What the 2014 Wimbledon Title Would Mean for Tennis' Top Players

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJune 23, 2014

What the 2014 Wimbledon Title Would Mean for Tennis' Top Players

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    All tennis superstars, journeymen and aspiring contenders want to win the 2014 Wimbledon title. It's the tennis dream of anyone who has ever gripped a racket. But as always, there are different rewards and effects for each player.

    The tennis landscape will be slightly altered or very different depending on which WTA and ATP players eventually hold the hardware.

    It would be a career achievement for veteran second-tier players like Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Jelena Jankovic. However, the sports world in general may not pay as much attention, and it would figure in a minimal way to the future of tennis.

    There are also plenty of young players like Milos Raonic, Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens who may or may not be able to win their first major. But such a win could signal a new force in tennis.

    The superstars always have the most riding on a major title. This slideshow examines how the top players could be in position to add to their legacy and perhaps make more waves in changing the near future of tennis. We will alternately present five of the important top players from each of the WTA and ATP.

Simona Halep

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    Tennis fans know about Simona Halep, but casual sports fans need an introduction to this exciting young talent who plays with tactical beauty and persistence. Anybody with even a remote interest in the sport will tune into Wimbledon. This is the ultimate stage.

    Halep is a 2014 French Open finalist who has arrived at the edge of superstar status. Now she needs a Grand Slam title to complete a startling one-year rise in which she's already bagged seven titles and the WTA No. 3 ranking.

    If Halep were to defeat either Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova in the semifinals and then dominate the championship final, she would be at the top of Mt. Olympus with the whole world witnessing her star and looking for more promising years ahead.

    It will be a particularly tough challenge for her to adapt her game to the speedier grass surface where the bounces do not allow her as much time for defensive tennis. Winning Wimbledon would certify her as an all-court threat and drive her closer to the No. 1 ranking.

    Tennis is ready for another superstar, and Halep could lead the next generation of younger players into a new age for the WTA.


Grigor Dimitrov

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    There are veterans looking for their first major, and there are young guns hoping one day to arrive. Nobody could create a buzz of excitement and change the immediate outlook for tennis like Grigor Dimitrov.

    A win at Wimbledon could signal the arrival of a Bulgarian superstar. This could be a career highlight for a hard-working veteran. Dimitrov's upside is still tremendous. He has inconsistencies, but steady progress this year indicates that he could compete for a Grand Slam title.

    A Dimitrov win at Wimbledon would suddenly place him near the ATP Top Five and ignite discussions between tennis fans about his place if he beats a few of the four golden champions Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Some tennis observers might point to this as comparable to Federer's 2003 breakthrough at Wimbledon when the Swiss Maestro truly began the legacy that turned him into a legend.

    But of course this possibility only happens if Dimitrov takes his game up another level against the best players late in the second week. We're a long distance and several miracles from this result.

    Still, he is the player who could most turn tennis upside down in the near future. It's a small possibility at the moment, but worthy of consideration for a player with excellent skills and all-surface possibilities.

Agnieszka Radwanska

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    Two years ago, Agnieszka Radwanska peaked at Wimbledon, getting to the finals and capturing the No. 2 ranking. Since then, the Grand Slam title and No. 1 ranking have seemed so far away. It's not that Radwanska has fallen off the contenders' train, but she somehow still seems strangely off track.

    She could really use the Wimbledon title as a possible career breakthrough. It would give her a champion's confidence and affirm that her finesse approach of softer shots and tactical control would be enough to land the top prizes in tennis.

    Radwanska would also like to step forward as one of the many heirs apparent in carving up the post-Serena Williams landscape. She is suddenly a 25-year-old veteran, and there are plenty of young talents breathing down her neck. She does not want to fade into another Caroline Wozniacki.

    Sports fans need to recognize Radwanska for more than her poolside lounging in ESPN's The Magazine's  Body Issue. She would probably prefer posing on Wimbledon's Centre Court with the championship trophy and the eyes of the world on her talent.

Andy Murray

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    Andy Murray will never have a bigger win than his 2013 Wimbledon title, which was the first for a British men's player in 77 years. Combined with his 2012 U.S. Open title, Murray has proven himself as a fine champion during an age in which it's difficult to grab a major. What would a second Wimbledon title mean?

    For starters, he would become only the 20th man in tennis history to win at least two Wimbledon titles and the 10th man to do so in the Open era. A pair of Wimbledon wins is exactly the number won by Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg and Rafael Nadal. Not a bad group of players to be ranked with.

    Murray would also love to get back to his best tennis and put his 2013 back surgery behind him. It's hard to see him winning a few more majors and competing for the No. 1 ranking, but to do so he must re-establish his status to contend for the titles at London, New York and Melbourne.

    This is an important time for his career, one in which he is looking for a resurgence in the post-Ivan Lendl coaching days and with his replacement, Amelie Mauresmo. The fast courts of summer are coming up, and it's important that he spend a few more prime years stalking championships.

    Oh, and Great Britain might be a wee bit happy if he could defend his title.

Li Na

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    The amazing thing about Li Na is her late-career accomplishments. Since age 29, she has won the 2011 French Open, 2014 Australian Open and has held the No. 2 ranking for nearly three months. She has also carried the torch for Asian tennis players and inspired a tennis boom for the next generation of Chinese athletes.

    Imagine what a Wimbledon title would mean for her career and for a truly global audience. Last year, Time magazine (h/t Brics Post) postulated that Li could become the highest-paid female athlete in the world.

    Suddenly Li would be looking at the U.S. Open for a career Grand Slam and the No. 1 ranking.

    It's a tough ask for Li. Grass has been her weakest surface, and three times she has stalled at the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. But as the No. 2 player in the world, she has a chance to enhance her legacy with the most historic title in tennis.

