The ever-present odds makers at Wimbledon will have a more difficult time this year choosing who will raise the champion’s trophies at the end of the fortnight.
Rafael Nadal announced yesterday, his withdrawal from the tournament; due to knee tendonitis he’s had for several months. Nadal’s decision came after losing in an exhibition, in straight sets to Lleyton Hewitt.
Nadal suffered his first French Open loss last month, to Robin Soderling (l. to Roger Federer). Federer’s win tied Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles.
With Nadal out of the picture, the draw is wide open. The obvious favorite is still Federer, who will try to continue his success from Paris and surpass Sampras’ Grand Slam record.
Next in line are Djokovic and Murray. Djokovic lost to Tommy Haas last week in the finals of the Gerry Weber Open in Germany. Murray delighted the British crowd in London, taking the AEGON Championships singles title over James Blake.
Haas is a former world No. 2, Hewitt a former world No. 1 and 2002 Wimbledon men’s singles champion. I look for both men to make a deep run into the second week. While Djokovic is in the No. 4 spot, he’s never had consistent success at the All England Club.
Murray has by far his best chance of winning this year, after claiming his first title in Great Britain. The British fans will put more pressure on him than ever before. I look forward to seeing how he responds to it.
Then there are the Americans. I predict a lot of them will do well. The best American hope lies with two-time finalist, Andy Roddick. He’s having a great year so far, playing with a newfound confidence going into his favorite part of the season. The only major problems I see in his way to winning the title are in the semifinal against Murray and the final against Federer.
AEGON Championships finalist James Blake will be anxious to make his best Wimbledon showing to date. He should have more confidence on the grass this year with momentum in his favor.
The second group of Americans seems to be struggling as of late, so I’m not certain about how they’ll do. Americans such as Mardy Fish, Robby Ginepri and Sam Querrey have styles suitable for grass, but they haven’t lived up to their full potential.
Then there’s the resurgence of Taylor Dent’s explosive serve and volley game to look forward to after his long absence, due to back surgery.
On the women’s side, there are always questions about Slam contenders. Let’s start with current world No. 1, Dinara Safina. In her first Grand Slam final at the French Open last month, Safina had a meltdown against Svetlana Kuznetsova. This worries me for her mental fortitude at Wimbledon and I don’t expect her to come close to another final for a while.
The Williams sisters are on opposite sides of the draw. While Venus has a better record at Wimbledon, my guess is Serena will be the Williams sister in the final.
Who would be her opponent? My prediction is Caroline Wozniacki. This teenager from Denmark has stepped up her game in the last two years. Today she won the Eastbourne title over Virginia Razzano, her second of the year. While Serena will probably go home with the title, I expect Wozniacki to make it close.
Women with an outside chance are Venus, Sharapova, Kuznetsova and Azarenka. Venus’ record at Wimbledon alone is what could push her through.
Sharapova, just getting back to her former self on the court, could make a deep run and possibly capture her second Wimbledon title. Of course, she has one of the new kids on the block in her path, Victoria Azarenka. She has an explosive game that could put some pressure on a lot of players.
The final question is about the new retractable roof on Centre Court. So far, everyone from players to fans and tournament officials seem to love it. However, my concerns are how long it will take to close the roof if it does start to rain and how it will affect the expected drama of bad weather at Wimbledon.
I can’t wait to see who rises to the occasion at Wimbledon 2009.