Posts Tagged ‘grand slam’
Serena Williams earned entry to an elite group yesterday by defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the US Open women’s final for her 18th Slam title. Afterwards, she was joined on court for a presentation by Hall of Famers Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, the two other members of the “18” club.
Chris and Martina are tennis legends. By joining them with 18 of her own, Serena is in rarified air. Fittingly, it’s an accomplishment for which she was given full due after the win. But it wasn’t always this way for the 3-peating US Open champion.
Mention her name to anyone and they can tell you something about her. Generally the comments are positive ones about Serena’s power, her dominance over the other women (particularly Maria Sharapova), and her presumably atypical body type for a tennis player.
Many are also justifiably negative, like those regarding her tirade towards the “foot fault” linesperson, or her treatment of the chair umpire after being called for hindrance against Sam Stosur.
Regardless of merit, they show precisely the reason why she resonates so strongly in a sport that previously boasted benign heroines like Evert. On her good days, she’s almost mythical in her abilities. On her bad days, she’s flawed beyond belief. It’s that humanity that we either love, or love to hate.
But with this step up to “legend” status, she’s become much more. In fact, her path to respectability reminds me an awful lot like that of another great champion: Andre Agassi.
Back in his younger days, Andre’s ball-striking talent was undeniable. But along with that talent was a rebellious streak a mile long, and a piss-poor attitude to boot. He was all about the show, and didn’t really care if you liked it or not.
After early success, Andre sank to spectacular lows. There were many who counted him out. But as he worked his way back from the tennis wilderness, crowds began to cheer for him in spite of, or maybe even because of, his difficulties. They continued this support as he went on to achieve late-career success.
When Andre finally retired, he’d completed a remarkable transformation from young punk to career-Slam champion and elder statesman. I believe the same will eventually hold true for Serena.
In spite of her talent, acceptance from the tennis establishment was initially begrudging, at best. There always seemed to be too much drama, like the Capriati fiasco at the US Open (that led to the use of Hawkeye), or the Henin “hand” incident at the French Open. Few players have been involved with as much controversy as Serena.
She’s also did few favors for herself with the myriad of excuses that would flow after a loss. After losing to Davenport in the 2000 US Open quarterfinals, she exclaimed, “I don’t know how I lost that match.” Later, when told of a joke between Davenport and Hingis with regards to knocking them both out before the final, she stated: ”Obviously, no one would want to see an all-Williams final because everyone doesn’t really like us.”
Excess drama, faux-outrage, and persecution pity parties aren’t especially endearing. Consequently, many fans struggled to embrace Serena regardless of her early successes.
Then came the career-threatening injuries and the murder of her older sister, Yetunde. Serena still managed some big wins, but under extreme emotional duress. The turning point came after a seemingly benign foot injury in 2010 eventually led to a prolonged absence from tennis with a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
Few things endear an athlete to their fan base like a life-or-death struggle. When Serena finally emerged from this health scare in order to compete on the grass at Eastbourne, adoration for her among fans, even those who’d once been indifferent, began in earnest.
To be certain, her transformation is still a work in progress. Her threat to shove a tennis ball down a line umpire’s throat was appalling. Her tirade towards the chair umpire after a hindrance violation was also unnecessary. Fortunately for Serena, she’s been able to hang on to the positive cachet built when one looks at her behavior in totality.
Also, let’s not forget the crucial maturation that occurs for these athlete’s over the course of their careers. Andre turned pro at 16, and retired at 36. Serena turned pro at 14, and is just shy of her 33rd birthday. Maybe we gain an appreciation for their humanity simply as a function of watching them struggle, then learn to be better champions as they get older because of those struggles.
Serena is by no means a perfect champion. She’s played the game on her own terms, and begrudgingly gained our respect, admiration, and her own legendary status along the way. And in spite of all the drama we’ve witnessed over the years, it will still be a sad day when she leaves the game.