Roger Federer

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    Could Roger Federer win an eighth Wimbledon title? If, so that would move him past Pete Sampras on the Wimbledon legacy scoreboard. It would also be an impressive feat of longevity. Sampras won his seven titles in an eight-year span from 1993-2000. Federer's eighth Wimbledon major would be over 12 years (2003-2014), less dominant but spanning a longer era.

    Perhaps just as important to the Swiss Maestro would be major No. 18. It would put him back to a four-majors lead over rival Rafael Nadal (and Sampras) in the career pecking order. It might go a long way in clinching this lead for good, and it would mean that Nadal was denied a chance to pull within a 17-15 tally in major titles.

    Is there still time for Federer to win a couple more majors and even grab the No. 1 ranking once more? This is a tall order this late in his career, and the No. 1 ranking may no longer be a goal. More major wins are likely the priority.

    There would also be a global celebration among the Federer fans and sentiments from sports fans in general who have largely been aware of his legacy. The attention on tennis would rise once again. After all, everyone loves to see older superstars bask one more time in championship glory.

Maria Sharapova

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    The most popular female tennis player in the world already seems to have it all, including a career Grand Slam, a fifth major with the 2014 French Open, brief appearances with the No. 1 ranking, endorsement deals and a relationship with Grigor Dimitrov. We'll reserve judgment on the latter point.

    Would a Wimbledon title mean much else to her career legacy? It would not top her winning Wimbledon in 2004, defeating Serena Williams and forever becoming entrenched in the minds and hearts of tennis fans.

    But there are no insignificant Wimbledon crowns. For Sharapova personally, it would be a perfect 10-year commemoration. It would also be the first time a WTA player won the French Open-Wimbledon combo in the same calendar year since Serena last turned the trick in 2002.

    Concerning the pecking order in the WTA, Sharapova would be able to dig her feet in as the top player. Never mind the rankings; she has been the best player on tour since the clay-court season began and would be well ahead in the Road to Singapore. A Wimbledon win could set her up with other big trophies to grab over the next few years as long as her motivation remains high and her shoulder stays healthy.

    A sixth Grand Slam title would also place her in the conversation as one of the top 10 women of the Open era. She needs seven total majors to tie Justine Henin and Venus Williams, and that's starting to look like a realistic possibility.

Novak Djokovic

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    Many of our Bleacher Report readers have increasingly questioned if Novak Djokovic is still a clutch player. For all of the Masters 1000 victories, he has had the most setbacks in Grand Slam finals following the 2012 Australian Open.

    Djokovic needs this Wimbledon title to stop the heartbreak and regather his momentum for another Grand Slam streak. Much of what we discussed about Djokovic's legacy prior to the French Open has grown larger following his defeat at Roland Garros.

    A Wimbledon title would put him in the seven Slams club with John McEnroe and Mats Wilander, and establish him as one of the top 10 players of the Open era.

    Djokovic still seems like a  solid bet to win at least 10 Grand Slam titles, but time could be running out faster than we realize. He grinds hard, deals with injuries and must win through brilliance and attrition. These days, Grand Slam titles are not easy to win, but they're worth far more than their weight in trophy gold.

    The Serbian has proved his greatness but needs more hardware. There's no other scenario than first place that can be satisfying for him during the next two weeks.

Serena Williams

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    There's nothing more for Serena Williams to prove, but each Grand Slam title adds to her career legacy. With 17 majors, she is looking for No. 18 to move her into a tie with legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. If she wins her sixth Wimbledon title, she will pass sister Venus.

    Perhaps the most motivating factor for Serena is that she hates to lose and give up ground to her competitors. If there are a few more majors to win, she would love to dig in now and send a message to the WTA that her reign will continue. Expect her to be extra focused seeing Maria Sharapova is in her quarter.

    There is the bad taste left in her mouth after her upset loss to Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round of 2013 Wimbledon. A title here would be another chance at redemption and bolster her No. 1 ranking.

Rafael Nadal

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    Rafael Nadal might have the most to gain from another Wimbledon title. For starters, it would be his third French Open-Wimbledon combination in the same year, something that only Bjorn Borg accomplished—three consecutive years, 1978-80.

    For all of the questions surrounding the past two years on grass, a third Wimbledon title would wash them away. He would be in the three-title club at SW19 with John McEnroe and Boris Becker, who basically became kings for their exploits at Wimbledon.

    More historical prominence: Nadal would have at least three majors on two different surfaces at two different venues. If we also combine his three hard-court titles at Australia and New York, that would place him as the only player with the triple on three different surfaces altogether.

    (Side note: Currently, Roger Federer is the only player with at least three majors at three different venues, although he did not do this on clay for the true third surface. You can compare the unique nature of this achievement in a fairly confusing article written two years ago about dual-surface masters.)

    Nadal would also close his career majors gap behind Roger Federer, which would be 17-15. It would mean reducing his deficit in half within one month, and it would all but give him greater odds to be the man with the most in history by the end of his career.

    It would also signal the full-fledged reality that a healthy Nadal can still win majors on all surfaces, and it would tighten his grip on the No. 1 ranking heading into the North American hard-court tour.

    Nadal would also gain his fourth year of multiple titles with a shot to repeat his 2010 Northern Hemisphere major sweep from Paris to New York. He would clinch the player of the year whether or not he won the U.S. Open or finished with the No. 1 ranking.

    The French Open-Wimbledon combo is enormous and certainly ranks above another player (unless it was Stanislas Wawrinka, who already has the Australian Open title) finishing the year by winning the U.S. Open, the remaining Masters and WTF. And maybe Nadal would snag more of these other titles as well.

    A Nadal win at Wimbledon would probably generate at least a few more articles and a handful of commentaries for tennis fans to discuss. That's not bad for tennis or Nadal.