Ferderer once again the favorite on the men's side at Wimbledon, while Serena Williams is the pick for the ladies.
By Rich Rodriguez
Every year, before we even get a chance to revel in the shocks, surprises, and triumphs of Roland Garros, we must kick off the clay and hit the greener pastures of The All England Club for The Championships at Wimbledon. Those ballers who carry an aggressive mindset and are comfortable on the slick stuff have the clear advantage and increase their chances of ending up in the winner’s circle.
Unfortunately, word comes that defending champion Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from tourney with tendinitis in his knees. It’s a huge blow to the tourney and his fans but an enormous opportunity for someone to seize the moment and make their mark.
|Andy Murray hopes to flex his muscles in the men's bracket before the home crowd.
So who are the favorites to take home tennis’ most prestigious prize?
Roger Federer – Even if he didn’t win the French Open crown, most would put the Swiss maestro as co-favorite with his Spanish nemesis to grab his sixth Wimbledon Championship. Why? Well, he won 5-in-a-row from 2003 – 2007, owns a 44-5 record, and has the game and sublime skills tailor-made for the quick, low-bouncing surface. But he did win the French, and now we will all have the pleasure of watching Fed go for a record-breaking 15th major on his favored grass. And with his biggest obstacle (read: Rafa) now on the sidelines chances are good he’ll get there.
Andy Murray – To say the Brit’s have been hungry for a legitimate homegrown hope to win their Grand Slam would be the ultimate understatement.
Fred Perry was the last Brit to capture tennis’ most prestigious prize way back in 1936 while Bunny Austin was the last to make the final in 1938. But that could all change with Andy Murray, especially with the withdrawal of Rafa who sat in the same half as the Brit. The 22-year old can look back at last year’s epic fourth round win over Richard Gasquet as a turning point in his career and this year he enters the season’s third major as Queen’s Club champ earning his first grass-court credentials. Incidentally, Rafa also won Queen’s Club last year for his first title on the green and, the rest they say, is history. Can the World No.3 repeat that feat?
Novak Djokovic – The Serb had been the poster child for inconsistency this year until he hit the red dirt winning his second title of the season (Belgrade) while also making two Masters 1000 finals. But in true form, Nole lost in the third round of Paris after making the semifinals last season. Ouch. The good news is he can make up ground at Wimbledon after being shocked in the second round last year by Marat Safin. His lack of a major weapon and frail health raise questions about his chances, though.
Juan Martin del Potro – This towering Argentine is slowly building towards his Grand Slam breakthrough after reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal in Paris. He took Fed to the edge in a thrilling five-setter before succumbing to the eventual champ. But his flat, powerful groundies will be dangerous on the grass and the wingspan on this 6’ 6” baller will be hard to pass at net. JMDP also benefited from Rafa’s withdrawal taking his place in the top half of the draw where he becomes the highest seed in that quarter.
Others to watch:
Andy Roddick – The American is a two-time finalist (’04, ’05) having lost out both times to Fed. But his newfound fitness and growing confidence have seen his game blossom this year with a semifinal appearance in Oz and a trip to the second week at Roland Garros, a first of his career. His booming serve and forehand are weapons anywhere but even more devastating on the slick grass. And, coupled with a cleaned up backhand and natural affinity for the surface, A-Rod could make some serious noise this fortnight.
Marin Cilic – Another of the ATP’s 6’ 6” giants, this 20-year old by way of Croatia already has three career titles but has been plagued by inconsistency. However, he prefers the quicker surfaces and even made the fourth round here last year. So if his booming serve starts to click and he keeps the points short, he could do much better this time around.
Marat Safin – A sentimental choice, this former top baller is playing his last year on Tour. Even though he’s been vocal about his dislike for this surface, he made an inspired run to the semifinals falling to Fed. Let’s hope he gives it his all during his final appearance at The All England Club – and gets some show time on Centre Court.