There wasn’t much extra time for writing today, but I still wanted to throw my hat into the men’s quarterfinal ring. So here are my quarterfinal quick picks for what look to be some pretty terrific quarterfinal match-ups.
Novak Djokovic (SRB)  vs Andy Murray (GBR) 
H2H: Djokovic leads 12-8
I can’t believe that this is a quarterfinal match! After all, these two have contested 4 previous Slam finals with two won by Novak (Australia ’12, ’13) and two won by Andy (US Open ’11, Wimbledon ’13). Unfortunately for Andy, these were contested before his season-ending back surgery after last year’s US Open. He’s come a long way in his recovery, but is still not quite at the level needed to derail Novak.
Stan Wawrinka (SUI)  vs Kei Nishikori (JPN) 
H2H: Wawrinka leads 2-0
Kei played a great match to topple Milos Raonic in the R16, but was clearly running on fumes by the end. By contrast, Stan seems to be getting stronger and feistier with each round. With Kei on the verge of breaking down physically (again), I can’t see him beating Stan, or outlasting him in a protracted duel.
Tomas Berdych (CZE)  vs Marin Cilic (CRO) 
H2H: Berdych leads 5-3
This won’t be the most exciting match of the four, but it will most definitely feature big hitting from both men. Cilic hasn’t beaten Berdych on a hard court since 2011, and was fairly well-throttled in their last hard court meeting in the Rotterdam final (6-4, 6-2). On top of that, Cilic was pushed hard in his R16 4-hour (plus) marathon against Gilles Simon, while Berdych breezed past Dominic Thiem in just over 1.5 hours with the loss of 7 games. Bottom line: it doesn’t look good for the Croat.
Gael Monfils (FRA)  vs Roger Federer (SUI) 
H2H: Federer leads 7-2
Gael and Roger have the potential to be the most entertaining of the men’s quarterfinal matches. However, after a grueling win over Grigor Dimitrov, I can’t see Gael having the legs to withstand the oncoming Federer onslaught over the long haul. I’m sure there will be plenty of entertaining points, and a few jaw-dropping “Monfils Moments”. But Gael’s great run will end here.
I wasn’t able to do any pre-tournament write-ups or picks for this year’s US Open because of my assignment in New Haven. But now that I’m back in San Francisco with a bit of free time on my hands, the quarterfinals seemed like as good a place as any to get back on the horse and make some picks for the last Slam of the year. Ladies first!
Belinda Bencic (SUI) vs Shuai Peng (CHN)
H2H: No previous meetings
There’s no match history between these two players, so there’s not much to say on the prospects for this match other than generalities.
Bencic has played good tennis to reach the quarters; particularly in her match against the veteran Jelena Jankovic. I fully expected Jankovic to dig deep into her bag of tricks for a win against her 17 year-old opponent, but it didn’t happen. Bencic, young and prone to some impatience/volatility, kept it together on one of the game’s biggest stages; and in one of the biggest matches of her life.
Can she give a repeat performance in the quarters? That depends on her opponent, Peng Shuai. Peng steadily knocked off an impressive roster of players in reaching the quarters (Zheng, Radwanska, Vinci, and Safarova), and did so impressively without dropping a set. She’s not a flashy player, and doesn’t possess any huge weapons. But she will make you play solid and consistent tennis to beat her.
Bencic is certainly talented enough, but I’m not sure if she’s steady enough at this stage in her career to rise to the occasion in a Slam quarterfinal. For that reason alone, I’ll go with Peng. But I won’t be surprised if it goes either way given the volatility of this year’s tournament.
Pick: Peng Shuai
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)  vs Sara Errani (ITA) 
H2H: Wozniacki leads 2-1
Underestimate Sara Errani at your own risk; especially after her revenge-fueled victory over Venus Williams the other day. It wasn’t pretty. And yes, Venus is not the “Venus” we remember from her pre-Sjogren days. But none of that mattered in the end. Sara came away with the hard-fought victory, and has a chance to redeem her disappointing year in singles.
