It’s that time of the tennis year again. Wimbledon. This is maybe one of the hardest years to predict, in terms of singles winners. Normally, Serena Williams would be the overwhelming favorite on the women’s side. She’s still the favorite, but there are questions. On the men’s side, Andy Murray is the defending champion, but is he even a top 3 favorite on the men’s side? Here are my quick thoughts on who to watch at Wimbledon 2014. One note though, Victoria Azarenka is not on the list. She’s just been out to long with injury for me to really have a feel with how she’ll perform. Obviously, if she’s healthy she is always a threat to win any tournament. But along with her health status, I have to wonder about rust and timing as well. A deep run or a quick exit wouldn’t surprise me.
The Queen was dethroned in the 4th round last year by Sabine Lisicki, who would go on to finish as runner-up to Marion Bartoli. Serena has 3 titles already in 2014, but hasn’t been sharp in the Majors. She was ousted in the 4th round at Melbourne by Ana Ivanovic and the 2nd round in Paris by Garbine Muguruza. However, in 2012 she also was beaten early at both the Australian Open (4th round) and Roland Garros (1st round). How did she respond? She won Wimbledon and the US Open. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 5-time Wimbledon Ladies Singles champion did so again.
Here’s something you’ve probably heard 9 times before: Rafael Nadal comes into Wimbledon off a championship run at Roland Garros. But the 2-time Wimbledon Men’s Singles champion exited the All England Club in the 2nd and 1st rounds respectively the last 2 years. Granted, you have to factor injury into that as well. If Rafa is reasonably healthy, he’s the favorite. In the last 3 Majors, he owns 2 titles and 1 runner-up. Of course, if his body is not up to the task, he is vulnerable to an early upset like anybody else on the grass.
For a player that announced her arrival with a 2004 singles title at Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova has transformed into the Queen of Clay. Masha should be better here, but save for finishing runner-up to Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon 2011, she hasn’t gone past the 4th round on the grass since 2006. That’s 6 out of the last 7 years out early. She also has a potential quarter against Serena, her nemesis. Maybe I’m looking at her name only and calling her a contender. Fair enough. I just think she SHOULD be a contender here as a former champion and runner-up.
Novak Djokovic went into the Roland Garros final with a winning streak over Rafael Nadal. He came out of that final with more questions. Nole hasn’t won a Major since last year’s Australian Open. He’s been tremendously solid since then, reaching 3 finals, a semi and a quarter. The last 4 years he’s done no worse than the semis at Wimbledon, including a win in 2011 and runner-up to Andy Murray last year. That’s why the All England Club has made Nole the #1 seed. I’m not so sure I agree with how they do that, but clearly Djokovic has been the most consistent men’s player over the last few years on the grass.
Agnieszka Radwanska let a golden opportunity get away last year. She had Sabine Lisicki down in the final set of their semifinal match but couldn’t hold on. Had she won, she would have faced Marion Bartoli, a player she has never lost to, in the final. But Aga did not hold on. Nevertheless, she was a semifinalist last year and took Serena Williams to 3 sets before finishing as Wimbledon runner-up in 2012. Aga has been a multiple winner in 2011, 2012 and 2013. This year, she has yet to lift a trophy although she did finish runner-up to Flavia Pennetta at Indian Wells. Wimbledon would be the perfect place to get 2014 back on track.
It feels weird to not have Roger Federer as the highest ranked Swiss player on the ATP Tour, but the fact is that Stan’s the man. Stanislas Wawrinka finally broke through at the Australian Open in January to win his first Major. Along the way, he beat Djokovic in the quarters and Nadal in the finals. He also beat Federer in the final of Monte Carlo for hist 3rd ATP title of the year. I’m going out on a limb with Stan here. After all, he’s lost in the first round of Wimbledon the past 2 years and has never advanced past the 4th round. He’s also coming off losing in the 1st round of Roland Garros. I just think there is no reason for him not to be more successful on the grass at Wimbledon, and other places as well, except for what’s inside of his head. If he comes into Wimbledon with memories of past results, he could crash out again. If he comes in knowing he has run the gauntlet at a Major to take the championship, he has a chance.
Like Stan Wawrinka, Li Na won the Australian Open this year only to get bounced out of Roland Garros in the 1st round. But that’s Li Na’s career. Feast or famine. Even at Wimbledon, she has been a quarterfinalist twice in the past 4 years, including 2013. She’s also departed in the 2nd round twice in the past 4 years. Although she has the talent to do well at Wimbledon, it’s hard to predict how she’ll do. In my best Forrest Gump voice: Li Na is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.
