Friday, June 22, 2012

Wimbledon 2012 -- Men's Preview

Marat Safin, Goran Ivanisevic, Lleyton Hewitt, Thomas Johannson, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick, Gaston Gaudio. This is the list (minus Roger Federer) of guys that won a major for the first time (AusO, French, Wimby, US Open) from 2000-2004. Combined they won nine majors during that time. Since then, they have played in a combined 126 majors. They have won ONE of those. And that was the very first major of 2005. So, currently that group (only three of them are still active) is approximately 0 for 118.

What does that have to do with this year's Wimbledon draw? Nothing really. I just noticed that the number one seed here – Novak Djokovic – is playing a former French Open champion in the first round and I had to chuckle. If there was ever a period of time in any sport that deserved an asterisk next to all its champions, it's that one. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were definitely past their primes by then (although they still managed to win as many or more than every player on that list during that time). Roger Federer didn't win his first major until 2003 (and still won more than every player on that list during that same time period). Rafael Nadal hadn't even played in his first French Open in 2004 (he turned 14 in 2000). Djokovic didn't play in his first major (any of them) until 2005.

Like I said, nothing to do with this tournament but I can't imagine when I'll ever have an opportunity to point that out again – possibly in a post about how Andy Roddick really doesn't deserve to be inducted into the Hall of Fame (and there is only a 100% chance that he will be).

I do love to ramble and digress. Back to Wimbledon.

Section One: Players I care about – Novak Djokovic (1), Tomas Berdych (6), Richard Gasquet (18), Ryan Harrison

There's not too much to say about this section. Even if Nole breaks his right arm, he still gets to the quarterfinals. And I'd only give Berdych a 50% chance of beating him under those circumstances. Gasquet is likely to get to the fourth round and go up two sets and a break over Berdych before finding a way to lose the match. The last 45 minutes to an hour of his matches at Wimbledon often have more drama than all of Shakespeare's tragedies combined.

Ryan Harrison
And poor Ryan Harrison. This is actually a good draw for him. The last time he played an unseeded player in the first round of a major was last year at Wimbledon when he beat a guy ranked 37th in the world. Since he won that match, he's lost to David Ferrer (2011 Wimbledon), Marin Cilic (2011 US Open), Andy Murray (2012 AusO) and Gilles Simon (2012 French). And if he wins his first round match here, he gets Djokovic. It's a shame because he's a pretty good grass court player – he got to the semifinals this week at Eastbourne.
Seeded players I either couldn't care less about or think will not do anything noteworthy: Nicolas Almagro (12), Juan Monaco (15), Marcel Granollers (23), Radek Stepanek (28), Florian Mayer (31).

Semifinalist: Djokovic

Section Two: Players I care about – Roger Federer (3), Janko Tipsarevic (8), John Isner (11), Andreas Seppi (23).

I'm writing this as I'm looking at the draw for the first time and I have to say – I hope the bottom half of the draw is more interesting than the top half. Honestly, I know two players in this section will make the quarterfinals, but the only one I can actually see getting there is Federer. I wouldn't be surprised if he won that match without having to hit a ball.
Andreas Seppi
OK, if you held a gun to my head and made me choose, I guess I'd go with Tipsarevic. I'd love to say Isner, but in a tournament where he has to break serve to win a fifth set I think he's done before he starts. And he's never gotten past the 2nd round here. That fact alone makes Seppi a good bet to get to the second week of his second consecutive slam. And I just saw that Seppi is in the final of Eastbourne.

The first round match between Tipsarevic and David Nalbandian will be interesting. I'm curious to see what kind of a reaction fans have to Nalbandian after he got himself disqualified while ahead in the final of a grass court tournament last week.

Seeded players I either couldn't care less about or think will not do anything noteworthy: Gilles Simon (13), Fernando Verdasco (17), Mikhail Youzhny (26), Julien Benneteau (29).

Semifinalist: Federer

Section Three: Players I care about – Andy Murray (4), David Ferrer (7), Juan Martin Del Potro (9), Marin Cilic (16), Milos Raonic (21), Andy Roddick (30), Grigor Dimitrov.

So here's where all the interesting players are (although it's stretching a little to classify Murray and Ferrer as players I care about). I wouldn't be stunned if any of the seeded players I listed ended up in the semifinals. Murray has a pretty tricky draw. He could meet Ivo Karlovic in the second round. Karlovic certainly isn't as dangerous as he could be earlier in his career, but there's still the opportunity to serve your way to one big win here.

