It’s time for Wimbledon. Over the next two weeks (or possibly more if the weather decides to play silly buggers) SW19 will be echoing with the sound of Pimm’s bottles being opened, strawberries being de-stalked and the retractable roof clanking its way shut. Given the area, with the exception of the roof that’s not so different from any other time of the year. To be honest, previewing the winners of this year’s tournament isn’t really that difficult – Serena Williams is invincible at the moment, and will walk the women’s tournament on a surface that suits her game down to the ground (pun intended). As for the men, one of the big four will be victorious, probably, in my opinion, Rafael Nadal.
Speaking of Nadal, the main talking point pre-tournament has been the decision of the Wimbledon Committee (taking a few minutes out from spreading Stilton on a Jacob’s cracker, whilst simultaneously sniffing a glass of vintage tawny and pushing a poor person in the face) to seed the Majorcan at number 5, below the man he trounced in the French Open final last month, David Ferrer. This is a tricky issue. Quite frankly it is ludicrous that Nadal should be seeded lower than Ferrer (and some, including me, might argue lower than number 2), and anyone who thinks otherwise is certifiable, but the Committee, who in the past were permitted a certain amount of licence in the seeding, have since 2002 used a complicated system, involving ATP ranking, current form, phases of the moon and, crucially, performances at previous Wimbledons. Given Nadal reached the final every year from 2006 until 2011, this particular criterion should, you would think, not present a problem. However, apparently largest weighting is given to the most recent tournament (naturally), so Nadal’s injury-affected defeat to Lukas Rosol last year comes into play, and once all the calculations have been done, it turns out he’s only the fifth-most likely player to win.
Had Nadal and Ferrer been drawn in the same quarter, then we could reasonably expect the usual suspects to make up the semi-finals. Instead we have a lop-sided draw, with the bottom half in particular absolutely loaded – the probable quarter-final line-up being Nadal v Roger Federer and Andy Murray v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Despite the Swiss maestro’s waning powers (and no matter what anyone might tell you, his is the most aesthetically-pleasing backhand in the game) no Federer v Nadal match should take place before the semi-finals. The opposite side’s projected line-up of Djokovic v Berdych and Ferrer v Del Potro doesn’t have the same allure.
Let’s then look at some other matches and potential matches that could produce some fireworks. In the bottom half, the potential fourth round clash between Nadal and Stan Wawrinka could be a classic. Wawrinka always looks like he should do better than he does – he has all the talent, and when he gets it right he can be almost unplayable, such as the famous match against Murray in 2009, the first ever match played under the roof. Yet he still lost that game, which has been the difference between the top four and the rest over the last few years – the ability to somehow grind out a win even when your opponent is playing inspired tennis. Further down there is a potential second round meeting between another extravagantly-gifted but slightly wayward player in the opinionated Latvian Ernests Gulbis and Tsonga. Again it is highly unlikely that Gulbis will be able to beat the Frenchman, but if he plays to his best, he will certainly make it an entertaining game.
Up in the top half, there is a projected meeting in the third round between Juan Martin Del Potro and Grigor Dimitrov (or to give him his official title, Mr M Sharapova). Dimitrov, winner of Junior Wimbledon in 2008, has been compared to Federer with his single-handed backhand and the apparent ease with which he plays the game, and is a young player on the up. If he can move the big-hitting, but sometimes ponderous Argentinean around the court, as Ferrer did to such great effect last year, then he could provide an upset. Another player to watch out for is Milos Raonic, the big-serving Canadian whose game is seemingly perfectly suited to grass. He has been described as promising for some time now, and with a favourable draw (he is in the same eighth as Ferrer, and could meet him in round 4), it is conceivable he will reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final, possibly even a semi-final.
Now to discuss the winner. There are two schools of thought here. For Nadal or Federer to win, they will have to beat each other, followed by Murray/Tsonga and then Djokovic, all of which could well go to 5 sets and will presumably take it out of their legs, notwithstanding their quite astonishing fitness levels. Murray would have to beat Tsonga, Nadal/Federer and Djokovic, whereas the Serb should stroll into the final with relative ease (his first round match against Florian Mayer could be his trickiest, although Tommy Haas in the fourth round won’t be easy), but won’t have been properly tested and, as such, won’t be as match-sharp as his opponent. Given Nadal’s form since his comeback, and the fact that he has had the measure of both Federer and Murray over the last few years, I am going to put the de Winter chemise on him, and hope that he retains enough in the tank to squeeze past Djokovic in the final.