One could always argue the current WTA Tour remains a wide open when discussing potential winners of any tourney – but not on grass. There are only a handful of lady ballers who truly love playing on the slick stuff and that comfort goes a long way in winning the title here.
Venus Williams – She’s the current Queen of Grass having won the aptly named Venus Rosewater Dish five times including last year over sister Serena. And even though she went down in the third round at Roland Garros, V will still enter The All England Club with confidence. In fact, last year she was ousted in the same round in Paris and still managed to play her “A” game when it mattered to win the crown. So what makes the 29-year old so devastating on the grass? She has a massive serve (still holds the record for the fastest delivery on the WTA Tour at 129 mph), a fiercely attacking game, and world-class athleticism. All of her other disappointments go out the window when she steps onto Centre Court – this is V’s house.
Serena Williams – The only other woman in the draw who can match V stroke for stroke on the green would be Serena. She’s a two-time champ having defeated her older sister in 2002 and 2003 but losing to her last season. Her serve, particularly the second delivery, is more consistent than Vee’s; but ironically it’s the second serve that makes the difference between them on grass. V hits a skidding slice serve that stays low on this surface while ReRe hits a kicker which tends to sit up and becomes more attackable. Fortunately they were placed in opposite halves of the draw and could only meet in the final. And if they do, whoever serves better will win the title.
Svetlana Kuznetsova – The newly-crowned Roland Garros champ has never fared particularly well on grass having only reached the quarterfinals three times (’03, ’05, ’07). Moreover, Sveta just lost in the first round of Eastbourne, a Wimbledon warm up, after requesting a wild card into the tourney. She has the tools to do well on the grass including a solid serve, big forehand, net skills, and great athleticism. But she’ll need to play quicker points, hit through her top-spinning forehand a bit more, and make her way forward if she’s to reach the final four for the first time.
Dinara Safina – Like brother Marat, Dinara has a self-professed dislike for grass-court tennis and her two third round appearances doesn’t bode well for her chances. Dinara is the world’s top lady baller, however, so she has the game to do well here. She’ll need to keep her mentality in check after another devastating loss in a major final this time to Sveta in Paris. In that loss, her fragile emotional state was exposed and Dinara was a shadow of the baller who had lost a total of five games in her first four matches. Believing you can win on grass is half that battle so if the Russian can keep her focus squarely on the ball, a second week appearance is certainly in the cards.
Others to watch:
Maria Sharapova – This Russian superstar would be one of the favorites to take the title if she had more competitive matches under her belt since returning from injured reserve. Nevertheless, as a former champ (’04) the Russian is still a strong dark horse. Her uber-aggressive power game can be used to devastating effect on the grass, so if she finds her groove early on watch out.
Victoria Azarenka – This 20-year old Belarusian basher has a game built like Maria’s – attack, “shriek”, attack, “shriek” – and an intensity to match. Vika is on the cusp of a major breakthrough but her emotional volatility has been her undoing recently. She’ll need to stay calm and focused against the top ballers in the biggest matches before she earns her first major title.
Caroline Wozniacki – Another up-and-comer on the verge of breakthrough, this Dane has a love for the grass as evidenced by her junior Wimbledon champion and arrival in last weekend’s Eastbourne final. Wozzi doesn’t possess any outstanding weapons but is quick, nimble, and consistent.
Sam Stosur – A surprise semifinalist at Roland Garros where she pushed eventual champ Sveta to three sets, this Aussie veteran has one of the biggest serves in the ladies’ game and superb net skills to boot – weapons that should do well for her at Wimbledon. Can she carry over the momentum from Paris and make a run to her first major title?
Semifinal: Federer vs. Djokovic, Murray vs. Del Potro
Final: Federer vs. Murray
Semifinal: Serena vs. Dementieva, Venus vs. Wozniacki
Final: Serena vs. Venus
Rich Rodriguez publishes the Down The Line tennis blog.