Whoa! With Wimbledon starting on Monday, a quick look at the draw is already overdue. In many ways it’s the same old story at SW19 this year, but there are plenty of sub plots and intrigues to keep things interesting. I’m starting with the men and will move onto the ladies in a separate post. Here goes.
Andy Murray’s so right: “Isner vs Mahut drawing each other in the first round after last year is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in tennis! Centre court anyone?!”
Also amazing, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal remain on opposite sides of the draw, despite the possibilities raised by Roger’s No. 3 seeding. (Bodo joked about conspiracy theorists, and I admit I thought about it.) I guess the most obvious explanation is that the Tennis Gods like their Fedal finals, too. And they think Djokovic vs. Federer semifinals are pretty swell, too.
Roger doesn’t mind his semi-final match-up. He spoke to the press at Wimbledon (via Wimbledon.com):
“I didn’t necessarily need to prove my point in Paris for my mind or for my confidence. I know I can beat Novak on any surface. I’ve done that in the past. Just because he’s on a great winning streak doesn’t mean he’s unbeatable,” he said.
“That was my mindset going into the match in Paris. I played really well. I was able to play well in the key moments. Here at Wimbledon anyway I’m even more confident. I think I’m a better player than in Paris, so I expect myself to do really well here, even better maybe.”
The haters will crow, but I love how Roger doesn’t shy away from setting a certain tone and expectation before the big tournaments. Here he’s saying, I expect to beat Nole and Rafa because I want to win this thing. Both Borg and Sampras have pegged him as the favorite for the title, to which Roger probably says “Yeah, so?”
Like Nole and Rog, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal are getting pretty used to facing each other in the semis, too. They not only met in the penultimate round a couple weeks ago at the French, they also met in the same round at last year’s SW19. Like in Paris, Murray lost in straights but played a great match. Is this his time?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Big Four have a tough fortnight ahead of them.
Rafa plays American Michael Russell in the first round – Michael’s a decent enough player to give Rafa a pretty good workout. He could play another American in the second round – Ryan Sweeting – or the handsome third-tier Spaniard that gave him a little trouble at Roland Garros: Pablo Andujar. From there, things get really interesting for the defending champ. He could play the returning Tommy Haas – and that’s if he’s lucky. Big serving Canadian Milos Raonic is his likelier third round. Neutrals are hoping we get to see this match. Rafanatics are hoping Fognini scores the upset in the first round. Juan Martin del Potro and Gilles Simon are the seeded options for Rafa in the 16s – JMdP is a bit of a wild card. It’s hard to imagine him beating Rafa at Wimbledon at this moment, but it could be a fun match to watch.
As far as quarterfinal opponents go, the seed is last year’s runner-up, Tomas Berdych. But there are other good grass court players in this group: Mardy Fish (seeded #10), Halle champ Philipp Kohlschreiber, and serve-and-volley maniac Radek Stepanek are all in the mix.
Look out for:
Verdasco vs. Stepanek and Young vs. Bogomolov in the first, Fish vs. Kohlschreiber in the second, Raonic vs. Nadal in the third
Murray’s toughest opponent through to the quarters will likely be homecrowd expectations. Otherwise, the biggest name he may face before the 16s is Marin Cilic. Marin’s up and down play – and first round match-up vs. Ivan Ljubicic – hardly makes this third round match-up a foregone conclusion. The wily Sergiy Stakhovsky could play spoiler in this section. Things get interesting for Murray in the 4th round, where dangerous one-handers Richard Gasquet or Stan Wawrinka are likely opponents for the Scot. I’m reminded of that great five setter Stan and Andy played under the new roof a couple years ago.
The bottom half of Murray’s quarter is really interesting, with Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick the highest seeds in the section. Big servers like Ivo Karlovic, Victor Hanescu and Feliciano Lopez are also in the mix. It’s a little unlucky for Roddick to have the other Andy in his quarter – he performed great at Queen’s club last week until Murray handed his ass to him in the semis.
Look out for:
Ljubicic vs. Cilic and Tipsarevic vs. Karlovic in the first round, Roddick vs. Hanescu in the second.
The No. 3 seed gets a guy named Mikhail Kukushkin from Kazakhstan in the first round. I don’t know much about his except he’s ranked No. 60 in the world and has won an ATP title in St. Petersburg. The third round has a retro feel, with David Nalbandian the seeded choice. The under-achieving, oft-injured Argentine is not the threat he once was, but gosh, that match-up still inspires anxiety in the heart of this Federer fan. Youzhny and Almagro are the seeded options for the 16s, but that’s the section with Isner vs. Mahut. I’d call Isner less of a darkhorse than either the Russian or the Spaniard in his section, and you know Roger’s keeping an eye on him for the Round of 16.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer are the top seeds in the other half of Roger’s quarter, with a round of 16 match-up between the two likely. (Damn, why do my only slightly lesser favorites have to end up in Roger’s section of the draw?) There’s also some young talent to look out for, with Dogolopov and Dimitrov looking to make some noise. Fernando Gonzalez unseeded after a long injury layoff, plays The Dog in the first round.
Look out for:
Isner vs. Mahut (really, how could you miss it?), Gonzo vs. the Dog, Nieminen vs. Almagro, and Monaco vs. Youzhny in the first round, Tsonga vs. Dimitrov in the second.
Nole could play some interesting players along the way to the semis – like Jeremy Chardy in the first round and the 6’8″ Kevin Anderson in the second (that won’t be fun) and maybe Marcos Baghdatis in the third. But there’s no one guy who jumps out as a major threat to the still-hot Serb’s run to the semis.
Michael Llodra and Viktor Troicki are his seeded Round of 16 opponents. Robin Soderling and Jurgen Melzer are the top seeds to face him in the quarterfinals. The Melzer/Soderling section is jammed with more interesting guys like Kei Nishikori, Philipp Petzschner, Lleyton Hewitt, Ernests Gulbis, Nikolay Davydenko Teymuraz Gabashvili, Xavier Malisse and this weekend’s surprise ‘s-Hertogenbosch champ, the back-from-the-dead Dmitry Tursunov. See what I mean? Lots of characters, but, given that grass is not Sod’s favorite surface, there’s no one big challenger looming on Djokovic’s horizon until Federer.
Look out for:
There are a lot of tennis nerd specials in this quarter, including first rounds like Soderling vs. Halle finalist w/back injury Philipp Petzschner (remember that five setter he played vs. Rafa last year), Nishikori vs. Hewitt, Gulbis vs. Tusunov, James Ward vs. Michael Llodra, Baghdatis vs. James Blake (remember him?), and Chardy vs. Djokovic. I think Anderson vs. Djokovic could be interesting as could Soderling vs. Hewitt in the second round.
But how will the story end?