The same could be said for Caroline. After spotty results earlier in the year, she’s played like Dane possessed during the summer hard court swing. She took Serena the distance in their two last tournaments (Montreal and Cincinnati), and knocked out Maria in a brilliant R16 match to reach the quarters. She’s serving harder, hitting her forehand harder, and is notably mixing up her shot patterns to keep opponents off-balance. Moreover, her backhand winner on match point against Maria, a pre-2014 rarity, tells you everything you need to know about where Caro is with her game. (Hint: aggressive.)
I don’t want to risk getting Sara riled up again, but I’m going with Caro in this one. Sara has picked up her game, but Caro’s the one most primed for a breakthrough.
Pick: Caroline Wozniacki
Serena Williams (USA)  vs Flavia Pennetta (ITA) 
H2H: Williams leads 5-0
Serena is, of course, the prohibitive favorite in any match-up at any tournament. But this particular version of Serena is a bit more vulnerable and prone to meltdowns than the one we’ve come to know in recent years. With time winding down on her Hall of Fame career, she’s put tremendous pressure on herself to reach coveted milestones. That pressure has virtually crippled her in the Slams this year, with early exits in Melbourne, Paris, and London. It says a ton that this is her first Slam quarterfinal of 2014.
Flavia’s year has also been underwhelming after her early success in winning the title at Indian Wells. Her match results have been unpredictable at best, and haven’t come close to those reaching the earlier highs of the year. In spite of it all, she’s made it through to the second week, and is facing off against Serena for the second time at the Open.
Unfortunately for Flavia, she’s only won a grand total of six games in her last four hard court sets against Serena. Even in a tournament filled with upsets, this does NOT bode well. I’m picking Serena to reach her first Slam semifinal with a routine win over the Italian.
Pick: Serena Williams
Victoria Azarenka (BLR)  vs Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) 
H2H: Azarenka leads 3-2
Ekaterina won their last match on clay in three sets (2013), but has yet to beat Vika on a hard court. She’s a great player with big weapons who has managed some stunning Slam upsets over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, she’s never backed up those upsets in the later rounds when the pressure was at its’ highest.
Vika, on the other hand, lives for the big moments in the big matches. Sometimes she’s a bit too prickly on court for my taste, but you can’t deny her competitive fight. It’s taken her to the Open final the past two years, and could very well again for a hat trick of final appearances in successive years. She came into New York with a ton of rust and lack of match play, but she’s found a way to make it through.
She may not be playing her best tennis right now, but I’ve got to go with Vika for the win on her chutzpah alone.
Pick: Victoria Azarenka
Sloane Stephens, and her coach Paul Annacone, lead the way for my first tournament upset “Shock or Not” of the fortnight. Wondering why I included her coach? Let’s just call it a case of “Conflict of Interest” Shock. Read on for those bits, in addition to thoughts on losses by Stosur, Gulbis, Ferrer, and more.
Maria Kirilenko defeats Sloane Stephens: Shock or Not? Sadly, but predictably, NOT.
Kirilenko, someone who’s coming off of an injury-plagued year, played a very good match. However, that has nothing to do with the ever-growing body of disappointing efforts from Sloane.
I’d hate to say that I’ve kind of given up on Sloane, but I’ve kind of given up on Sloane; at least until she can stop playing the martyr. We (in the media) are not the enemy, and we don’t all want her to fail. We simply want her to stop acting like an entitled American player who enjoys the perks/money of sporting fame but doesn’t put in the effort that’s necessary to continue warranting those perks.
What was once a genuine freshness in the interview room has turned into (way too much) attitude for the on-court display of nonchalance. For what it’s worth, my advice is cut the snark, put your head down, get to work and prove us wrong!
Paul Annacone, Sloane Stephens’ coach, once again did NOT recuse himself from on-air analysis after her loss: Shock or Not? Label this a “Conflict of Interest” Shock.
