Google Down the Line!: WIMBLEDON: Ones to watch in the gentlemen's draw

Sunday, June 22, 2014

WIMBLEDON: Ones to watch in the gentlemen's draw

Tick, tock, tick, tock...

Here are the boys I'll be watching very closely this fortnight. No real surprises, because it would be an absolute shocker if one of the "Big Four" - all past champs - doesn't capture the title. But there are a few in the draw who could certainly cause them some issues.

Rafael Nadal. There’s never been a baller in the history of the game that owned a tourney the way Rafa rules Roland Garros. Seriously, one loss in 66 matches? Siiiick. But, unlike the clay where he always reigns supreme, the grass has not been kind to Rafa as of late. The world’s top baller seemed to have mastered the slick stuff earlier in his career, playing in two straight finals before playing arguably the best match, like, EVER when he pocketed his first Championships crown in 2008. He repeated the feat in 2010 over Tomas Berdych. But the last two years Rafa has sputtered out of the gates with a second and first round loss, respectively. If pre-Wimby results are an omen, it’s not looking good again this year. The 28-year old lost in Halle to Dustin Brown in his first match on grass. We’ll all be anxiously awaiting to see Rafa’s form in his first match.

Novak Djokovic. If there’s mystery concerning Rafa’s grass-court losses, there are even more questions surrounding Nole’s losses in his last three major final appearances, including two to Rafa and one to Andy Murray. Can you believe it’s been a year and half since he won his last major at the 2013 Oz Open? For someone with as much pride as he has, it’s got to hurt. The Serb was clearly not at his physical best in the Roland Garros final although he made a late surge in the fourth, and final, set. But he seemed spent and it went down pretty meekly at the end. Speaking of physical issues, he worried his fans again when he pulled out of The Boodles, a pre-Wimby exo this weekend, due to concerns with the wrist injury he sustained during the clay-court swing. There’s a lot of pressure on Nole to right the ship, get back to his Grand Slam-winning ways, and prove the addition of Boris Becker was a smart one (the jury’s still out on that).

Roger Federer. If there’s anywhere that could take the bitter taste out of his 5-set defeat to Ernest Gulbis in the French Open fourth round, it’s at Wimbledon. He owns 7 titles and a 67-8 record on the tourney’s historic lawns. But last year, a strange thing happened; the Swiss fell to Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round, ending his streak of 36-straight quarterfinals at majors. Even thinking about it now, the result was pretty shocking. But the word coming out of his own mouth right is “contender.” This year," Fed said, "I feel all the options are there. Return, serve, serve and volley, come in, my backhand -- everything is working to my liking.” It’s been two years since he won his last major (at the All England Club, of course), and if what he says is true, that drought could end this fortnight.

Andy Murray. It was good to see Muzz’s game finally start to come together in Paris where he made the semifinals for the second time. Even though Rafa crushed him, the Brit baller played some of his best tennis since undergoing back surgery and splitting with Ivan Lendl. And the timing couldn’t have been better. Muzz became a national hero when he won Wimbledon last season, the first British man accomplish the feat since 1936. Although he says there’s less pressure this year, his country will still be looking for the repeat. The addition of former champ Amelie Mauresmo as coach and the timing of it add an intriguing twist to this storyline. It usually takes time for a new coaching partnership to start paying off. We’ll see the results very soon.

Grigor Dimitrov. Big things have always been expected of Grisha and the he hasn’t usually handled the pressure well. But this year his game has been steadily building along with his confidence. He reached his first major quarterfinal in Oz and captured his first title on clay in Bucharest. Unfortunately, the Bulgarian faced off against the towering Ivo Karlovic in the opening round in Paris and was beaten in straight sets. But the 23-year old has rebounded well, winning his first title on grass at Queen’s Club and beating Stanislas Wawrinka and Feliciano Lopez along the way. With his versatility, movement, and all-court style, Grisha has a game tailor-made for the grass. 

Milos Raonic. Like Grisha, the Canadian has made a steady rise this season, reaching his first major quarterfinal last month in Paris (the first Canadian man to do so). Although their games are very different, Milos, like Grisha, has a game that translates to all surfaces, but especially the grass. The serve alone should win him a game or two easily. But his movement, unlike Grisha’s, is a work in progress and it could hurt him on the slick stuff. That being said, he’s still a very dangerous prospect on this surface regardless.

Ernests Gulbis. “Less talk, more action” is the refrain most people in the tennis world would use when referring to Curlbis. You could always score a nifty sound bite from the Latvian, but little else until now. It seems he has finally put in the work to match the talent, and it showed in Paris where he upended Fed in five sets and reached his first major seminfinal. His record at Wimbledon is a measly 5-6 with his best effort being last year when he reached the third round. But as we saw at Roland Garros, it’s a new Curlbis. Can he keep the momentum going?

Others to eyeball:

Stanislas Wawrinka. The Swiss has had spotty results since winning his first Grand Slam title at the Aussie Open, including an opening round loss in Paris. He went right back to work, though, reaching the semifinals at Queen’s Club. He’s never been past the fourth round at Wimbledon, but that could change.

Tomas Berdych. A former finalist, the Czech can never seem to close the deal when it matters most. At Wimbledon, he has the best winning percentage out of the four majors (71.88%) and his power game flourishes on the stuff. With a new crop of hungry young ballers readying to make their mark, it’s only going to get tougher for Tomas to make that long-awaited breakthrough.

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images]

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