London: From Parisian ‘chic’ to British stiff upper lip, the tennis caravan has moved to Wimbledon. The route runs through various grasscourt tournaments where the players try to prepare for grass. The ‘chin music’ of the shoulder high bounce and the long rallies on the red clay of Roland Garros will be replaced by a low bounce and brief staccato rallies at Wimbledon.
Roger Federer is a hot favourite to retain his title for the third consecutive year. However, in tennis there is no sovereign immunity and Federer will face a strong challenge for his crown. His confident air must surely conceal his concern about his losses in the last two Grand Slams and several uncomfortably close tie-break wins in lesser meets.
The challengers for the title can be put into two categories. Firstly, Grand Slam title-holders like Safin, Hewitt and Roddick and secondly the dangerous floaters with big serves who have little chance of winning the tournament but can destabilise the draw.
Safin and Hewitt are in the same quarter of the top-half of the draw with Federer who seems likely to have a comfortable passage to the semi-finals. Safin is likely to come through to the semi-finals since Hewitt, due to lack of matchpractice, is not at his very best.
Among the dangerous floaters in the top half are Mark Philippoussis, struggling at 188 in the rankings, who has received a wild card and could play Safin in the second round. Mario Ancic of Croatia, seeded No. 10, is yet another danger for Safin if they meet in the round of 32. To sum up, Safin’s quarter of the draw is a virtual minefield. One wonders if the brittle temperament of the Russian will stand up to such a tough quarter. Should Safin get through, he should meet Federer in the semis.
| Defending champion Roger Federer during practice at Wimbledon on Sunday. (AFP)
The bottom half is dominated by Andy Roddick who is riding high after winning the Stella Artois at Queens for the third consecutive year. With the exception of the sixth-seeded Tim Henman, who received a higher seeding because of the weightage give for his past grasscourt results, the bottom half has no high class grasscourt specialists.
In fact, the serve and volley players are almost extinct and Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, Wayne Arthurs of Australia and Max Mirnyi of Belarus are the only three in the bottom half of the draw. Karlovic played surprisingly well at Queen’s, where he beat Hewitt and was edged out by Roddick in two tie-breaker sets in the final.
Karlovic should meet Roddick once again in the second round. Henman is seeded to meet his nemesis, Sebastian Grosjean of France, in the round of 16. Grosjean has beaten Henman in their last two meetings. The winner is set to confront the 150mph serve of Roddick in the quarters.
Rafael Nadal of Spain, the French Open champion and now the brightest star in the world, seems to have a good draw. His section is bustling with clay-courters. In the round of 32, Nadal is seeded to play promising French youngster Richard Gasquet seeded 27 and then meet the winner of the match between Nalbandian and Stepanak.
Both Stepanak and Nalabandian play well on grass and are very experienced and tough customers. The question is whether Nadal will be able to adjust to the fast grasscourts after three fairly easy rounds. I doubt if Nadal can move as well and retrieve impossible shots on the grass like he does on clay and also if he is able to punish the lower bounce with the accentuated western grip on his forehand. It is most unlikely that Nadal can win Wimbledon in his first attempt, though the odds of 25/1 against him seem a trifle generous.
In all, a repeat of last year’s final between Federer and Roddick seems to be on the cards with the shadow of the unpredictable Safin looming in the background.
The women’s singles, on form, has three standouts. Sharapova the reigning champion and Henin-Hardenne the French champion are in the bottom half of the draw while Davenport, the top seed, is in the top half. The Williams sisters, Serena seeded 4 and Venus seeded 14, should play each other in the round of 16. Who could have imagined that they would ever play secondary roles in a major tournament'
Their enormous talent seems to have been sapped up in a delta of frivolous activity and compounded by injuries. It will indeed be difficult for Serena, currently the better of the two, to get back her focus and play to full potential, specially when she is short of tournament practice. The cracks in the confidence of the sisters is clearly visible.
The Russians, led by Sharapova, have seven players in the top 16. Sharapova, with her flattish power-packed deep groundshots, coupled with good volleying and aggression, has an outstanding chance of retaining the title. The other Russians, with the exception of Kuznetsova who did well on the grass at Eastbourne last week, are far from their best on grass. Henin-Hardenne, for whom “impossible is nothing” is short of grasscourt play and may not have recovered from the toll taken by the Paris claycourts. It is unfortunate that Henin-Hardenne is in the bottom half of the draw with Sharapova.
The 10/1 that the bookies are offering against Davenport to win the title are very attractive odds. If she is able to maintain her good form, she has a good chance of winning the title.
And what about Sania' If she gets past Akiko Morigami, ranked 64 in the first round, she plays the 5th seed Kuznetsova. Wimbledon is not the same as Dubai where Sania defeated Kuznetsova. With inadequate match practice and Kuznetsova out for revenge, Sania’s task, if she wins the first round, seems unsurmountable.