Section One: WHO HAS THE MOST TO PROVE?
It’s just strange seeing Juan Martin del Potro’s name at the top of the the draw. Sure, it could one day be an earned position for the lanky 20-year-old Argentine. But the climb gets steeper every notch up the top ten, and the World No. 5 just made his first Grand Slam semi-final a month ago at Roland Garros.
Two men in his section have made the climb and would love more hardware. Wimbledon’s 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt is del Potro’s likely second round test. Hewitt has been solid in 2009, coming back after hip surgery with his scrappy counterpunching to win Houston, his first title since 2007.
The hyper-competitive Australian met this quarter’s other former World No. 1 Andy Roddick two weeks ago on grass in the AEGON Championships. And it came down to tie-breaks.
Though Roddick won that match, the American withdrew later due to a minor ankle injury that shouldn’t impede his progress at the All-England Club. His new volleying skills and fitness should benefit the two-time Wimbly finalist.
Not quite convinced of his new attitude though, eh, Mr. Monfils?
The younger generation has provided plenty of thrills, but let’s not call these Slam champs old guard yet. It’s most probable this quarter will go as seeded, and there’s a lot of hunger in this section, regardless of experience.
More Wanting More:
Tomas Berdych—another tall youngster yet to make a breakthrough equal to his talent.
Nikolay Davydenko—looks like he’s back to his phenomenal consistency, seeded to play Berdych in the third.
Dmitry Tursunov—his performance is unpredictable unless it’s for a funny soundbite—and surprise! The Russian just won his first grass title in Eastbourne.
Section Two: WILL HISTORY REPEAT?
Andy Murray was already a hot pick for this fortnight, and his recent win at Queen’s Club fueled that fire. Every year, the hope of Great Britain for a Fred Perry follow-up plays out as a prominent headline.
While Murray has succeeded Tim Henman nicely, the young Scot is still short of his own claims. So will we end up comparing this year to the run of the 2004 Boston Red Sox or will the British be feeling the Chicago Cubs?
Then there’s a matter of recent history.
Ranked 75th in 2008, Marat Safin became the danger of the tournament, upsetting then-No. 3 and hot pick Novak Djokovic in the second round and continuing to knock aside seeds until his semifinal against Roger Federer.
In an interesting line of symmetry, he is once again in the section of the current World No. 3—Murray. First, Safin would likely have to get through Stanislas Wawrinka, the Russian’s fourth round conquest last year.
A slight-upset quarterfinalist may come out of the lower part of this section. The highest seed, France’s Gilles Simon, is not playing well. The second highest, Fernando Gonzalez, is. The Chilean has reached the semis of his last three tournaments and plays as risky as ever.
First Round Match to Watch:
Juan Carlos Ferrero ESP v Mikhail Youzhny RUS
Both had nice leads-ins to the tournament, a semi-final and a quarter-final at the Queen’s Club, respectively. While neither is seeded, this is the 2003 French Open champ and the 2002 Davis Cup hero, both with all-court games.
Section Three: CARE FOR A REMATCH?
Tommy Haas is a sexy, sexy pick here. Call him a dark horse if you want, but don’t be too surprised if he makes the semi-final. Though seeded 24th, he is the man in ascendency. Serving Federer the strongest challenge at Roland Garros, plus the recent title on home soil has this German confident and peaking.
This third quadrant doesn’t feature a model of consistency, which should produce some lengthy, see-saw battles. If you doubt Haas, you could throw a dart at this portion of the draw to make a dark horse pick: Marin Cilic, James Blake, Janko Tipsarevic, Tommy Robredo, and last year’s semifinalist Rainer Schuettler... for starters.
Despite a winning season, fourth seed Novak Djokovic, has disappointed at the Slams this year. Retiring in Australian and a third round upset in Paris. And his most recent loss came at the hands of... Tommy Haas, in the final at Halle.
Did I say sexy pick? No, I said sexy, sexy pick!
The first-round big man matchup of American Sam Querrey and Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia. They rank fifth and sixth respectively on the ace leaderboard for the year, with a combined 627 aces between them.
Section Four: WHATEVER, HOW MUCH DOES TUNE-UP MATTER ANYWAY?
The seedings in this section show promise of some tasty quarterfinals. Fernando Verdasco v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga would be an energetic fourth round slugfest. It could be troubling that Verdasco and Tsonga went to Germany and were each upset early.
However, both men have proven to be showmen and should come up big for the fortnight... Get your popcorn ready!
In the same round, Robin Soderling might get to test his theory about nobody beating him 11 times in a row. That nobody being Roger Federer.
Neither of the French Open finalists played a grass tuneup. Citing fatigue, Federer withdrew from Halle, where he has won the last five times he entered. He skipped the event in 2007 and it didn’t seem to hurt him that year. Trust that Fed is confident in his decision.
On the Other Hand:
Lefty Feliciano Lopez is from a country known for producing clay court champions, and cites hard courts as his favorite. But his best Grand Slam has been Wimbledon, where he has been a two-time quarterfinalist. The Spainard could again get to the second week.
The... Third Man?
The new retractable roof over Wimbledon’s Centre Court will keep the main venue in play, which may secure last year’s final as the most dramatic ever. There is debate on whether or not this enhancement will detract from tradition or charm.
But a bigger question will be: In bad weather, will showcase players now have an even bigger advantage? After all, in the past London rain played no favorites. When play was suspended, it affected all. But now, players on the big stage can continue play (with about a 40-minute delay) even while other matches remain unfinished.
I wonder if this might some day create an even bigger scheduling nightmare. Sounds like future fodder for the drama mama types...