Paul Annacone shouldn’t have said one word about Sloane’s match in the Tennis channel commentary afterward on Wimbledon Primetime. But he did. And what he said was stunning for its’ lack of objectivity in breaking down Sloane’s performance in that match. This may not bother others, but I’m going to have a difficult time taking him seriously after this one.
The conflicts of interest in tennis are numerous and sometimes almost legendary. For example, think back to all of the times Mary Jo Fernandez would commentate on Federer only to join her husband, Fed’s ex-agent, in his Roger’s player box at big matches.
Mary Jo’s actions always bothered me, but this one with Annacone bothered me more. Sloane pays him. So it only stands to reason that he’s not going to give as honest a critique of her efforts as other commentators will who aren’t on her payroll. That is the appearance that was suggested to me from his analysis, or lack thereof; particularly so because he offered little more than an agreement with her own assessment of the match.
Integrity matters, and the appearance that it could be lacking in the commentary booth matters more. I’m not saying that Annacone doesn’t have integrity, but I am saying that his comments on his employer appeared disingenuous because of their relationship.
Yanina Wickmayer defeats Samantha Stosur: Shock or Not? Absolutely Not.
Back after 2012 disappointments at Wimbledon and the Olympics, I asked Sam if she was glad to finally be off the grass for the season, she said: “Yeah. I’m not that sad that I’m off of it for another year or so.” Take a look at her record on the green stuff and you’ll quickly understand why this was no shock, no matter what her seed was coming into the tournament. Hopefully she regains some mojo back on the American hard courts.
Sergiy Stakhovsky defeats Ernests Gulbis: Shock or Not? Shock.
Ernests has never done well at Wimbledon, but I’d hoped that his maturity as a player over this past year would translate to a better performance at this year’s Championships. Perhaps I should have known otherwise after hearing that he made quips about not wanting to be a quote machine, then followed up by promptly talking about vampires in his next press conference.
Andrey Kuznetsov defeats David Ferrer: Shock or Not? Shock, but…
It’s never a good sign when a player’s camp is silent to the extent that Ferrer’s camp was prior to the start of Wimbledon. Stomach issues kept him from playing last week, and that surely had to play into his loss against the upstart Kuznetsov. Lack of play isn’t great preparation for a grinder like Ferrer. It also doesn’t help that Kuznetsov is a former junior champion at Wimbledon.
Lauren Davis defeats Flavia Pennetta: Shock or Not? Not.
This was a great win for Davis, who’s managed a few upset scares over the past couple of years. Apart from Davis, Flavia had her moment in the 2014 sun at Indian Wells. Unfortunately, it’s going to get any brighter than that for her the rest of the season.
Fabio Fognini reaches the third round: Shock or Not? Yep…Shock.
I expected an early exit for Fabio, but he proved me wrong. However, he did NOT fail to disappoint on the court; amassing $27,500 in fines for unsportsmanlike conduct. Now THAT’S the Fabio we’ve all come to know and love!
Bojana Jovanovski defeats Victoria Azarenka: Shock or Not? Not.
In my preview piece of the women’s draw, I said that Vika was going “to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon”. That was pretty much the case after a tough first-round win that was immediately followed by and even tougher second-round loss. I knew she wouldn’t go far, but I didn’t expect the screaming Bojana Jovanovski to send her packing.
(Yes, there was value judgement in that comment.)
Tereza Smitkova defeats Coco Vandeweghe: Shock or Not? Disappointing, but No Shock.
With a wonderful serve and power to rival Serena, many of us would love to see Coco consistently perform at the top level of her game. This is especially true after her first WTA title win at the Top Shelf Open. But it all came crashing back to earth in a second round loss. Still a great run for her…
As I wrote in my piece on Serena Williams’ Centre Court snub, few players can so effectively use perceived wrongdoings to their advantage as Serena. She generally plays her best tennis when she feels she’s got something to prove. However, this year’s Wimbledon draw is a pretty tough ‘ask’. Can Patrick help her get through it for a sixth Wimbledon crown? We’ll find out soon enough. Here are my thoughts on this year’s draw, and why I see no clear favorites for the title.
