Just like 50 years ago, nothing is certain at Wimbledon

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Novak Djokovic reached Queen's Club final but there are still question marks about the extent of his recovery from a year-long slump. (Getty Images)

Fifty years ago there were handshakes, slaps on the back and this wonderful feeling of a wrong being put right as the likes of Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Pancho Gonzalez, Rod Laver and Tony Trabert were welcomed back from exile—the exile from all amateur tennis that had been the fate of any player turning pro in the 1950’s and 60’s.

The decision of All England Club chairman Herman David to force Open tennis by throwing open those gates on Church Road to anyone of sufficient stature changed the game for ever. And, hard as we tried to assess the significance, none of us could have foreseen what the next fifty years would bring. Not the riches, not the power, not the radical change in equipment—especially the strings—nor the decade long dominance of four male players as the new century dawned, nor the achievements of the two sisters who kept women’s tennis competitive on the world stage just as long.

So, as the sun beats down on Britain with the intensity of a Californian summer, what do we have this year? A complete change of the guard as the Next Generation come knocking on the door? Not quite, although that young army is on the march in the men’s game, highlighted by the total shock of 21-year-old Borna Coric, a clay courter by nature and upbringing, beating Roger Federer in three sets to win the ATP grass-court title in Halle, Germany. Of the half dozen or so talents on the rise, Coric would have been way down to list as a contender to pull off an upset like that.

With new found strength in his serve, can Coric build on that when he meets one of the young Russians, Daniil Medvedev on Court 12 on Monday? That is one question but, perhaps of broader interest, can Federer shrug off that shock loss and remain the favorite that many people still see him to be? I think the answer to both those questions should lie in the affirmative.

Federer—who opens proceedings on Centre Court in the grand tradition as defending champion against Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic—is very unlikely to be mentally derailed by one unexpected loss and, even if he was starting to look a little weary towards the end of his week in Germany, he should be fresh and focused after a few days off.

Racquet Bracket—Tennis Channel discusses Federer at Wimbledon:

The late withdrawal of Andy Murray, 24 hours after giving a relatively upbeat press conference on Saturday, is sad for the Championships and his army of fans, but he is probably correct to err on the side of caution. No one will be more frustrated than the man himself but, after a year’s absence and only three competitive matches at Queen’s and Eastbourne under his belt, the doubts obviously lingered and mental hesitation—especially on a grass court—can transfer itself all too readily into damaging physical reaction in the heat of battle. Without further setbacks, the ATP summer hard-court swing should find him readier to compete at the level he desires.

Of that Big Four who have cleaned up about 80 percent of all the big titles—Grand Slam and ATP 1000 events—since 2007, Rafael Nadal seems to be in the most stable shape. After winning his 11th French Open title, he felt he needed to recover at home in Mallorca, where there are grass courts (a WTA event is held there), rather than Queen’s.

“I am not 20 any more,” he said with a smile. “The body needed a rest, needed a slow adaptation to the grass. So that’s what I did.”

Nadal’s record at Wimbledon has not been great in recent years, but now, as No. 2 seed, he should be able to ease himself into the draw with a first round against Israel’s Dudi Sela before worrying about the likes of David Goffin or Juan Martin del Potro, who are in his quarter.

Racquet Bracket—Tennis Channel discusses Nadal at Wimbledon:

The third round, however, might throw up the challenge of having to deal with the older Zverev, Mischa, who fulfilled a life-time ambition of winning an ATP title in Eastbourne last week. As Murray discovered at the Australian Open two years ago, Sacha’s 29-year-old big brother plays relentless serve and volley tennis, which takes an enormous strain on the thighs.

“But he is ready for that challenge now,” says the man who should know, Jez Green, who has been trying to put some bulk onto Sascha’s muscles. “Mischa has been working with us over the past four years and he is an incredible athlete. He needed some extra strength and the belief that comes with it. He has been inspired by Sascha’s success and it is just a lovely story.”

Alexander Zverev showed signs at Roland Garros that he might be getting over his Grand Slam blockage—he reached his first ever Slam quarterfinal in Paris—but he will not find it easy to build on that if he has to meet the mercurial Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16. Novak Djokovic, the other member of the Big Four, could be a quarterfinal opponent, but there are still question marks about the extent of the former world No. 1’s recovery from a year-long slump. Novak did look much better while reaching the final of the Fever Tree Championships at Queen’s, but he got himself in a winning position against Marin Cilic and couldn’t take it. At his best, Djokovic would not have let a set and a 4-1 lead slip, and so, mentally, it seems there is still work to be done.

Also, in that talent-laden quarter, Kyle Edmund—now the British No. 1—may have to play either No. 7 seed Dominic Thiem or the veteran Fernando Verdasco. The Spaniard opens against the most promising of the young American brigade, Frances Tiafoe. The 20-year-old is confident and developing a liking for grass. He could cause an upset.

In the other half, the draw has done No. 6 seed Grigor Dimitrov no favors. Stan Wawrinka may not have looked anywhere near his best while losing to Murray at Eastbourne, but the Swiss will still pose a threat.

Last year’s semifinalist Sam Querrey—seed No. 11—starts against Australian Jordan Thompson in a quarter that includes Coric, while John Isner has the German qualifier Yannick Maden as a first round opponent, before the likes of Canada’s Milos Raonic loom in his path.

Racquet Bracket—Tennis Channel discusses Serena at Wimbledon:

After much debate, Serena Williams says she is happy with her place as No. 25 seed and, providing she beats the Dutch player Arantxa Rus first up, will find herself running into No. 6 seed Elina Svitolina before a possible clash with Sloan Stephens.

There is a little concern over Petra Kvitova’s fitness but, presuming she is in good shape, the French Open champion and No. 1 seed Simona Halep may emerge as her quarterfinal opponent, although Maria Sharapova may have something to say about that. Caroline Wozniacki’s confidence-boosting win at Eastbourne two days ago puts her in the frame, but apart from Madison Keys, it is her good friend Serena that the Dane will have to worry about before she can think of the semifinals.

Garbine Muguruza will be trying to put a smile back on Spanish faces after their World Cup defeat by Russia, and the only way to do that is by defending her title. However, her form has been uncertain and the likes of Angelique Kerber, against whom she staged the best match of Wimbledon 2017 in my opinion, and the talented Noami Osaka stand in her path.

It’s all set fair with the weather; the courts are going to be and dry and, just like 50 years ago, no one knows what the future holds.


In association with All England Lawn & Tennis Club, Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment and Amblin Television.  Directed by Andrew Douglas.


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