Wimbledon, the most prestigious tennis tournament of them all, begins next week with a new roof over Centre Court. But will new stars also rise to the occasion?
It will be hard to top the culmination of last year’s tournament, with the drama and excitement of the five-hour, five-set marathon men’s final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. But are there potential surprises in store now that the draws and seedings are complete?
Of course, the most dramatic revelation is that in a 7 p.m. BST press conference at Wimbledon on Friday evening, Rafael Nadal took the decision to withdraw from Wimbledon due to tendinitis in his knees. He will be unable to defend his Wimbledon title, the fourth champion to not defend his Wimbledon title after Don Budge, Fred Perry and Goran Ivanisevic.
Now, Juan Martin Del Potro, the No. 5 seed, will take Nadal’s position in the draw, meaning that he will be the highest seed that Britain’s Andy Murray could possibly face before the final.
On paper, Murray is tough to beat. But how will he react on the second Sunday, especially if Roger Federer stands across the net?
Nevertheless, does Nadal’s early exit raise Murray’s chances of being the first British men’s Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry in 1936? Certainly. Yet in reality, this news opens up the tournament for everyone on both sides of the draw.
Indeed, Murray has plenty of other hazardous opponents in his half. Andy Roddick is placed in his section; Nikolay Davydenko, Lleyton Hewitt and potential giant killers, Ernests Gulbis and Jeremy Chardy, are also looming. The talented likes of Stanislas Wawrinka and Marat Safin are also in this side of the draw. Can the latter further bury his feelings that ‘grass is for cows’ and repeat his excellent run of last year, where he reached the semifinals?
Andy Roddick always performs well on grass with his booming serve, especially at Wimbledon where he has reached the final twice (in 2004 and 2005, where he lost both times to Roger Federer). He injured his ankle last week at Queen’s Club in the semifinals of the Aegon Championships, a warm-up tournament for Wimbledon, but it seems that the injury is not severe.
Roddick is having one of his best seasons for many years—with a new coach, Larry Stefanki, and new bride—Brooklyn Decker—supporting him, so hopes are high. The fact that he is in Murray’s half, far away from the Federer foe, is another possible mental advantage for him. Expect big things from the consistent American this fortnight.
Roger Federer is clearly the big favourite to reach the latter stages of the tournament in the other half of the draw, but it must not be forgotten that he has not played a warm-up tournament and could still be emotionally drained from his French Open title.
If his opponents in the first few rounds come out all guns blazing, there could be small opportunities for an upset, especially if Federer plays as listlessly as he appeared in several rounds of the French Open, where he clearly felt the pressure of his chance to complete a career grand slam. Will he be locked in, or distracted by, the intoxicating combination of his Paris breakthrough and Nadal’s early exit?
A sixth Wimbledon title is no doubt possible—Federer adores Centre Court and the grass of Wimbledon—and Nadal notwithstanding, no player has been able to touch him on this unique surface for seven years. Could this be the tournament where Federer could break Pete Sampras’ all-time Grand Slam titles record of 14 Majors? It would certainly be sweet to complete the accomplishment on the hallowed turf of Centre Court.
Novak Djokovic has many questions to answer over the next two weeks. After a dismal showing at Halle on grass, where he lost to 31-year-old wild card Tommy Haas in the final, not to mention a loss to Philip Kohlschreiber in the fourth round of the French Open, will he be able to find some consistent form once again?
Additionally, there are some intriguing matchups in the first round that will whet all tennis fans’ appetites around the world. James Blake versus Fabrice Santoro could be a dangerous match for the American, with the aging magician still able to perform some mesmerizing tricks. Lleyton Hewitt versus Robby Ginepri could be a great showcase for thunderous shots and fiery attitudes. Sam Querrey versus Ivan Ljubicic will be full of thunderous serves and probably few service breaks.
Will Robin Soderling be able to capitalise on his French Open success by prevailing over Gilles Muller, another Major wild card (remember his exploits at last year’s US Open, where he was beaten in the quarterfinals by, you guessed it, Roger Federer)?
Overall, it must be stressed that grass is unpredictable in that there are so few tournaments on the surface in the ATP Tour season—it is difficult to assess the quality of various players on this most unique of surfaces after usually only one small warm-up tournament, for example.
The outcomes of potential matchups are hard to determine as grass is an unknown variable in proceedings. Who, for example, would bet against the likes of Andy Roddick and Roger Federer—whereas the progress of Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is tough to call.
Equally the sudden growth of young, up-and-coming talent in the past 12 months has been incredible, but we have yet to see whether Juan Martin Del Potro, for example, will conform to their Wimbledon seeding and reach the late stages of the tournament, adding yet another ingredient to the potent mixture.
Who will be the sun be shining on—or alternatively, who will the new roof protect—at the end of the fortnight? Should we expect a true-to-seeding final, or a potential upset to rival that of the recent French Open?
(Published on Bleacher Report; June 19th, 2009)