This post originally appeared on Zaid’s Acute Angles.
Tennis’s most famous championship is underway this week as play begins on the fresh, manicured lawns at the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon. With three different players winning Grand Slams in the past year, the field seems to be quite open. But while it’s hard to discount an unexpected champion ala Cilic at last year’s US Open, Wimbledon is likely to boil down to a familiar crop of contenders.
The defending champion has had a stupendous year: an Open-Era record fifth Australian Open title was followed with success at four successive ATP Masters events. The heartbreaking loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in the Roland Garros final should be an aberration. His inability to cross the finishing line at Roland Garros from 2011-2014 did not prevent Djokovic from winning Wimbledon twice (2011 and 2014) and making the final in 2013 and the semi-finals in 2012.
Novak should navigate past tricky opening matches against notable grass courter Philipp Kohlschreiber and former champion Lleyton Hewitt, but his tormentor at last year’s US Open, Kei Nishikori, will pose a tougher challenge if the two shall meet in the quarter finals. A potential clash against Wawrinka in the semi-finals would be mouth-watering.
The regal Swiss maestro has quietly issued a reminder to his rivals by winning a record eighth grass court title at Halle. Is that an omen for him to break Sampras’s record of seven Wimbledons? While grass provides him his best chance of winning a major, Federer’s lack of success at the Grand Slam level since January 2010 works against him – his only victory during that period has come at Wimbledon in 2012.
Over time, his younger opponents have become better at exploiting every doubt in his mind, every sign of frustration that his poker face betrays and every hint of weakness in his aging body. Still, not many can match his prowess on a grass court where the combination of fluid movement, firepower and deft touch give him an edge over most opponents.
A potential quarter-final against Berdych, who has ousted him twice at Grand Slams including at Wimbledon in 2010, should be his first major test. Murray and Nadal lurk in the other quarter of his half.
The 2013 Wimbledon champion has gradually returned to top-form after a lackluster 2014, epitomized by a 33-2 record since February. Home support at Wimbledon tends to fire him up, and his recent win at Queen’s only portends the worst for his opponents.
Intriguingly, Murray has not lost a set to Djokovic in two meetings on grass while winning a lone set against Nadal in three losses at Wimbledon. However, Murray’s losing streak of eight matches against Djokovic is worrying – has the Brit developed a mental block against the world number one?
A troublesome second round against big-hitting Robin Haase beckons while a fourth-round clash against a resurgent Jo Wilfried Tsonga could be the highlight of Super Monday. After that, it could be Nadal – or any of a slew of other floaters in the quarters.
The two-time champion and three-time finalist has had a torrid affair at Wimbledon since 2012, a period during which he hasn’t made it past the fourth round. To compound his problems, Nadal’s dismal form has seen his ranking sink to number ten this year. A win at the grass court event in Stuttgart seemed to signal a turnaround, before a first-round defeat at Queen’s served a rude reminder of the Spaniard’s vulnerability on fresh grass. The grass is slick in the opening week, which makes the ball skid and the footing uncertain, making it difficult for Nadal to use his defensive skills to irritate the opposition.
Power bashers Thomas Belluci and Dustin Brown could end Nadal’s campaign early yet again. Otherwise, a match-up against a red-hot Murray in the quarters will likely be curtains, but could Nadal’s 3-0 record against Murray at Wimbledon become a factor?
Until 2014, Wawrinka was a virtual non-entity at Wimbledon thanks to his abysmal 9-9 record. But last year, he outplayed Federer in the quarterfinal before a sudden dip in form saw his one-set lead dissipate. Few have the answers to the Roland Garros champion’s barrage of heavy groundstrokes when he gets going. Particularly lethal is Stan’s one-handed powerhouse of a backhand, which is marginally less menacing than Chuck Norris’s roundhouse kick.
The fast-rising yet mercurial Dominic Thiem could lay down the proverbial banana peel for Wawrinka, who has a tendency to slip in early rounds. If he gets past initial hurdles, Swiss could face big-serving Milos Raonic or last year’s semi-finalist Grigor Dmitrov, in the quarters.
Djokovic bt. Wawrinka
Murray bt. Federer
Djokovic bt. Murray