Maybe I’m being a bit sentimental with this pick. I know Roger Federer was ousted in the 2nd round last year at Wimbledon. I know he was bounced out in the 4th round at last year’s US Open and this year’s Roland Garros. I know he’s not the player he once was. I just have a hard time counting out a player who has won the singles title 7 times here, with the last one coming as recently as 2012. Perhaps if he suffers another early exit this year, I’ll rethink my position on Roger next year. For now, I refuse to count him out.
Although she has never played particularly well at Wimbledon, or on grass in general, Ana Ivanovic comes into this year’s fortnight as arguably one of the top 5 players on tour this year. She doesn’t have a Major victory in 2014, but she has 3 non-Major titles and a runner-up. Those 3 wins include her first grass court title at the Aegon Classic. Despite only recently claiming a grass court title, she has one of the best serve + forehand combinations on tour. She should be better at Wimbledon than she has been. This year, I expect her to be.
Honestly, I almost put Andy Murray into the dark horse category. I just can’t figure out where he is right now with his game. However, I will show respect to the defending champion. I am intrigued by how the pairing of Andy with new coach Amelie Mauresmo will work out. Andy started the whole super coach trend when he pick Ivan Lendl to guide him. Roger Federer (Stefan Edberg), Novak Djokovic (Boris Becker) and Kei Nishikori (Michael Chang) would follow in step. Rafa will stick will Uncle Tony. Now he becomes the first top men’s player I can think of with such a high profile female coach. I think that’s fantastic. I don’t see why anybody would have an issue with Mauresmo, a former Wimbledon champion herself, solely due to her gender. If Murray isn’t successful at Wimbledon, it’ll be because Murray’s game is in flux at the moment.
THE DARK HORSES
Ok, one could make the argument I should put Simona in the contenders and move Li Na or Ana Ivanovic into the dark horses. While Simona is having the best success of her career the last 13 months, including the quarters this year at the Australian Open and runner-up at Roland Garros, I just wonder how tiring being feted upon her return to Romania after Paris was. Will she be drained by her sudden rise in profile and media attention? Also, she pulled out of her Wimbledon tune-up match with an injury. She says she’s fine for the fortnight. I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes a deep run here, but I need to see it first.
Don’t call him Maria Sharapova’s boyfriend or Baby Fed anymore. Grigor Dimitrov, a 3-time winner in 2014, has made a name for himself. I would have put him in the contender category, but he hasn’t had much success at Wimbledon. However, he’s only 23 and just coming into his own this year. Also, putting him or anybody else in the dark horse category is a compliment, not an insult. I’m saying those players could surprise people with a title run. Although, in Grigor’s case maybe it wouldn’t be such a surprise to tennis insiders who have long predicted his rise.
There are a lot of great young players coming up on the WTA tour. If I were a coach of a woman’s player, the name I wouldn’t want to see early in the draw is Garbine Muguruza. She has all the tools to be a future Major winner. She is probably the truest dark horse on my list. I am really not expecting a championship run yet from Garbine. What I do think could happen is Muguruza derailing a top player, just as she did with Serena Williams and nearly did with Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros. A year from now, and definitely two years from now, I suspect Garbine will be a true contender at Wimbledon.
Yes, I know he was knocked out of Wimbledon in the 2nd round last year. I know he hasn’t had a very good (by his standards) 2014 season. Like with Roger Federer, perhaps I am being a bit sentimental with this pick. I just remember his back to back semifinal runs in 2011 and 2012. The ball explodes off of Tsonga’s racquet. If…and I realize it’s a big if…he can find his game, he is a tough out on the grass of the All England Club. If he doesn’t then yes, I fell victim to sentimentality.
If anybody had asked me on January 1st who the only women’s player to reach the semis in both of the first two Majors would be, I’d have gone with one of the usual suspects: Serena, Maria, Li Na, Vika…as would most people. However, the correct answer is Eugenie Bouchard. Genie has taken the tennis world by storm after back to back semis at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. Hailed as the next Sharapova due to growing up idolizing Maria and her own burgeoning marketability, in some ways Bouchard reminds me more of Chris Evert. It’s just the way she carries herself. She seems mature beyond her years. If she can duplicate even a small fraction of Chrissy’s success, that would be tremendous for the young Canadian.
The best Gulbis since Natalie, Ernests has all the talent to be a top 5 player…if he wants to be. Always with the ability, not always with the work ethic, Gulbis has seemed to turn a corner. He has 2 titles in 2014, 3 since September of 2013, along with a semifinal appearance at Roland Garros. He’s never reached a grass court final, but he’s also never played with the motivation he plays with now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gulbis in week two of Wimbledon.