Grigor Dimitrov
Ferrer could meet Roddick in the third round, which might be an opportunity for Roddick seeing how he is in the final at Eastbourne this week. If he's got his game back together in time for one more run at Wimbledon (and maybe one on the same courts at the Olympics next month), he'll be the feel good story of the fortnight (it's required by British law than any article about Wimbledon contain the word fortnight at least once).

Cilic looks like he should do well on grass, but even with his big serve he's managed to only win five matches in five years here. And since he's looking at Raonic in the third round, it's unlikely he'll be making the second week this year.

I'm still waiting for Dimitrov to have his breakthrough tournament. He played probably the most entertaining match of the entire tournament last year against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He's had the same bad luck as Harrison in that all but one of his losses at majors since the beginning of 2011 have been to top 20 players. He's going to have to build up his ranking at the tourneys in between if he wants to have a real chance at a deep run at a slam.

Another player overdue for a breakthrough is DelPo. He's gotten to the quarterfinals of both the AusO and Roland Garros this year, but he still hasn't gotten back to the level he was at before his wrist injury. He's in a tough section, but there's a real opportunity here. He has nine losses in 2012 and five of those have been to Federer. Just knowing that he wouldn't have to face him until the final has to have him in a good mood.

Seeded players I either couldn't care less about or think will not do anything noteworthy: Kevin Anderson (32)

Semifinalist: Del Potro

Section Four: Players I care about – Rafael Nadal (2), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (5), Bernard Tomic (20), Alexandr Dolgopolov (22), Philipp Kohlschreiber (27), Tommy Haas, Lleyton Hewitt, Brian Baker.

The bottom half of the draw is definitely where all the action is. I'm pretty certain Nadal will end up coming out of this section, but there should be plenty of drama along the way. Starting with him possibly playing the guy who just beat him last week – Kohlschreiber – in the third round here. That loss probably had more to do with him just having won the French Open four days earlier than with anything Kohlschreiber did, but it could make for an interesting story line.

Of course, to get there Kohlschreiber will have to beat the even bigger story of last week – Tommy Haas – in the first round. Haas did something that not many 34-year-old guys who've been number two in the world during their careers do. He had what was almost certainly the best win of his career in relatively minor tournament, beating Roger Federer in the final in Halle, Germany to win his first tournament since 2009 (when he won in Halle, Germany).

Dolgopolov certainly doesn't have much that could worry Nadal, but there's no reason for him to lose before he gets to that match. Look for him to upset Lopez – a pretty good grass court player – in the third round. Unless Brian Baker, who's coming back from about six years' worth of injuries, does it one round earlier.

The saddest first round match has to be Tsonga vs. Hewitt. Hewitt won here in 2002 and might be playing his last Wimbledon. He's not really talking about retiring, but at 31 and coming off his 273rd surgery (that might be an exaggeration) he can't have much left in the tank. Here's hoping he at least gets to go all five sets before he has to leave the court.

The biggest worry for Nadal might be Bernard Tomic. He had to retire from his match against Haas at Halle last week, but if he's healthy he's dangerous. He got to the quarterfinals here last year and the 4th round at the AusO in January. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get past Tsonga and take Nadal deep into the fourth set before wilting.
I always care about Feliciano a little bit

Seeded players I either couldn't care less about or think will not do anything noteworthy: Mardy Fish (10), Feliciano Lopez (14), Stan Wawrinka (25)

Semifinalist: Nadal

Semifinals – Federer came close to beating Nole in the semifinals at the US Open last year and didn't come remotely close to winning their semifinal match at Roland Garros last month. If there is anywhere that Federer might feel superior to him, it's got to be on Centre Court. The longer the match goes, the more it favors Djokovic. But if Federer gets ahead of him like he did in New York, expect him to be much more sure of himself at closing time. Fed in four.

The only times DelPo has beaten Nadal were all in 2009 – his breakthrough year. They played here in the fourth round last year and Nadal won in four pretty close sets. For Del Potro, it's all about confidence. If he thinks he can hit through Nadal, he can. If he doesn't, he can't. If this does end up being the match up in the semis, I'll be happy however it turns out. But I think Nadal is still the better player. Rafa in five

Finals – Ready for a 'believe it or not”? Since the Australian Open in 2009, Rafa and Roger have only met in one grand slam final – last year's French Open. Their rivalry is part of the “good ole days” already. What a treat a Wimbledon final pitting them against each other would be. Look for another instant classic on July 8. Fed in five

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