Wimbledon early-round notes: get ready for routs

Now that we’re well into the action at Wimbledon, it’s time to look at the draws, make some predictions, and draw some conclusions.

  1. Outside of the tippy-top of women’s tennis, and sometimes inside that tippy-top, uncertainty and unpredictability reign supreme. Take the bottom half of the women’s draw at Wimbledon. Four of the top ten seeds are already out, and three of them were in the bottom half. Li Na continues her slow slide into mediocrity, lacking the punch and self-belief that has netted her two Grand Slam titles in a tough loss to Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova of the Czech Republic (no, I had never heard of her, either). Expect her ranking to dip after the tournament and perhaps the return of the retirement talk once the season is over. Victoria Azarenka (injury rust) and Dominika Cibulkova (seeming more and more like a flash in the pan after her run to the finals in Melbourne) are out, setting up a round of 16 tie between Tereza Smitkova and Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic, a qualifier and the 23-seed, respectively. If perennial underperformer Agnieszka Radwanska can get to the quarters, she will face one of these two. If she can get to the semis, the toughest test she could face would be in the form of 2011 champion, and serial screecher Petra Kvitova, also of the Czech Republic (is there an echo?). She always seems to bring it for Wimbledon, and just finished a tough third-round win over Venus Williams, who finally looked something like her old self. The grass of the All England Club always seems to bring out the best in her. Anyway, a Radwanska-Kvitova semifinal seems all but inevitable, and is a golden opportunity for both women if ever there was one to get to the final relatively unscathed.
  2. That tippy-top section contains Serena Williams, who seems hell-bent on proving that embarrassing exit in Paris a few weeks ago was nothing but a fluke. She’s lost all of five games in her first two matches, though she will probably face Canadian upstart and continuously improving Eugenie Bouchard in the fourth round. Or hard-hitting Andrea Petkovic, fresh off her surprise semifinal experience. Expect a good match, but the real highlight should be in the quarters, when she will face Maria Sharapova, her “nemesis.” I can’t wait to see if Sharapova can win more games than the last time they faced each other on grass at the All England Club (the 2012 Olympic tournament, which Williams won, 6-0, 6-1). Williams hasn’t lost to the Russian in ten years. Ten years! Pissed-off legend needing to show the world she’s still on top of her game vs. great player playing some of the best tennis of her life? Get ready for a scintillating quarterfinal matchup. Or a complete rout by Serena.
  3. The men’s draw has been more predictable, with the notable exception of 2011 finalist Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic (come on, it’s getting spooky now), who was beaten at his own game by Marin Cilic, who is a force to be reckoned with when on top of his game. David Ferrer is also out, but Wimbledon has never been his best surface. The low bounces and his advancing age negate much of the advantage he normally has in being able to track balls down, and he bowed out unceremoniously in the second round. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga survived a tough matchup against American Sam Querrey (who is really good when on his game), 14-12 in the fifth set, to set up a rematch of the 2008 Australian Open final, Novak Djokovic’s first major title, in the fourth round. Tsonga has done well to get this far, but seems destined to be an unfortunate footnote in an era of tennis oligarchy, dominated by a very select few.
  4. In other notes, Andy Murray, the defending champ who is still working his way back from back surgery, has looked strong against very weak competition in the first few rounds. Expect to see the real Murray going forward. He gets South African Kevin Anderson in the round of 16, and would likely see upstart darling Grigor Dimitrov in the quarters, as tough a matchup as could be asked for. It should be fascinating to see how Murray’s counterpunches stack up against Dimitrov’s balls-to-the-wall style. Two big hitters seem on a collision course in Stanislas Wawrinka and John Isner. Isner always brings it at Wimbledon, the low bounces complementing his huge serve and forehand, and Wawrinka is a gamer who is also out to avenge his bad showing in Paris. Either one would get Roger Federer in the quarters. Fed served live grenades for 25 aces in the second round, unheard-of for him totals except at Wimbledon (think his 2009 final win against Andy Roddick and you’ll get the picture), and has looked like his old self in a lot of ways. Funny how Wimbledon does that: allows legends who might be on the decline to somehow turn back the clock and challenge the young guns who have taken their places. I’m predicting an all-Swiss quarterfinal and Federer in the semis, where he might see… wait for it… wait for it… wait for it… Rafael Nadal, in a rematch of the 2006, 2007, and 2008 finals. That 2008 final is rightly considered one of the very best matches ever played. I saw it again on replay the other day; all the pre-match hype and post-match hoopla was and is totally justified. It was just perfect tennis. Nadal has looked a little shaky this year, dropping the first set in each of his first three matches, and Federer has looked like a world-beater thus far. The grass has always favored Fed, at least a little. A real chance for Federer to reach the final, going through his greatest rival, might actually be in play. We shall see.
Djokovic wants to prove his 2011 Wimbledon title was no fluke.

Novak Djokovic has looked like a world-beater thus far, thrashing his opponents en route to the round of 16.

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