(* – Expected R16 matches)
Top Half, Top Quarter
Serena Williams  – Eugenie Bouchard  *
Wildcards: Cornet (Williams), Petkovic (Bouchard)
Angelique Kerber  – Maria Sharapova  *
Wildcards: Flipkens (Kerber), Pavlyuchenkova or Riske or Giorgi (Sharapova)
The expected quarterfinal match with Maria isn’t the tough part for Serena. That comes earlier when she has to get by Alize Cornet, the woman who sent her packing in Dubai. After that comes with a potential R16 match against the winner of French Open semifinalists: Genie Bouchard or Andrea Petkovic. Either will be a tough opponent at a stage in the tournament when a No. 1 seed might least expect it.
The bottom section presents its’ own challenges for Kerber and Sharapova. Kerber, finalist at Eastbourne, could be derailed by Kirsten Flipkens, last year’s semifinalist. And Sharapova has a particularly tricky trio to overcome with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Allison Riske, or Camilla Giorgi.
Each woman is capable of an early upset, and Maria will need to bring her “A” game right away. The same holds true of Serena. She’s got to be “bring it”, no matter what court she’s scheduled to play. Can they both do it? I think so, but there’s no guarantee that we won’t end up seeing a Bouchard-Giorgi quarterfinal either.
(UPDATE: I’ll update this quarter with the caveat that IF Serena successfully makes it to the quarters, she’s got a good chance of going all the way.)
Top Half, Bottom Quarter
Simona Halep  – Carla Suarez Navarro  *
Wildcards: Vinci (Suarez Navarro)
Ana Ivanovic  – Jelena Jankovic  *
Wildcards: Lisicki (Ivanovic), Townsend or Keys or Shvedova (Jankovic)
The top section of this quarter is likely to end with the expected R16 match between Halep and Suarez Navarro. Roberta Vinci could pose a slight threat to CSN, but I think the Spaniard has too much game to be derailed.
The bottom section of this quarter has much more potential for drama, especially after Madison Keys’ win in Eastbourne for her first WTA title, and first on grass. Add Taylor Townsend and heavy-hitter Yaroslava Shvedova to the mix and Jelena Jankovic is going to have a tough time making it to R16, let alone the quarters.
After vanquishing Jankovic, Keys could do the same to Ivanovic. From there, I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb in predicting a Halep-Keys quarterfinal.
Bottom Half, Top Quarter
Victoria Azarenka  – Dominika Cibulkova  *
Wildcards: Vandeweghe or Muguruza (Azarenka), Safarova (Cibulkova)
Sara Errani  – Agnieszka Radwanska  *
Wildcards: Garcia or Pironkova or Makarova (Errani), Kuznetsova (Radwanska)
It’s good to have Vika back in the mix, but she’s going to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon. So look for the top section of this quarter to be about as wide open as you can get with Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Lucie Safarova, and TopShelf champion Coco Vandeweghe all vying for the top quarterfinal spot.
On the bottom, look for Tsvetana Pironkova or Ekaterina Makarova to knock Errani out of contention. And depending on which Svetlana shows up in London, Kuznetsova has a chance at knocking out Radwanska given her current level of play. Grass isn’t her best surface, but you never know.
In figuring out the quarterfinalists, the top section is a crapshoot. Vika is a non-starter. Vandeweghe’s win at TopShelf doesn’t take away from her past inconsistencies. Muguruza’s past Wimbledon results don’t bode well. And Cibulkova and Safarova are 50-50 crapshoots. For lack of any other compelling evidence, I’ll (half-heartedly) go with Cibulkova-Radwanska.
Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter
Petra Kvitova  – Flavia Pennetta  *
Wildcards: V. Williams (Kvitova), Stephens (Pennetta)
Caroline Wozniacki  – Na Li  *
Wildcards: Stosur (Wozniacki)
I’d love to see Venus Williams have a good run at Wimbledon, but there are too many dependencies for her to go deep. R16, however is doable if the weather isn’t too hot and she can minimize her court time. From there, maybe a quarterfinal match-up against Sloane Stephens. I’d give Petra more of a chance if she weren’t so inconsistent: a sad statement in reference to a former Wimbledon champion.
The bottom section will likely play out as expected with Caroline Wozniacki facing off against Li Na in the other R16 match. To be honest, I don’t expect a ton of great tennis, or even clean tennis. I do, however, expect them both to get the job done. They’ve never played each other on grass, but Li holds a 4-2 H2H lead. So the nod goes to her for the quarters.
I’m wary of more Sloane disappointment, but will go ahead and give her the nod in the top section for a Stephens-Li quarterfinal.
Williams – Sharapova, Halep – Keys, Cibulkova – Radwanska, Stephens – Li
Notable First-Round Matches
A. Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)  v Alison Riske (USA)
Klara Koukalova (CZE)  v Taylor Townsend (USA)
Madison Keys (USA) v Monica Puig (PUR)
Coco Vandeweghe (USA) v Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 
Owing to the unpredictable nature of grass court tennis, Wimbledon is always ripe for early round upsets. Remember Rosol and Darcis’ triumphs over Nadal, or Stakhovsky’s takedown of Federer? Nothing is a given on grass if your opponent gets hot. This year is probably no exception, with a handful of potential upsets looming early. Still, I don’t see anything stopping Novak from a second Slam title after Paris disappointment. Let’s dive in for a “best guess” at who’ll be the last man standing on grass.
(* – Expected R16 matches)
Top Half, Top Quarter
Djokovic  – Tsonga  *
Wildcards: Simon (Djokovic), Querrey (Tsonga)
Gulbis  – Berdych  *
Stakhovsky or Verdasco (Gulbis), Cilic (Berdych)
Now is as good time as any to stake my claim on Djokovic as my Wimbledon favorite. Away from the clay (or even on the clay in best of 3), Novak has proven to be the most consistent of the Big Four at making the late stages of his tournaments. And his loss in the French Open final will just add fuel to the fire for another Slam title.
After dispatching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in R16, Novak’s likely opponent in the quarters will be former finalist, Tomas Berdych, after he gets through his own tricky R16 with Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis won their last encounter a few weeks back at Roland Garros, but Berdych won their earlier meeting in Rotterdam, and also has a few more grass matches under his belt. So, barring another ’12 first-round upset (ironically, to Gulbis), Berdych takes this by a razor-thin margin.
Gilles Simon doesn’t really pose a threat to Novak, but he’s always dangerous when he cares enough. Querrey, a former Queen’s Club champion, could cause problems for Tsonga (see above for Simon). Gulbis will need to watch out for Sergiy Stakhovsky or Fernando Verdasco, and Berdych will definitely need to watch out for Marin Cilic. In the end, however, look for a Novak – Tomas quarterfinal.
Top Half, Bottom Quarter
Murray  – Fognini  *
Wildcards: Bautista Agut (Murray), Anderson (Fognini)
Dimitrov  – Ferrer  *
Wildcards: Thiem or Dolgopolov (Dimitrov), Brown (Ferrer)
Mauresmo notwithstanding, Andy Murray will be lucky to make it out of this quarter…and I’m just not sure he’s going to be THAT lucky. Odds are good that he’ll make a quarterfinal appearance, but then he’ll likely face off against Grigor Dimitrov, the newly-crowned Queen’s Club champion. And with Grigor’s much-improved game and 5-set match fitness, Andy could be hard put to reach the semifinals.
