There is very little more elegant and pristine in sports than watching lawn tennis as it was meant to be played. Unfortunately, the green grass courts get beat up very quickly after hours of running and pounding on it. I would advise anyone who can to watch at least part of some of the early round action, especially on the lesser-used courts. It’s worth it for the aesthetic value alone, even if the level of competition is not so high. Qualifying is not held at the All-England Club so the courts should look absolutely perfect when play starts on Day 1. That aside, let’s look at what is going to make this an amazing Wimbledon.
1. Roger Federer: How can anyone but him be at the top of this list right now? With the way he played at Roland Garros he will dominate his grass court competition. His serve and forehand look to be on, which is really the bread-and-butter of grass court play. His net play is still great and his movement looks almost as good as never. He is not quite where he was in 2005-6, but he is close enough that he should be ahead of the field right now.
2. Rafael Nadal: Where to put Nadal was a bit of a dilemma for me. He has owned Federer recently, especially in Slam finals. But with the way they both played in the French Open, Federer just looks better right now. Nadal doesn’t have most of his advantages over Federer on grass, especially since those high-bouncers that have killed Roger’s backhand over the years just don’t bounce as high on grass. Wimbledon is playing slower and slower every year, which should help Nadal, but right now I have to think that Federer is the top gun.
3. I honestly don’t know how to classify Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Neither are favorites here but we can’t quite put them in the “dark horse” category. Murray always plays well at Wimbledon and has been playing very good tennis recently. As long as the ankle is better he should be a threat. Djokovic is the exact opposite. He has been playing the highest level tennis so far this year but grass has never been his strong suit. Still, he should manage not to lose to any lower players and head towards a deep run at least, depending on his draw obviously.
1. Andy Roddick: This guy just plays so well on grass. His serve is still one of the best on tour, even though he has pulled quite a bit off of it since setting the record for the fastest serve ever at 155 miles per hour (Ivo Karlovic recently broke that record at 156). He still hits it with great pace, accuracy, and placement and the forehand to follow it up still wins him a lot of free points. Roddick’s play has fallen off since losing the epic final here to Federer two years ago, but he has shown flashes since then and still has the talent to challenge here.
2. Jurgen Melzer: So this might be a stretch, but hear me out on it. He has bloomed very late in his career, finally reaching the top 10 at the age of 29. He has beaten top 10 players recently. And his experience playing doubles (he actually won Wimbledon with Philipp Petzschner, also a good grass player now, last year) has made him very good at net. He has a pretty good serve and definitely has the game to do well on grass. And while he has never passed the fourth round at Wimbledon, he certainly hasn’t lost to anyone embarrassing early. In fact, the list of players who have beaten him here is quite impressive. The worst on that list is probably Nicolas Mahut in 2008, who has shown that he is no slouch on grass.
3. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Tsonga has shown flashes of brilliance at times in his career. He has reached a Grand Slam final (2008 Australian) and has challenged and beaten the top players in the past. He looks in top form heading into this grass season and is leading the way with a big serve, good movement, and taking care of business at the net. A lack of consistency and injuries have been the main problems for Tsonga in the past, but he definitely has the talent to beat anyone on tour. In fact, Tsonga just beat Nadal in the quarterfinals at Queens. Rafa was not playing at quite his very best, but it was still a very impressive showing from Tsonga, who turned things on in the second set and ran away with the third. He looked like he was playing at around his peak in that match. If he can sustain that then he definitely has a chance to win his first Grand Slam.
4. Milos Raonic: This kid has probably the biggest upside since a youngster named Roger Federer made his way onto the tour. The 20-year-old Canadian reminds me (and a lot of other people too) of Pete Sampras. He has a huge serve, good movement, and very good hands at net. Milos could dominate the grass and hard courts in a few short years. The one downside is that he had never played a match other than Juniors on grass before Queens this past week. But I really don’t think that that will hold him back for very long.
Keep an eye on:
In this section we’re just going to give a list of players that, while not at the top of the game, could really do some damage and surprise someone because grass suits them better than it does others. Watch out for Mardy Fish, who is in the best shape of his career and has challenged top players on grass and hard courts before. Sam Querrey has shown a lot of potential on grass before but is still waiting for that marquee win at a Slam. Philipp Petzschner can also do a lot of damage when he is at his best. Philipp Kohlschreiber is also a dangerous opponent who has never really taken that step to the level but definitely has the talent to do it. And Alejandro Falla is fresh off a fourth round run at the French Open and, if you recall, served for the match against Federer in the first round of Wimbledon last year. The two have not met since and you can bet that the tournament organizers were thinking about that when they just offered Falla a Wild Card into the Main Draw.
