Yes, I’m writing about tennis again.
It was here, on the grass of the All England Club one year ago, that Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal for the first time in a Grand Slam final. Will we see a rematch, perhaps one to rival either of Nadal’s finals against Federer? Will the Swiss Maestro finally win a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2010? Or is there a new champion in the mix, looking to break the streak of 9 titles won by either Nadal or Djokovic?
To find out, I break down each quarter of the draw and see where there is potential for an upset, and which players will be in this year’s finals on Centre Court.
The high seed: Nobody has been able to touch Novak over the past year other than Rafa, and even he has struggled to pick up a victory. The grass courts at Wimbledon suit Novak’s game better than clay does, so it will be near impossible to match his level of play for his opponents.
The competition: The Fortnight will not start with any pushovers for Novak. His first round opponent, Juan Carlos Ferrero, is former world number one (in 2003). He will also potentially face young American Ryan Harrison, talented but inconsistent, in round 2 and Radek Stepanek, another veteran, in round 3. I don’t see any of these players knocking Djokovic out early, but they won’t go down without a fight. Assuming he gets past them, the real test in his quarter will be Tomas Berdych, the hard hitting Czech who made it to the finals at Wimbledon in 2010 before losing to Rafa.
Matchup to watch: 3rd Round- Nicolas Almagro (12) vs. Richard Gasquet (18)
Almagro and Gasquet have everything needed to make this match more than worth your while watching. They are two young, hard-hitting, hot-tempered players looking to make the jump into the upper echelon of tennis, squaring off on the grass courts of the All England Club. Both are known for their fearsome one-handed backhands, and will one way or another give the crowd some fireworks to enjoy. Gasquet has the upper hand in the matchup with his mobility on the court, and that will give him the victory should these two square off in the third round.
The verdict: Novak will come out of this quarter unscathed. The Serb has made it to the finals each of the last 4 Grand Slams, and none of these opponents should give him much trouble as long as he plays the unstoppable tennis he has been playing for the last year. He will face Berdych in the quarters, but Berdych won’t take more than a set off of Novak.
The high seed: Wimbledon was once Roger’s natural habitat. Fans gathered to watch the beauty of his game on the most renowned court in tennis, and he never disappointed. The last 3 years have not been that way for Roger, as he has witnessed Rafa’s rise to power, then Novak’s as well, making him the third wheel of the rivalry. He has lost in the quarterfinals the past 2 years at Wimbledon, breaking his streak of 7 straight appearances in the finals. Coming into Wimbledon this year looking for some momentum, he lost in the finals at Halle, a grass court warm-up tournament, to Tommy Haas. At 31 years of age, the tennis world is now stuck wondering if there is another win in store for Roger, or if his time as a champion is over.
The competition: Federer will face challenges in his draw, but nothing too troublesome early. Michael Llodra could compete with him in round 2, and he could face Gilles Simon, the young, well-rounded Frenchman, in the 4th round, but Federer should have nothing to really worry about with either of them. His quarterfinal matchup should be either Janko Tipsarevic, who has soared up the rankings all the way to #8, or the hard serving American John Isner.
Matchup to watch: 2nd round- John Isner (11) vs. Nicholas Mahut
Yes, this matchup can happen AGAIN. And yes, since their marathon match 2 years ago, Isner has won both of their meetings in straight sets, but that’s not what I look at. Take last year’s meeting at Wimbledon for example. Isner won in straight sets, but two of those sets were decided by tiebreakers. Even when it looks like a short match it isn’t with these two. So when they face off, just watch. We will never see anything like what they did two years ago, but there’s bound to be some fun.
The verdict: Tipsarevic has never made it past round 3 of Wimbledon, and this year he won’t do much better. Federer will face Isner in the quarters provided that Isner doesn’t play a five set match before then (something that has plagued him of late), but Fed will dispatch Isner and move on.
The high seed: The hope of the host nation has not quite lived up to the expectations of his countrymen. Murray has come close, losing in the semifinals each of the last three years, but he has so far failed in his attempt to turn the “big three” into a “big four.” Murray has talent, there’s no questioning that. But letting his emotions get the best of him has held him back throughout his career. With the entire country hanging on his every move, and a draw that is by no means easy, Wimbledon will not be the easiest place for him to calm his nerves.
