Wimbledon 2014: Burning Questions Heading into the All England Club

Jeremy EcksteinFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2014

Wimbledon 2014: Burning Questions Heading into the All England Club

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    The All England Club will be host to many important questions for Wimbledon 2014. Legendary players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal look to step back into time for one more trophy here. Superstars  Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray hope they will peak for the most famous event in tennis history.

    There are many other ATP competitors who dream of winning this title, and perhaps it's more open than at any time since 2002.

    The WTA has had a greater monopoly on tennis parity. Once again, tennis fans will look first at Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, but they should not be surprised for anything else. Who will be the upstarts and hot stories?

    So we head into one final week of grass-courts tune-ups, which hardly feels like an adequate warm-up for grand Wimbledon. There was not a lot of attention and congratulations given to Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov for their impressive and under-the-radar titles at Halle and London's Queen's Club respectively.

    We may as well get right into the spirit of Wimbledon, so here are some of the most important early questions for Wimbledon.

Which Opening-Round Players Will Create Upsets in Men's Opening Rounds?

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    The Wimbledon draw is uniquely filled with dangerous players who can win first- or second-round matches. There is a fair pool of experienced journeymen who have played plenty of doubles and can thrive with shorter points and matches. They are savvy and feel good on speedy grass, and they may be ready to ambush some of the stars in search of rhythm and timing.

    A veteran like Radek Stepanek has already been playing good tennis over at the Queen's Club in London. He defeated Andy Murray in straight sets behind a strong serve and fine net play. He's experienced and ready for the first week.

    There are other dangerous athletes who can bring unusual athleticism and skills to grass. Dustin Brown blew away Rafael Nadal at Halle behind a huge serve and a lot of hustle.

    Sergiy Stakhovsky became a household name at 2013 Wimbledon in defeating Roger Federer with a 1980s version of serve-and-volley tennis.

    Philipp Kohlschreiber is an even more accomplished player who loves serve-and-volley tennis on grass and who has had Top 20-level success. Nobody want to play him at Wimbledon.

    Maybe Jerzy Janowicz gets his act together and goes deep, although it would be a surprise to see him replicate his 2013 semifinal run.

    Undoubtedly, some players far down the rankings are going to make some noise. It will be fun to watch it all unfold.

Will Rafael Nadal Escape the 1st Week?

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    In case anyone needs a reminder, Rafael Nadal is a five-time Wimbledon finalist and two-time champion.

    But the last two years have been a far cry from contention. Nadal was famously eliminated in the 2012 second round by Lukas Rosol, and he was blitzed in the 2013 first round by Steve Darcis. In both instances, Nadal's knees were worn out and he was defeated by fresher and more attacking players.

    Last week in Halle, Nadal was dropped by Dustin Brown's energetic play. It's a reminder that the talent runs deep in the ATP and that some players, given the right conditions, can have their way with the best in the world.

    Nadal could have used a few matches to help with his timing and adjustments on grass. The first week at Wimbledon will have less-trampled grass, which will produce slicker and speedier conditions. He will need to have his best footwork and lock into the quicker play.

    Nadal will be looking at his draw's first opponents rather than worry about the semifinals. The good news is that if he can survive and advance with improved play each round, the worn grass and perhaps some sun (Yes, I know it's London) could bake the ground into hard-packed dirt, producing some higher bounces and more baseline play. If he can pick up his form from a few years ago, he can win the title.

    But watch out for the opening rounds.

How Will Chaos Occur in the WTA Bracket?

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    In 2013, eight of the top-13 seeds in the women's draw at Wimbledon were eliminated in the second round. There were several injuries, most notably to Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.

    In the fourth round, No. 1-seed Serena Williams was upset by eventual and surprise finalist Sabine Lisicki. The quarterfinals would feature only two Top 10 players (Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska) and neither would make the final. Marion Bartoli would win Wimbledon and then retire several weeks later.

    Now that's chaos.

    In 2014, the WTA has continued to produce a lot of parity and surprises. Serena continues to struggle with injuries and age. Li Na's great Australian Open performance has atrophied into unsteady play. Azarenka is sidelined with injury and Radwanska has been a disappointment.

    The two most steady players have been Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova, but they are built most for baseline tenacity. It may not be a sure thing that either of them waltzes late into the second week.

    Maybe this is the right time for Petra Kvitova to use her power game and win out. Perhaps she can harness her play, eliminate errors and become a Grand Slam winner. Or maybe a younger player rides into the forefront of the sports world with a surprise Wimbledon title.

    However it turns out, it's not likely to be so predictable.

Is Novak Djokovic Ready to Snap His Grand Slam Title Drought?

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Five straight Grand Slam tournaments have passed away without a title for Novak Djokovic. He has only one major in the last two-and-a-half years, since his epic career streak hit its climax at the 2012 Australian Open.

    The strangest thing is that Djokovic has still held the No. 1 ranking the longest, and he has usually been the favorite to win these majors. He is so consistent and lethal on every surface that it's hard to figure out why he keeps falling short of the money matches.

    Of course Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray have been in his way, and they have combined for six of the past eight majors. It's not so much about what Djokovic has lost as it is about how his adversaries have won. There's only room for one winner at each major tournament.

    There's nothing that Djokovic will not do to prepare. He is a hard worker and fights through adversity. He seeks new advice from his coaching staff and he continues to upgrade his game with adjustments and added hunger. So what does he need to win Wimbledon?

    One match at a time. Keep plugging away like always. Get to the final weekend, polish off his opponents and bring his best tennis to the final. He can win here again, even if 2011 is starting to look like a distant memory.

    We do not want to jinx him by calling him the favorite, so we will back off for at least a few days.

Is Serena Williams Ready to Turn on Her Superstar Switch?