Though he is the expected R16 match for Murray, Fabio Fognini is a non-starter. Kevin Anderson is more likely to reach the R16 than Fognini. To a lesser extent, the same could be said of David Ferrer in the bottom section with Dimitrov. He’s the expected match, but comes into Wimbledon on the heels of an injury. His first test could come in the form of Dustin Brown, a talented-yet-unpredictable player who knocked off a tired Nadal in Halle. But even if he gets past Brown, he won’t get past Dimitrov.
Though I might be selling Andy short in this quarter, Grigor finally looks primed to reach his first Slam semifinal.
Bottom Half, Top Quarter
Wawrinka  – Isner  *
Wildcards: Istomin (Wawrinka), Lopez (Isner)
Janowicz  – Federer  *
Wildcards: Janowicz (Janowicz), Muller/Benneteau (Federer)
This quarter, titled “The Monte Carlo Rematch”, will likely pit the current Swiss No. 1 against the former Swiss No. 1.
Though he’s had an uneven season, Stan Wawrinka is still one of the game’s elites, and not half-bad on grass. He might receive a challenge from John Isner, but it’s not likely. Big John hasn’t had the best season, however, and hasn’t been able to use his big serve for success at SW19 a la Andy Roddick. But his presence should keep Stan on his toes, as should the presence of Feliciano Lopez; a surprisingly adept grass court player.
Roger’s path to the quarters goes through Jerzy Janowicz, which could be tough. Jerzy hasn’t had the best year, but could catch fire like he did at last year’s Championships (semifinal loss to Murray). Roger will also have to watch out for two potential upset artists: Julien Benneteau and Gilles Muller. Benneteau had him on the ropes in 2012, and Muller always seems to lift his game on grass.
But even with all of the potential challengers, it’s hard to see this quarter being won by someone NOT from Switzerland.
Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter
Raonic  – Nishikori  *
Wildcards: Kohlschreiber (Nishikori)
Gasquet  – Nadal  *
Wildcards: Kyrgios or Monfils (Gasquet), Klizan or Rosol or Karlovic (Nadal)
Rafa Nadal is about as vulnerable this year as any year I’ve seen. Yes, he won a record ninth French Open title, and he’s the World No. 1, but there’s a greater sense now at the ripe old age of 28 that his body is becoming more and more uncooperative to the stresses of the game. Grass is one of the biggest stresses for him (knees) because of the low/unpredictable bounce. And let’s not forget that troublesome back, which nearly took him into a fifth set against Novak in Paris.
Rafa’s draw doesn’t help either, seeing as it’s littered with potential landmines all the way to (and including) the quarterfinal match. Klizan, Karlovic, and his 2012 slayer Rosol all have a chance at an early Nadal scalp. Richard Gasquet has grass-court credibility as well. If Gasquet can get by the surging, young star Nick Kyrgios AND countryman Gael Monfils, Rafa will have his hands full.
And that’s only in his section of the quarter. The other side poses even greater threats with Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori. Raonic has improved his movement over the past year, but still gets challenged on grass – even with his huge serve. Luckily for him, he has no real challengers up until he faces Nishikori.
How that match might swing will depend on many factors. The first is Nishikori’s body. He always seems to be at risk of retiring or breaking down in way too many matches. Longer Slam matches don’t help. The good thing for him, however, is that he’s playing some of his best tennis and is a better mover than most. If he can get by Kohlschreiber, I think he’ll get past Raonic for a spot in the quarters.
My gut tells me that Rafa won’t make it out of this quarter. Then again, my gut told me that his knee wouldn’t hold up for last year’s US Open; and we all know what happened there, right? In all seriousness, Rafa’s best chance this year is to pray for a hot and dry fortnight that will make for drier grass and, eventually, a more clay-esque environment for his game.
Djokovic – Berdych, Murray – Dimitrov, Wawrinka – Federer, Nishikori – Nadal
Notable First-Round Matches
Steve Johnson (USA) v Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) 
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)  v Ryan Harrison (USA)
Donald Young (USA) v Benjamin Becker (GER)
Samuel Groth (AUS) v Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) 
Martin Klizan (SVK) v Rafael Nadal (ESP)