And, of course, never forget to watch Fabio Fognini. Anything can happen anytime that he is on court. And the insanity is that he only needs two withdrawals from top 32 players to actually be seeded at Wimbledon. I’m looking at you, Tommy Robredo, Marin Cilic, and David Nalbandian. Can you imagine what havoc F3 (Fabulous Fabio Fognini) could wreak if he got an easy path to the third of fourth round? He already upset a top 10 player here last year, when he beat Fernando Verdasco 4 sets. He followed that up in the next round by beating Michael Russell, who was outside the top 100 at the time, after (how else?) coming back from a 2 sets to 0 deficit.
1. Robin Soderling: He should have the game for grass but just has never produced. He lost his QF match at Roland Garros against Nadal by just hitting error after error. Nadal was just putting balls in the court with decent spin and little pace and let Soderling hit himself out of the match. We know Robin can win when this happens-he destroyed Andy Roddick in the Brisbane final early this year when Roddick used a similar strategy. Still, Robin has never really looked comfortable on grass. He did do pretty well last year so maybe there is hope, but I wouldn’t count on anything just yet.
2. Juan Martin Del Potro: There has been quite a lot of hype surrounding Delpo since his return from injury. After all, his last main stint on tour included dominating the US Summer Series in 2009 and smacking Federer off the court in the US Open. Unfortunately, his movement has never been very good on grass and something about this surface always seems to bother him. He has never passed the second round at Wimbledon and just lost to World #54 Adrian Mannarino in straight sets in the third round of Queens. We will be fair and point out that his three losses here have come to Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, and then-World #9 Stanislas Wawrinka. Still, I think that expectations of him here are just way too high.
This is my tern for players who should be seeded, but for whatever reason aren’t in the top 32. They could potentially meet a top seed very early and really play spoiler. So let’s look at the guys that could make the top players cringe when they see their draws.
1. Lleyton Hewiit: The former champion will fall to around #130 in the World with his loss in the quarterfinals in Queens. He still played well and his serve looks good. He just hasn’t played in three months. He could be a real challenge for anyone who draws him and will certainly be a tough out, even if he doesn’t win.
2. Tommy Haas: Haas continues on his comeback trail. We have to think that this is close to the end of Haas’s career. He still is a very talented play though and is always very tough to beat in Slams when he is healthy. Of course, we are not sure how healthy he is now. He didn’t look too hampered by injury in Roland Garros but did seem a bit rusty. He has had a month to heal up since then and to get back into form. He might not be the top player he once was but is still someone that you don’t want opposite the net.
3. John Isner/Ivo Karlovic/Kevin Anderson: I will lump these three guys together. They all play very slightly different styles but are all basically just a huge serve with a decent net game. They all play a lot of tiebreaks which can just mean a few points can decide any match. This means unpredictability and all of this is just exacerbated on grass. They are very tough to break which means that really anything can happen.
There is quite a bit of confusion as to how the seeding is done at Wimbledon. A lot of people are outraged every year at what they view is the All-England Club trying to mess over certain players or fix the draw. So we will lay out the seeding here and then look a little into the implications it has for this year.
Wimbledon uses a formula to seed the men’s tournament. First of all, only the top 32 in the ATP rankings can be seeded. To determine the actual seeding, they first take the total number of ATP ranking points that a player has earned over the past 52 weeks (which is the same as used to determine a player’s ATP ranking). They then add an additional point for every point earned on grass in the past 52 weeks. This means, basically, that points earned from 2010 Wimbledon, Newport, Eastbourne, and ‘s-Hertogenbosch and 2011 Queens and Halle are doubled. Then they add another bonus of 75% of a player’s best result from the 52 weeks prior to that. There is no conspiracy, it just simply uses this formmula.
With that taken care of, let’s look at how it will affect the tournament this year. Federer has a lot more bonus points coming into Wimbledon than Djokovic, but it is not enough to overcome the 2800-point disparity between them in the rankings. The top 5 seeds will be the same as their rankings. Tomas Berdych will jump David Ferrer for the #6 seed with Ferrer falling to #7. In what is probably the most important jump, Andy Roddick will move ahead of Mardy Fish and Gael Monfils for the #8 seed. This is critical because it means that Roddick cannot meet one of the top 4 seeds until the quarterfinals.
Remember, the top 2 are guaranteed not to meet each other until the final should they both get that far. They also cannot meet the #3 or #4 seed until the semifinals. This means that, once again, there is an exactly 50% chance that Federer and Nadal will meet in the semifinals. The 5-8 seeds cannot meet one of the top 4 seeds until the quarterfinals. One of each player seeded 5-8 will be scheduled to meet one of the 1-4 players, assuming they both get that far.
There won’t be many other real seeding shake-ups, and certainly none that will have a major impact on the tournament. One thing to keep in mind is that Milos Raonic will be seeded in the 25-32 range. This means that he could theoretically meet one of the top 4 seeds in the third round. While any top 32 player is a challenge, you can bet that the top players are hoping to get anyone but Milos.
Qualifying play starts on Monday. We will have an analysis of the main draw when it is announced next Friday.
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