Sunday, June 24, 2012

It’s Wimbledon Time, Expect Fireworks...

Say Cheese: Roger's in a jolly good mood!

The Triumvirate of Djokovic, Nadal & Federer are firm favourites; Sharapova, Serena lead women’s contenders

With the clay season done and dusted, it is that time of the year when Tennis is being played on the surface of its inception. Grass. The surface that once rewarded attacking play like no other, may not be as quick as before, but it is still synonymous with the most famous Tennis Championship of all, Wimbledon. There is nothing more beautiful for a true tennis enthusiast than the sight of the hallowed lawns of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club in all its glory when the Championships begin on June 25.

In the Men’s Singles event, predictably, all eyes are on the ‘Big 3’ – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – who have won a staggering 28 of the last 29 Grand Slam events. With all the current surfaces playing more or less the same way, it remains to be seen whether anybody else can break this trend.

World No 1 Djokovic is the top seed and defending champion. The Serb has had a solid year so far, beating Nadal to win in Melbourne and falling to the left-hander in Paris. It was at Wimbledon last year that he played electric tennis to usurp the number one ranking from Nadal. The right-hander has a brutal power-baseline game and hunger that can only be matched by the player ranked right below him. He elected not to play a warm-up event before the Championships.

Nadal, the world No 2 and last year’s finalist, seems to have finally cracked the Djokovic code. After losing a marathon final in Australia, he played a near flawless clay-court campaign to triumph in Paris and end the Novak’s quest for a Calendar Slam. Nadal lost early in Halle, a pre-Wimbledon tune-up event, but the Spaniard is a two-time Wimbledon champion and knows his way around grass-courts.

World No 3 Federer has been playing well since last year’s semifinal collapse at the US Open against  Djokovic. At almost 31 years of age, he has a remarkable body and incomparable talent, but is unable to maintain his intensity long enough against the Top Two. But Wimbledon is his favourite tournament and it still rewards his all-out attacking game the most. Although he lost to Tommy Haas in Halle, Federer looks like he’s ready for a tilt at Grand Slam glory once more.

Great Britain’s Andy Murray, the world No 4, has had a somewhat strange year. After hiring Ivan Lendl as his Coach and playing well in Australia, he has struggled of late. Although he seems to have a complete game, it’s his mental fluctuations that are a cause for concern. He is trying to be more pro-active in matches, but an early loss in the Queen’s Club warm-up means his preparation is not up to scratch.

Of the other contenders, big-hitters Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic and Milos Raonic can be considered to have outside chances, but playing consistently well over a fortnight is something that none of them have done before.

In the Women’s Singles section, unlike the Men, the last six majors have been won by six different players. World No 1 and 2011 finalist Maria Sharapova who completed a Career Slam by winning in Paris is playing aggressive tennis. Australian Open winner and world No 2 Victoria Azarenka seems to have slowed down after a sterling start to the season. Defending Champion Petra Kvitova, No 4 in the world, played wonderfully last year, but has been plagued by inconsistency this year. World No 5 Samantha Stosur won in New York last year and her big game should translate well on turf. Lastly, world No 6 Serena Williams and the unseeded Venus Willliams can never be disregarded due to the sheer number of Wimbledon titles they own and their love of grass-courts.

As one looks forward to two weeks of top-flight tennis in London, the only thing that’s certain is that it’s going to be a glorious spectacle!

(Published in The Sunday Standard and The New Indian Express with some minor alterations)