Unlike the Women’s Wimbledon prospects, the contending “Gentlemen” choices for Wimbledon couldn’t be any clearer at this point. In fact, I have a hard time envisioning anyone other than the top four dogs of Rafa, Nole, Roger and Andy.
But as we know there’s always the X factor of the “Draw” that comes into play at the Majors. The “Draw” refers to the path that each of the top guys will have to take to make it through to their respective semis and the final of this event. Each of the top 4 seeds sits in a different quarter of the draw. Here is a breakdown of the 4 quarters and how I see them making their way through to the Final Four:
Rafa has some serious firepower in his first quarter of the draw that could make his life difficult. The first obvious potential pitfall is Milos Raonic for the 3rd round. Big guy with a big serve that might be extremely effective for him on grass. Rafa can do well against big servers as long as he can get the ball into play on his return. After that he mostly likes his chances against anyone. Otherwise he knows most of the point is out of his control.
After Raonic, the next monumental task could be to overcome the monumental Argentine Juan Martin del Potro. He is not known as a good grass court player, but anyone who has groundstrokes and a serve like his must be considered a threat every time they step on to a court, no matter the surface. Rafa has enough experience to get by this potentially tricky opponent. Directly on the opposite side of the draw lies probably his biggest challenge. The path out of this quarter would need to take him through Tomas Berdych, his opponent in last year’s final. Berdych hasn’t done a huge amount since his path to the finals last year. But past confidence at the AELTC could bode well for him to recreate a bit of magic.
Still, Rafa has the experience to get past Tomas as he did last year. Berdych’s serve isn’t big enough to blow Rafa off the court, and Rafa can mix things up too effectively to give the Czech easy balls in his strike zone. In the end, I think Milos, Juan Martin, nor Berdych will be enough to derail Rafa.
Andy Murray appears to have a fairly easy path through the second quarter of the draw. Immediate threats on his side of the quarter are Richard Gasquet and Stan Wawrinka. On the other side lurks Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick. Gasquet or Wawrinka could be dangerous for him, but not with him playing as well as he is with such confidence. And unlike in past years where you felt every stone of British expectations on his shoulders, he is now much more able to use the crowd in matches to pump him up.
Gael Monfils is always tricky, but generally acknowledges that clay is his best surface. It allows him time to create the physical wizardry he likes to pull off to spectacular effect in matches. Grass doesn’t give you that same amount of time…plus it gives you bad bounces. It’s not as conducive for him to play his game. That will neutralize his chances of going deep.
What can I say about Roddick’s chances in this quarter against Andy Murray? Not much. At the risk of looking like I’m piling on with the other Roddick doomsayers, he is not playing nearly well enough to get through this quarter. Injuries and time off from the tour have not given him enough match play to feel as confident as he needs to feel going against the other top guys these days. Also, his serve used to be the thing that set him apart from the rest, especially on the lawns of Wimbledon. The pace and the kick gave him a distinct advantage.
Now there are so many other players who can serve just as hard with just as much kick that most top players have worked out solid defenses to effectively neutralize this advantage that he may have had in the past. Andy (the Scottish one) will easily come through this quarter if he plays as well as he did at the French Open and at the Queen’s Club tournaments (where he took the title over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga).
3rd QuarterThe third quarter should be titled “All about Roger”. The 3 seed has almost no one to challenge him from coming through this quarter in successive straight set matches. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could be his most probable quarterfinal match. David Ferrer is up there as well but has never done particularly well at Wimbledon. So I expect JW to come through the top part of the quarter, especially after some marvelous play last week to get to the finals of the Queen’s Club event.
On Fed’s side of the quarter there is only one person who could challenge him on grass, and that would be purely a function of “the serve”: John Isner. After an improbable rematch with Nicolas Mahut in the first round, he could be Federer’s first test of the tournament. John will have to serve impeccably to have any chance at winning this match. Even so, we have watched Federer handle Roddick over the years by getting a racquet on the serve, blocking it back effectively, then restarting the point with his groundstroke and net advantage. Like I said, it’s all about Roger.
The final quarter is Serbian territory. Novak Djokovic of Serbia sits at the bottom of this quarter accompanied by some very fine players who could be obstacles on his path to the quarterfinals/semis: compatriot Viktor Troicki, Spaniard Tommy Robredo (who could do some damage), veteran Michael Llodra who loves playing on grass, and hard-serving Kevin Andersen. But though they are all fine players, each of them will have to play the matches of their lives to get past Nole if they even advance that far in the draw.
The ultimate test for Nole unquestionably lies on the other side of the quarter in Swede Robin Soderling. It’s hard to believe that the two-time French Open finalist hasn’t already cracked the code of the grass courts, but he hasn’t… so far. Maybe this could be the tournament he finally puts it all together mentally and physically for a deeper run on the lawns. With such a fine serve and penetrating groundstrokes, one would think that he would be able to advance like Berdych did on his road to the final last year. It’s still hard to imagine him ultimately getting by Djokovic though. Everything he does well Djokovic can do better along with better defense. But lots of stranger things have happened on the tour this year.
There you have it!
The top 4 as the last 4.
Rafa versus Murray
Roger versus Novak
Who will win? Click here for the Final Four breakdown.