Todd’s Tennis Takes – 2015 Wimbledon Men’s PreviewSaturday, June 27, 2015 14:00
Preview of the 2015 Wimbledon Men’s Tennis Tournament.
Favorites, Threats, Longshot Shockers, Youth Brigade
Unlike the French Open, where Novak Djokovic went in as an overwhelming favorite, Wimbledon is a good deal more wide open. Djoker is still the betting favorite at 5/4, but Andy Murray isn’t far behind at 5/2. And also unlike the French, the oddsmakers give Roger Federer a decent chance here as well, listing him as the only other player better than 10/1 with a 6/1 line. Surprisingly, their next best favorite is Rafael Nadal at 12/1, despite his 4-3 record here over the last 3 years. (Note: All lines from Bet365.com)
Nadal did take the title in the Stuttgart grass court tuneup earlier this month, beating a resurgent Viktor Troicki in the final for his 66th career title, but he then lost a couple days later to the underachieving Alexandr Dolgopolov in the first round at London. And his meek loss to Djoker in the French Open QFs exposed passive play and diminished athleticism that doesn’t bode well here for the former 2-time Wimbledon champ (2008, ’10). Little known Nadal Wimby Factoid: He made the 3rd round here as a 17 yr old in 2003, beating Mario Ancic in the first round before eventually losing to Paradorn Scrichaphan in straight sets in the 3rd.
Djokovic chose not to play a tuneup after his grueling French run that included essentially 3 straight finals – Nadal, Murray, then Stan Wawrinka. The Nadal match wasn’t too taxing of course, but the mental buildup for it, slaying his longtime Roland Garros nemesis, had to be a bit demanding emotionally. Then came the Murray match, a physically and mentally exhausting battle who’s residue seemed to stain his finals effort. Just imagine going to bed Friday night tied at 3-3 in the 4th set against Murray and his out-of-this-world defense – how good of a night’s sleep do you think he got? He then lost the 4th set Saturday, forcing a 5th, before finally winning and having to suddenly focus on a totally different kind of opponent for Sunday’s final: a big-serving, groudstroke-walloping Swiss playing with nothing to lose while the weight of the world rested upon the Serb’s shoulders (1st French title, career slam). Choosing rest over grass match play was probably the right idea for the defending Wimbledon champ, looking for his 3rd title here in 2015 (2011, ’14). Little known Djokovic Wimby Factoid: He has lost just twice here to players ranked outside the Top 30 – #75 Marat Safin in 2008′s 2nd Rd, and #34 Tommy Haas in the 2009 QFs.
Murray played great at the French, beating Ferrer handily in the QFs before giving Djokovic all he had over 2 days in the semis. He won the London tuneup last week (his 4th Queens Club title) over Kevin Anderson in the final, and is now sporting a rather gaudy 41-6 record on the year including 3 titles, a slam runner-up, and a slam SF. He entered Wimbledon last year with zero titles, a 27-11 match record, and just one slam SF before his surprising straight set loss to Dimitrov in the QFs. He will be looking for his 2nd Wimby title and 3rd slam overall here (2012 US Open, 2013 Wimby). Little known Murray Wimby Factoid: He went 5-2 here as a teenager, blowing a 2 sets to none lead over #19 Nalbandian in the 3rd Rd as an 18 yr old in 2005 before losing in the 4th Rd to Marcos Baghdatis in 2006 after beating 5th ranked Andy Roddick in straight sets in the 3rd.
Federer will be looking to win his 8th title here to break the record of 7 he shares with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw* from the 1880′s (*big asterisk next to Renshaw’s record since the defending champion only had to play one match to defend his title until 1922). Federer has only made 4 slam SFs since taking his 17th grand slam title here 3 years ago – the Aussie in 2013 & ’14, and then Wimbledon and the US Open last year. But the 2015 Fed still looks better than the 2013 version, with a 34-6 match record and 4 titles, including his 8th Halle championship trophy last week, beating Andres Seppi in the finals. He played a hyper-aggressive style here a year ago against the big boys, getting to net as often as possible to ensure shorter rallies. The strategy worked, getting all the way to a 5th set in the final against Djokovic before finally succumbing. But he will be just a month shy of 34 by the time this year’s final comes around, and I don’t see a repeat trip. Little known Federer Wimby Factoid: He has played 7 former ATP #1′s here – Kafelnikov, Sampras, Roddick, Hewitt, Ferrero, Nadal, and Djokovic. He’s 15-3 against them. Factoid #2 (7-time winners get 2): Last year was the first time he’s ever faced 3 Top 10 players at one Wimbledon – Wawrinka, Raonic, and Djoker.