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    Serena Williams must surely feel every incentive to get back into the Grand Slam winner's circle, especially at Wimbledon where she is seeking her sixth crown.

    There's no shortage of motivation for Serena. Last year, she was eliminated in the fourth round by Sabine Lisicki despite being dubbed the heavy favorite to win. This year she has struggled with injuries and has seen more inconsistencies crop up in her game. Other young players are perhaps losing some of that awe for Serena.

    Despite some of the telltale signs of decline, this is still Serena who has often rebounded just as soon as the questions come. She seemingly has the capacity to turn on her superstar switch and dominate the WTA. Challenges and setbacks tend to be her allies in honing her best surges.

    Serena has the big serve, power and athleticism to still dominate Wimbledon. This is a hallowed stage that requires the strongest nerves and best play through short points and pressure situations. Nobody has proven herself more than Serena.

    If she is healthy and fit, the odds are in her favor, but we need to see if she can find the switch.

Will Andy Murray Defend His Title?

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Great Britain can breathe a sigh of relief at having one of their own win at Wimbledon. After Andy Murray snapped a 77-year period of British men's failures to win Wimbledon, nobody in their nation is going to care much if he cannot win another. After all, it should be at least three or four decades before anyone should worry, right?

    Except that we are talking about the British media. It can spin 1000 articles from one week to the next that follow Murray's every move and tennis results. It's a type of interactive documentary complete with opinions and outlooks that will fill up sports-bar conversations and tea-time gatherings.

    Is he truly over last summer's back surgery?

    Can he keep building on his French Open semifinal?

    Will new coach Amelie Mauresmo help him pick up on his years with former coach Ivan Lendl?

    Then there's the matter of the increasing parity and competition. Other players also want the Wimbledon title.

    Murray will be an important competitor and story during Wimbledon. He has the game and experience to win it all, if he can answer every one of his questions and play his best tennis. No pressure at all.

     

Is Maria Sharapova Ready to Commemorate 1 Decade with Another Wimbledon Title?

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    ANJA NIEDRINGHAUS/Associated Press

    In 2004, 17-year-old Maria Sharapova burst into tennis prominence by defeating Serena Williams for the Wimbledon title. It was written in The Washington Post that Sharapova was "the emergence of an entirely new star."

    Ten years later, she is still searching for her second Wimbledon trophy and her next win against Serena (sidenote: Sharapova lost to Serena at Miami in 2004 for their first meeting, but won the 2004 Wimbledon and WTA finals at Serena's expense. She has since lost 15 straight matches in this alleged rivalry.)

    Right now, Sharapova is the hottest player on tour. She just captured her second French Open title and is outmuscling her opponents with big groundstrokes and a lot of mental toughness. She has mounted several comebacks and has thrived late in matches.

    It would be fitting if she got a shot to defeat Serena on her way to a Wimbledon title, 10 years after her coming-out party. It would also be the first time since 2002 (Serena) that a player won the French Open-Wimbledon double in the same calendar year.

    She will be the center of the tennis world's attention.

Is This Federer’s Last Real Chance at the Wimbledon Title?

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Two years have now passed since Roger Federer claimed major title No. 17 and the No. 1 ranking. Then followed a turbulent 2013 filled with injuries and setbacks. It's taken a lot of work to climb back to the top four and a chance at his favorite title.

    Federer has worked with serve-and-volley legend Stefan Edberg, and it's likely the Swiss Maestro will use an attack that pressures his opponents. He must ride a strong serve, set up his forehand and dictate his matches. And anything he can do to win easily and conserve energy is so much the better for a possible second weekend for his title opportunity.

    Now may indeed be his best chance for one more major. There are vulnerabilities in all of his chief rivals, and Federer still has the best variety and experience to win on grass. It's been a long time since we have seen this much parity and uncertainty in who will win a major.

    It's also not getting any easier for Federer. He will be 33 years old in August, which is older than Andre Agassi's 32 years and nine months when he won the 2002 Australian Open. We have to go back to the early years of the Open era, when Ken Rosewall and Andres Gimeno were still punching the clock, to find an older champion.

    Tennis fans will watch the Swiss Maestro with interest. From the draw to the last point he plays, he will be the  biggest story at Wimbledon.

Will the Men Have a Surprise Champion or an Epic Final?

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    It's been five years since Wimbledon finished its trilogy of epic finals. From 2007-09, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick provided the greatest three-year run in Wimbledon history. All three finals were nail-biting five-setters that could have gone either way. There were memorable moments, a few regrettable points and legendary shots.

    Since then, Wimbledon has added more historic moments, but it's due for another epic final.

    The field could also experience some surprises. It's much more difficult to say with any certainty which of the top-four players will make it through to the end. There's a good chance someone else could get in like Tomas Berdych did as a 2010 finalist.

    Every round will matter. There will be upsets. Will there be a brand new champion?

What’s the over-under for how often the Borg-McEnroe tiebreaker is mentioned?

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    ROBERT DEAR/Associated Press

    The best part of the TV experience at Wimbledon is when the networks break out old film and regale us with great matches and champions. It all begins and ends at Wimbledon, and memories here are more ingrained into our souls. This is when we connect the bygone eras with today's golden champions.

    One Wimbledon title immortalizes players. Richard Krajicek is forever a champion for his 1996 title, which interrupted Pete Sampras' legendary run. Pat Cash denied Ivan Lendl in 1987. Boris Becker became a megastar in 1985.

    And Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe in 1980 is still the saga that is sang the most. Who has not seen the fourth-set tiebreaker—The War of 18-16?

    So we are going to get things started right. You may watch the match in its entirety right here, or take 22 minutes and watch the fourth set tiebreaker, beginning at the 2:47:00 mark.

    You're welcome.