Monday, June 25, 2012

Wimbledon 2012: Let the Games Begin!

So I was toying with the idea of not even writing anything about Wimbledon with all that I have going on…but then it started and I changed my mind. So now I’ve got the DVR all programmed and I’m rearing to go. With all this rain, I should be able to find a few moments to scribble a few lines on the most prestigious tennis event in the world, don’t you think?

The Men: My Pick
I believe the ubiquitous “they” are still talking about “The Big Three,” meaning No.1 Novak Djokovic, No.2 Rafael Nadal and No.3 Roger Federer, but I think it’s really down to “The Dynamic Duo:” Novak and Rafa…not necessarily in that order. Don’t get me wrong, my man Fed still has the physical tools to take anyone down on grass, I just don’t know about his state of mind, especially against Rafa and Novak.

It’s tough to tell what sort of lasting impact the French Final had on both Nadal and Djokovic. Did it create more doubt in Novak’s mind about the dominance he displayed last season, especially since the French Final was Rafa’s second consecutive win over Novak in a Final? Did it cement Rafa’s confidence that he is back on top and ready to resume his reign atop the men’s game?

We can’t take Rafa’s straight-set loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber (No. 34 in the world) and Roger’s straight-set loss to Tommy Haas on the grass in Halle a couple weeks ago seriously, can we? I don’t think so. Roger’s loss at Halle concerns me more than Rafa’s though, because that was a Finals loss. If you’re gonna get to the Final, you may as well go ahead and win. Rafa bowed out in the second round, which smacks of, “I’m committed to play, but I just want a little tune-up for Wimbledon.”  Roger’s loss (6, 4) sounds like he just got beat.

Djokovic hasn’t played since the French, and he’s looking less than stellar right now against Juan Carlos Ferrero. However, Novak should win this and get his grass legs under him in the process. Bottom line is that when they are coming down the stretch in the second week of the fortnight, I expect to see Rafa, Novak, and Roger. Since Rafa is healthy, I’m going to have to pick him, but Novak is right there with him.

I suppose No.4 Andy Murray should be in the conversation, especially since this is his “home” turf…at least that’s what British fans will tell you. And, I imagine if there is to be a Grand Slam breakthrough for Andy this would be the perfect place. I just don’t see him being ready to take that next step.

My top dark horse (no pun intended) is fifth-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He has the serve, the volleys and the firepower to pull off the upsets he would need to win it. His mental game still lags behind his physical game though, so a win for him here would be a really long shot. My other extremely long shot, more of a midnight pony than a dark horse, would be John Isner. I believe he has the goods to beat anyone on grass on a given day, but he hasn’t shown the kind of sustained focus to win a big one. Lots would have to happen for either of these two guys to live the dream.

Bottom line? Rafa, Novak or Fed, in that order, walks away feeling really good about his US Open chances. 

The Women: My Pick
I don’t think I’ve ever picked against Serena Williams when she was healthy…And I’m not about to start now. Since getting bumped off in the first round at the French, Serena Williams has not played, and I don’t think I would like to be her first opponent back. Serena’s only seeded sixth, but seeding has never meant much as far as Serena is concerned, so by virtue of her being the most decorated and dominant tennis player on the women’s side, she gets my nod.

But that nod is just a faint nod. Given the way No.1 Seed Maria Sharapova has been playing this year, it’s really hard to bet against her. Maria is on a 12-match win streak and is 19-1 in her last 20 matches. Care to guess who hung that one loss on her? Yeah, Serena Williams.

However, I can’t think of a French Champ that came into Wimbledon as ready as Sharapova did in her first round. She won 16 of the first 17 points, and 18 of the first 20 before she lost a tad bit of focus against Anastasia Rodionova, winning 2, . The one concern with Maria is that she is struggling to close out matches. Against a quality opponent, that could come back to haunt her.

What about No.2 Seed Victoria Azarenka? Well, what about her? Vika hasn’t played since bowing out in the fourth round at Roland Garros, and hasn’t won anything since Indian Wells in March. Perhaps the time off will have refreshed her physically and mentally. Her confidence has not been of late what it was to start the year when she went 26-0. It’s anybody’s guess how she’ll come out at Wimbledon, but she has earned the right to be in the conversation.

No.3 Seed Agnieszka Radwanska seemed to be struggling to return to her winning ways, losing in the First Round of Eastbourne last week after the disappointing third-round-loss at Roland Garros. But she moved past her first Wimbledon opponent in straight sets. Nevertheless, I suspect her confidence is seriously shaken and it will take a tough test against a top opponent to restore it. I don’t see Aga as a serious threat to win this.

No.4 Petra Kvitova also exited Eastbourne after the First Round, but as the Defending Wimbledon Champion, who reached the semis of the French, I don’t imagine we can count her out. I’m not convinced though. Her lack of footwork means that all of her big guns must be firing accurately to have a shot at defending, and from the looks of things, Sharapova’s arsenal is heavier this time around.

Despite Sam Stosur’s 6-1, 6-3 first-round-win over Carla Suarez-Navarro, her semifinal-finish at the French, and plenty of game, Stosur would be doing well to reach the Quarters. She has never made it pass the Third Round at Wimbledon and has lost in the First Round five of the nine times she has played previously.

It’s hard to come up with dark horses on the women’s side, but I’m going to pick No.11 Na Li and No.15 Sabine Lisicki as the only players outside the top ten with a shot at reaching the semis and perhaps pulling off the major upset. Li is a Grand Slam Champion who has been to the Quarters of Wimbledon twice. Li hasn’t performed up to snuff thus far this season, but she hadn’t been past the semis in months before winning the French last year either. She has a slim chance.

Lisicki’s chances are slimmer than slim. She has lost in the First Round of four consecutive events leading up to Wimbledon, but I think she likes the grass at the All England Club and will perform better here. Of all the Grand Slams, she has done her best at Wimbledon, posting a 9-3 record and reaching the Semis last year and the Quarters in 2009. She’s facing some very heavy odds though.

Bottom line? Serena or Sharapova picks up yet another Grand Slam title. Regardless of who win in either draw, we know it will be as interesting as it gets in sport. Game, set, match...T. A.

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