows the women's game is at a high level."
The British No 1, Elena Baltacha, will meets a qualifier but will not be taking anything for granted. "I never, ever underestimate qualifiers because I've qualified for slams myself, and you have to tough it out to do that," she said. The 27-year-old world No 61, added: "I'm coming into Wimbledon playing well and in really good form. My preparation has been perfect."
Britain is guaranteed at least one woman in the second round after Anne Keothavong was drawn against Naomi Broady while the Guernsey teenager Heather Watson, the British No 2, who broke into the world's top 100 last week, meets Mathilde Johansson of France.
Ana Ivanovic, seeded 18, faces the promising young American Melanie Oudin, while Maria Sharapova, who won the title in 2004 has a tough first-round opponent in the Russian Anna Chakvetadze. The French Open champion Li Na, the third seed, meets Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia and the top seed, Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki will face the Spaniard Arantxa Parra Santonja, ranked 107.
Four to watch
This year, perhaps more than any other, the women's tournament looks open to an outsider. With the Williams sisters still creaking, attention will turn to the rest. And what a diverse lot they are... from the Chinese who has taken the game by storm to the Russian who many believe will be in with a shout, if not a grunt this time round.
Li Na (China)
World Ranking 4
Became the first Asian to win a Grand Slam singles title when she won the French Open a fortnight ago, and she lost the Australian Open final in January. She gave up tennis for two years after the Chinese authorities insisted she concentrate on doubles but improved rapidly after she was allowed togo her own way. Twice a Wimbledonquarter-finalist.
Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)
World Ranking 8
She has won three titles already this year and is considered by many as the best outside bet at Wimbledon. She reached the semi-finals 12 months ago, losing to Serena Williams after beating Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki. She uses her 6ft frame to hit huge ground strokes. She trains at the same club in the Czech Republic as the 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych.
Andrea Petkovic (Germany)
World Ranking: 11
She has reached the quarter-finals of both Grand Slam events this year but creates as much interest for off-court activities. Records music with friends and has attracted cult following for an off-the-wall video blog under the online persona of "Petkorazzi". Admires Che Guevara and wants to form her own political party and/or become a journalist.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia)
World Ranking 14
Former world junior No 1 and the youngest player in world's current top 50. She reached the French Open quarter-finals earlier this month with a victory over world No 3 Vera Zvonareva before losing to the 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone. She has never gone beyond the third round at Wimbledon but has the game to trouble the very best.