Today marks the start of the most prestigious tournament in tennis. When you’re a junior tennis player, as I was, you don’t dream about winning the Australian Open or hoisting la Coupe des Mousquetaires. You might fantasize about playing at night in front of a packed Arthur Ashe stadium, but that is less about the prestige and level of competition and more about the amazing atmosphere under the lights at the US Open. There’s something about the grass courts and the all-white attire, though, that makes a Wimbledon championship the crowning achievement in tennis. This is the tournament that players yearn to win, and given this year’s seedings, this will be a tall order for those not named Djokovic. Wimbledon is played on grass, which gives an advantage to those who prefer flatter, faster shots and shorter points, since the ball is much more likely to skid, making spin very effective. Men with bigger serves, like Kevin Anderson, John Isner, and Ivo Karlovich, who might not normally be expected to contend at grand slam tournaments, become relevant players in London. However, more than anything else, the outcome of the tournament may ultimately be decided by the draw.
Due to the inconsistent play of the “Big Four” (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray), the past couple of majors have lumped three of them on the same half of the draw. The French Open was no exception, with Djokovic having to go through Nadal and Murray before Stan Wawrinka, who beat Federer, in the finals. Whether Djokovic collapsed under the pressure of completing the career Grand Slam, or simply fell to Stanislas Wawrinka’s aggressive brand of tennis, he was obviously drained from the earlier matches against top-level competition. This exhaustion was not only physical: Nadal is arguably the greatest clay court player of all time, and his match with Djokovic was just as much a chess match as it was a physical contest. This continuing seeding dynamic makes this year’s Wimbledon somewhat less predictable. Wimbledon’s seedings this year put Federer, Nadal, and Murray on the same half of the draw, setting up a potential Murray-Nadal quarterfinal–with the winner possibly facing Federer before heading to the final. This leaves Djokovic relatively uncontested on the other half of the draw, with a chance to face Kei Nishikori, the #5 seed from Japan, in the quarterfinals and a potential rematch of the French Open final against Wawrinka in the semifinals. The only former Wimbledon champion on Djokovic’s side of the draw was Lleyton Hewitt, who bowed out in five sets against Jarko Nieminen earlier today. Essentially, Djokovic should have a clear path to (at least) the semifinals. Nishikori could pose a threat, but Djokovic has won each of their last three matches and he’s nursing a leg injury after calling a medical time out in his first round win. Whether Wawrinka can pose the same threat to Djokovic at Wimbledon is questionable, since Wawrinka’s footwork and quickness are some of his weak points; the slower clay courts at Roland Garros masked these shortcomings. That said, Wawrinka has been able to win against Djokovic on big stages, winning 2 of their last 3 meetings in Grand Slam tournaments, making this possible French Open final rematch particularly intriguing. Equally exciting is the possibility of the Nadal-Murray quarterfinal, despite Nadal’s flawless record against Murray on grass. Nadal’s level of play, however, has entered a serious decline of late, and his 10th seed (his lowest ever at Wimbledon) reflects this. A brutal combination of injuries and a gritty, relentless style of play have started to wear him down, suggesting that Murray holds the edge in this match-up. A Murray-Federer semifinal would be a great contest, especially in front of Murray’s home crowd. They last played on grass in 2012–twice– with Federer edging him out in the Wimbledon final and Murray claiming revenge weeks later in the Olympic gold medal match on centre court. Federer leads their head-to-head series 4-2 since, but all signs indicate that this might be another very competitive match.
1st Quarter Semifinalist: Djokovic
Djokovic shouldn’t really be tested in his first three matches. Given his high-powered serve, Kevin Anderson could take a set if he’s able to steal a break, but otherwise I see the Djoker cruising to the semifinals. He’ll likely play either Cilic or Nishikori. Nishikori’s been playing well lately despite the previously mentioned injury, and Cilic won last year’s US Open (actually over Nishikori). I still see Djokovic advancing past whichever one makes it out of the US Open final 2014 rematch fairly easily in the quarters.
2nd Quarter Semifinalist: Wawrinka
This pick carries a lot of uncertainty, as Stan has proven that he can win in the face of doubt, but lose when confronted with expectations. Despite this inconsistency, I believe that he’ll be able to put away up-and-coming Canadian Milos Raonic in a potential quarterfinal match-up. Wawrinka has never lost to him in four tries, and should face a smooth road to the semifinals.
3rd Quarter Semifinalist: Murray
For the reasons previously discussed, I think Murray’s elevated level of play will carry him past Nadal. He could, in fact, be challenged more by a match-up with Tsonga in the third round. I expect Murray to make it out of this section of the draw. He’s been playing with good command and consistency, reflecting the excellent coaching of Amelie Mauresmo – a former WTA player and Wimbledon champion in her own right.
4th Quarter Semifinalist: Federer
I’d argue that Federer has the most difficult road to the semifinals. I have him playing the Americans, big-serving Sam Querrey and young Jack Sock, in the 2nd and 3rd rounds (respectively) before meeting the tricky, lefty Feliciano Lopez who has had some success on grass. Surviving that, he’d still have to beat Tomas Berdych, a Wimbledon finalist from 2010, to get to the semifinals. Federer’s strength and experience on grass will ease this stern test, giving him a good chance to reach the semifinals.
1st Semifinal: Djokovic d. Wawrinka
2nd SEMIFINAL: Murray D. Federer
Still recuperating from a tough road to the semifinals, Federer will be exhausted, allowing Murray to beat him and advance.
DJOKOVIC D. Murray
Djokovic will be very focused on winning Wimbledon after giving up the career grand slam in the final of the French Open. Murray will be too, playing again in the Wimbledon finals before a home crowd. Djokovic, while beatable, is playing near-perfect tennis this season and has an edge in this match. If Murray continues to elevate his game, though, he could very well seize this victory and solidify his legacy as a British sporting legend. Women’s preview to come.