The competition: Murray doesn’t get a walkover to start his fortnight at the All England Club. He faces off against Nikolay Davydenko, who was ranked as high as #9 in the world as recently as 2009. Davydenko has been a shadow of his former self over the past few years, but he isn’t someone Murray can take lightly. Murray’s second round opponent will most likely be Ivo Karlovic, one of the best serving players on the ATP Tour. In the fourth round he will face either Marin Cilic or Milos Raonic, two up and coming players, and his quarterfinal matchup could be against either David Ferrer or Juan Martin del Potro, two of the best players outside of the big three.
Matchup to watch: 4th Round David Ferrer (7) vs. Juan Martin del Potro (9)
It is possible that one of these two is upset en route to the 4th round, but if this matchup happens, it would be the best 4th round match of the tournament. Ferrer, although he is getting up there in age, is playing some of the best tennis of his life, and del Potro is beginning to play the level of tennis fans expected of him after winning the US open in 2009. The feisty style of Ferrer against the powerful ground strokes of del Potro will be fun to watch, but I think it is del Potro’s time to show that he can compete on grass as well, and he will come out of this victorious.
The verdict: Sorry, UK. It’s not happening this year either for Andy Murray. He may be the best defensive player in the game, but whether he gets frustrated by David Ferrer’s style or is overmatched by del Potro, he will fall in the quarterfinals. I have Juan Martin del Potro moving on to the semifinals in my draw, behind one of the strongest forehands in the game and a great service game.
The high seed: Rafa’s biggest issue at Wimbledon will be avoiding looking past any of his opponents not named Novak Djokovic en route to the finals. Rafa has made the finals at Wimbledon in each of the last 5 that he has actually competed in (he withdrew because of his knees in 2009). Rafa’s game speaks for itself on the court, where he regularly extends points with his speed and court awareness and can turn a point from the defensive to offensive in a single shot.
The competition: Nadal’s first test on his journey to the finals will come in the third round, when he faces either Tommy Haas, who defeated Roger Federer on the grass courts of Halle last week, or Philipp Kohlschreiber, the hard serving German who beat Rafa at Halle. If he makes it past that challenge, his quarterfinal opponent will most likely be Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, the 5th ranked player in the world coming off of a five set thriller of his own against Novak at the French Open. Mardy Fish or Stanislas Wawrinka could also be Rafa’s opponent in the quarters, but Fish’s health concerns and Wawrinka’s shortcomings at Wimbledon of late lead me to believe Tsonga will be in the quarters.
Matchup to watch: First round- Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (5) vs. Lleyton Hewitt
I wanted to say that the Tsonga-Rafa matchup in the quarters will be the best matchup, but I felt like it was a bit of a cop-out on my part, so I went outside the box. Every Grand Slam that Lleyton Hewitt plays in people wonder if it will be his last, but the Aussie just keeps on going. Before last year’s second round loss in 5 sets to Robin Soderling, Hewitt had made at least the fourth round at Wimbledon seven years in a row. I’m not saying he will beat Tsonga, especially considering I think Tsonga will be in the quarterfinals, but there is always the chance of something special happening with a player like Lleyton Hewitt on the court.
The verdict: Tsonga is a fantastic player. He has worked his way all the way up to #5 in the world, and nearly beat Djokovic at the French Open this year. But Rafa is just on another level when he is on his game. Whether it’s his court coverage or the insane topspin on his shots, Rafa will find a way to win and move on to the semifinals.
Lets just say for arguments sake that I at least get the semifinal matchups right, and Novak Djokovic faces Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal faces Juan Martin del Potro. If this is the case, then I see no reason why we will not see the 5th straight Djokovic-Nadal final. The two of them have separated themselves from the rest of the tennis world, and have created one of the best rivalries in sports along the way. And in the finals at the All England Club, Rafa will win his 12th Grand Slam title and 3rd Wimbledon victory. Last year Djokovic beat Nadal handily in 4 sets, but if Rafa plays anywhere near the way he did at the French this year, he will come out victorious over Djokovic.
The Fortnight starts Monday morning, bright and early at 6:30 AM Eastern Time as defending champion Novak Djokovic faces Juan Carlos Ferrero. And yes, I’ll be one of those people crazy enough to wake up and watch.
Come on, its Wimbledon.