I originally titled this ‘Other Heavyweight Threats’, but then looking at them…the term heavyweight seemed to be a bit of an exaggeration. Stan The Man has immense power and now two slams under his belt, but his big swings on both wings require a bit more time than often the grass will provide. Kei Nishikori, aka The Japanese Speedburner, has made it to at least the QFs of the last three slams, but a bad calf forced him to retire from his SF match vs. Seppi in Halle. Jo Willie Tsonga is now doubtful to play with an abdominal injury – a real crime, as he’d already missed the Aussie this year but played great at Roland Garros where he beat both Berdych and K-Nish before losing to Wawrinka in the SFs. He’s made the semis twice here – in 2011 & ’12…coming back from 2 sets down vs. Fed in the quarters in 2011. Milos Raonic made his one and only career SF here a year ago, but has played just 3 matches since Madrid in early May after undergoing foot surgery – all in London last week, where he lost in the 3rd Rd to Gilles Simon.
2010 finalist Tomas Berdych is probably the biggest threat in the next tier, but he lost to Karlovic in the Halle QFs and has posted a relatively pedestrian record of 9-4 at Wimby since his 2010 finals appearance, failing to make the semis and making the QFs just once (l. to Djoker in 2013). Marin Cilic beat Berd Dog last year in the 3rd before then taking a 2 sets to 1 lead over Djoker in the QFs, but that’s his only trip to the QFs here in his career. He did make the SFs of the Stuttgart tuneup a couple weeks ago where he proceeded to lose to Troicki, who then beat him again in Rd 2 the next week at London. He will be a Top 10 seed here though, still riding those massive 2014 US Open points. Grigor Dimitrov had a mjor breakthrough in making the semis here a year ago, but has largely disappointed subsequently, going 33-19 since then, including a first round loss at the French to Jack Sock and a 2nd Rd loss to 43rd ranked Gilles Muller at London last week. ATP #7 David Ferrer never goes down without a fight, and at 33 is still doing damage on the tour (3 titles in 2015), but has only twice (2012-13) made the QFs here, posting a Wimby record of just 25-12 for his career. He also lost this week in Nottingham to Baghdatis after receiving a 1st Rd bye.
<h3>The Wimbledon ‘Shocker Longshots’, Late Career Runs</h3>
Wimbledon has hosted an inordinate number of longshot, late career runs in the last couple decades, starting with Johnny Mac’s run to the semis in 1992 at the age of 33 when he was #30 in the world – his last slam SF and first since the 1990 US Open. Five years later it was doubles legend Todd Woodbridge making the semis in 1997. He was just 26, but never made it past the 3rd Rd at Wimbledon before or since, and his best career singles slam result outside of Wimby ’97 was the Round of 16 twice at the Aussie – 1991 & ’98.
Come the turn of the century, the ultimate longshot came in 2001 - Goran Ivanisevic winning Wimbledon at age 29 as a 125th ranked wildcard, the only wildcard to ever win a slam title. The lefty with the monster serve would go on to win just 10 more matches in his career after the 2001 season, adding to the improbability of it all. Two years later, 48th ranked Mark Philippoussis took out #1 ranked Andre Agassi on his way to the final before falling to Federer. In the quarterfinals, he took out another longshot, Alexander Popp, ranked 198th at the time. Popp won only 5 other matches all year on tour in 2003. In 2005 it was Thomas Johansson’s turn to shock the world, making the SFs at age 30. Johansson had only made one Round of 16 at a slam since his 2002 Aussie title going into that Wimbledon, and won only 8 grand slam matches in his career after it. The very next year it was yet another Swede making a shocking SF appearance - Jonas Bjorkman at the age of 34 and exactly 9 years after his only other slam semi – the 1997 US Open. Bjorkman was ranked 59th at the time.
In 2008, when Fed & Nadal played their epic final, many forget the surprise semifinalists they steamrolled - Rainer Schuettler (Nadal) and Marat Safin (Fed). The only other time the 32 yr old Schuettler (ATP #94 at the time!) had ever made just the QFs of a slam was over 5 years earlier when he was destroyed by Agassi in the 2003 Aussie final. Safin was one of the greats of that decade but by Wimbledon 2008, he had fallen to #75 in the world and was just 16 months away from calling it quits for good. Even more amazing? Every person Safin played in that Wimbledon is still active today – Fognini (1st), Djokovic (2nd), Seppi (3rd), Wawrinka (4th), Feliciano Lopez (QFs), and of course, Fed.
