Wimbledon for the first time in six years is a tournament shrouded with mystery. Roger Federer has been the man to beat for the last six years, and he has treated The Championships as his personal property. His Finals foe was the only blank left to fill in. My how times have changed!
Roger began this year 21 and six with two losses to Murray and two losses to Djokovic. He lost the Australian Open final in a heart breaker to Nadal and even lost a match to his Swiss Davis Cup teammate Stanislaus Wawrinka. With the clay court season starting a lot of print was given to the possibility that Roger’s wave had crested and was now on its way down.
A funny thing happened on the way to the beach. He met and defeated Nadal at Madrid and then went on to fulfill his dream of winning Roland Garros to complete his grand slam collection. He lost six sets along the way which was more than the number of games (four) Nadal lost against him in last years French Open final. Still Roger’s season has been righted and he is now ready for Wimbledon. Or is he?
He declined to participate in a Wimbledon grass court tune up this year citing fatigue from the French Open. Rafael Nadal, the defending Wimbledon champion and current number one, also opted out of a grass court tune up at Queens because of a troublesome knee.
The knee may have been a factor in Nadal’s recent losses and he has entertained the possibility of not playing at Wimbledon. It seems likely that both will play and be favored to repeat last years final. Considering Federer’s state of mind and Nadal’s knee this years Championship tournament is really wide open.
There is also depth at the top which has been missing during the last few years. Roger Federer has been head and shoulders above the field and Nadal has been the best clay court player anyone can remember.
The door is cracked open and there are a number of players who are peeking in. You have to head the list with Andy Murray. He has replaced Tim Henman as the Brit to beat.
He started the year 40 and six winning the recent grass court tune up at Queens. In 2009 he is 2,0 against Federer 1,2 against Nadal and 1,0 against Djokovic.
The crowd will definitely be on his side. Murray is usually considered stronger on the hard courts so the U.S. Open may be his best chance to win a major. Still this could be his year to be the first Brit to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry won 3 from 1934 to 1936.
Novak Djokovic should not be ignored. He was the one everyone was talking about last year. He fearlessly took on the big boys with the powerful confidence of youth and the support of a nation looking for a hero. He took the Serbian mantel and ran with it.
Even though Murray pushed him out of the No. 3 spot, Novak’s star hasn’t dimmed much. He is 43 and 11 this year. He does have a grand slam trophy on his shelf from the 2008 Australian Open. He has the game to not only compete but to win.
The list of hopefuls who have a legitimate shot does not end there. The Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro has not reached his full potential and has moved up to No. 5 in the world. He is 29 and nine on the year but seems to have trouble beating the top three players.
You could say the yeast hasn’t risen for him yet. His fellow Argentine David Nalbandian however has a winning record against Nadal and plays the big matches in a big way. His five set win over Federer in the Masters Cup final in 2005 is one of the most amazing matches I have ever seen.
Fernando Verdasco is also capable of pulling off some fabulous tennis. His five setter against fellow Spaniard Nadal at the Australian open overshadowed the final which was to come.
There is another Andy to be reckoned with in this tournament. Andy Roddick has had a pretty good year so far. He is 33 and 8. Over the years he has done well at Wimbledon but as of yet hasn’t pulled off the big one. He lost to Roger in ’03 ’04 and ’05. Then he lost to an up and coming Murray in ’06 and a go for broke Gasquet in ’07 in five sets in the quarter finals.
Last year’s early second round exit to Tipsarevic may be attributed to a sore shoulder. Andy has had a good year so far and his game is structured for a good run on the grass. He definitely should be considered a contender to add this title to his U.S. Open crown.
What about the X Factor? Will Tsonga or Ancic make some noise here? Is there a Soderling out there who could make the headlines here at Wimbledon the way Robin made it at Roland Garros two weeks ago? Well, how about Robin Soderling?
Last year he lost in the second round to Roger Federer. In 2007, he lost in round three to Rafael Nadal in five sets. It was a coming out party of sorts as Soderling made it quite clear he wasn’t going to be intimidated by Rafa. He went so far as to mimic Nadal’s shorts picking habit.
In 2006 Soderling lost to Tim Henman in five sets (how many matches at Wimbledon did Henman take to five sets?) I have to believe that Soderling likes the strawberries and cream of The Championships. Now that Robin has been to the finals dance last month he may shoot for a return engagement. Maybe he won’t be content to be a part of history but have a burning desire to make history.
Any way you slice it come June 22nd the clues to the mystery will start to come together. The Championship of the All England Lawn Tennis and Racquet Club will begin.