The very next year it was a slightly less improbable but nonetheless surprising Tommy Haas making the semis, aged 31 and ranked 34th at the time. Haas’ run had a few things in common with Safin’s run – they both beat a heavily favored Novak Djokovic (QFs for Haas), and both lost to Fed in the semis. There’s been no SF longshot runs since then, but Philipp Kohlschreiber did make the one and only slam QF of his career in 2012 at age 28, ranked 30th. Interesting note regarding his run: the highest ranked player he beat was Haas in round 1 (#50), and the rankings of his subsequent opponents kept getting worse and worse until he finally fell to Tsonga in the QFs. It was Malek Jaziri (#78) in the 2nd, Lukas Rosol (#100) in the 3rd, and finally flash-in-the-pan Brian Baker (#126) in the 4th.
So……….who are the candidates this year? It’s been 6 years since we’ve had a shocker SF run, so we’ve gotta be overdue – right? Ivo Karlovic is an ancient 36 but just set a record for most aces in a 3 set match (45) when he beat Berdych in the Halle QFs. The South African Sequoia, 6’8″ 29 yr old Kevin Anderson, just beat Wawrinka and Gilles Simon on his way to the London finals last week. The aforementioned Feliciano Lopez loves the lawn, but at 33 now, he hasn’t won consecutive matches since Indian Wells, and has gone 2-3 in grass tuneup events this month after losing at the French to Gabashvili in the 1st. John Isner is now a 30 year old vet and would love to bookend his legendary Mahut marathon match from 2010 with a shocker SF run here. He made the QFs at London (beating Lopez in the process), but then lost to our next candidate for a shocker run - Viktor Troicki. The #2 Serb has gotten his ranking back up to #24 now after starting the year off at #101. He actually played 3 tuneup events this month, losing in the final at Stuttgart to Nadal and the semis of London to Murray before seemingly succumbing to fatigue and bowing out to Sergiy Stakhovsky in straight sets in Nottingham this week. Finally, Marcos Baghdatis made the semis here in his dream season of 2006, but that’s the last time he’s made a slam semifinal. But he’s 10-9 so far this year with 3 of those victories at slams (2 Aussie, 1 French), after going 7-11 all of last year. Additionally, the 30 yr old Cypriot took a set off of Nadal at Stuttgart this month, has won 3 matches so far at Nottingham in moving into the quarterfinals this week, and most importantly, is the best ball striker in this group of potential 2015 ‘Shocker Longshots’.
<h3>The Youth Brigade</h3>
I am happy to report that the kids are allright (‘Who’ reference there) on the ATP tour, injecting an exciting, fresh element into the men’s tennis game. Wimbledon will likely have 4 seeds aged 22 or younger: Bernard Tomic (ATP #26…22 yrs old), Nick Kyrgios (#29…20), Dominic Thiem (#30…21), and American Jack Sock(#31…22), who made the 4th round at Roland Garros last month. That monster serve and forehand should serve him quite well here this fortnight.
Additionally, four more teenagers will be playing in the main draw, including 18 yr old prodigy Borna Coric, now ranked 39th (exactly 1 year ago: #243, 0-5 ATP record) and boasting 22 ATP wins in his career against 23 losses…and he won’t turn 19 until this season ends (b. 11/14/96). He won two matches at the French, beating American Sam Querrey and fading clay star Tommy Robredo. 19 yr old Thanasi Kokkinakis has boosted his ranking up to #69 from #150 on January 1, and is also coming off a 3rd round effort at Roland Garros. German wunderkind Alexander Zverev (18 yrs old) is now up to #76 from #136 at the start of 2015, and took a set off both Troicki and Karlovic in grass tuneup losses after winning his first matches in each event (Stuttgart & Halle, respectively). Finally, 19 yr old Hyeon Chung is ranked 78th and, along with Zverev, will be playing in his first main draw slam event. Chung has not had as much regular tour experience as Zverev though, playing just 10 ATP level matches to Zverev’s 20, and also doesn’t have the German’s 6’6″ size advantage, though he is listed as a 6 footer on the ATP website.
Finally, in the qualies, 19 yr old Yoshihito Nishioka lost in the 2nd Rd, along with the youngest of them all – 17 yr old Russian sensation Andrey Rublev, who faced longtime tour veteran Ivan Dodig and lost 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. But 19 yr old Elias Ymer is into the last round, where he’ll face #3 seed Guido Pella…who just may have the best name on tour.
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