Wimbledon 2014: Under-the-Radar Players to Watch at the All England Club

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

Wimbledon 2014: Under-the-Radar Players to Watch at the All England Club

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    Ben Curtis/Associated Press

    You've all heard of the Fantastic Four (Big Four is reserved for heavy metal legends Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax): Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and the defending Wimbledon champion Andy Murray

    The women are also an international potpourri of talent: Simona Halep, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Li Na. Those are all the big names, but what about those who, like stealth bombers and Amazon delivery drones, are flying under the radar?

    It was 10 years ago a 17-year-old Sharapova defeated Serena Williams in the final much to the delight of future sponsors (She's tall, blonde and a winner?!). That was as under the radar as it comes. Now, in 2014, who are the 10 players that could sneak deep into the tournament and maybe win it all? Read on to meet some of the not-so-obvious choices at Wimbledon.

Milos Raonic, Canada

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    Ben Curtis/Associated Press

    It's hard not to say Milos Raonic's name and not think of Milos from Seinfeld ("Another game for Milos!"). The comparisons end there (unless Raonic has a beautiful wife willing to sleep with Jerry Seinfeld). Raonic drew into the Nadal quarter of the bracket and wouldn't face him until the quarterfinals.

    Raonic won in straight sets against Frank Dancevic, but went deep in Sets 2 and 3. Afterward, Raonic said in The Canadian Press:

    I feel really good about this win, I played a lot better than I expected to. I showed that I can adjust my game on this surface. I did what was necessary to win. I think my Roland Garros quarter-final gave me confidence and showed me that I know what I need to do to win in these situations and eventually get into the second week of slams.

    Moving deep in a Grand Slam the way he did in the French Open on a surface that's not his best clearly gives him confidence going forward. On top of that, his draw is favorable to get deep in the second week of this tournament.

Ana Ivanovic, Serbia

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    Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

    Ana Ivanovic is hitting her stride in 2014. She's fresh off a win in Birmingham and feeling all kinds of good heading into Wimbledon. 

    "You're waiting for such a result and now it comes and I'm very happy, but I didn't expect it," Ivanovic said in The Sydney Morning Herald

    Ivanovic hasn't had a strong showing at Wimbledon since 2008 when she reached the semifinals. Since then she's had a hard time reaching Week 2, only accomplishing that once since 2010. 

    This year Ivanovic has defeated Maria Sharapova en route to a bid in the Rome finals (where she lost to Serena Williams). 

    "It’s been a very good season so far, obviously my best in quite a long time," Ivanovic said in Give Me Sport. "I’ve won a lot of matches, already a few tournaments, and most importantly I’ve beaten the top players. The Stuttgart final was a tough defeat but it was satisfying to beat Sharapova soon after in Rome."

Grigor Dimitrov, Bulgaria

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    Ben Curtis/Associated Press

    Like Madison Keys on the women's side of the bracket, Grigor Dimitrov won the Aegon International last week in preparation for Wimbledon. Dimitrov enters Wimbledon as an 11-seed and a player who just rolled in straight sets over Ryan Harrison in the first round.

    Simon Chambers of The Guardian wrote:

    Ever since he won junior Wimbledon in 2008, the same year Laura Robson lifted the girls’ title, Dimitrov has been tipped for stardom, not least because of the similarities in his style to Roger Federer. The 23-year-old is finally making a name for himself and once he had forged a two-sets lead against world No.140 [Harrison] the shackles came off and he produced a couple of between-the-legs shots and flicks that left the American floundering.

    Anytime a player is pegged as similar to Roger Federer and has won a tournament at the All England Club, he needs to be respected. The problem for Dimitrov is that he has the United Kingdom's favorite son Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in his half of the bracket. 

    That's an onion in the ointment, but he's a capable player and has a shot at pulling an upset here.

Kaia Kanepi, Estonia

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    Ben Curtis/Associated Press

    This was originally going to be a slide about Jelena Jankovic until she got bounced in the first round by Kaia Kanepi. So, it only seemed a good fit to expound upon the virtues of Kanepi's game and whether she can make some noise in this year's Wimbledon. She definitely fits the mold of "under the radar."

    Kanepi is the 42nd-ranked player in the world and she just axed the seven-seeded Jankovic. Somebody came ready to play. 

    The Estonian has reached the quarterfinals twice in her Wimbledon career and has a relatively smooth road to reach her third. She did overcome her first-round Grand Slam demons in 2014. She lost in Australian and French Opens in the first round. To defeat an opponent of Jankovic's skill in the first round sets Kanepi up for a solid run.

    Her major hurdles will come from Madison Keys and Ana Ivanovic. 

Jerzy Janowicz, Poland

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    Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

    Jerzy Janowicz is playing in just his third Wimbledon and he has come a long way since his debut in 2012. In his first Wimbledon, he reached the third round. Last year, he reached the semifinal where he lost to eventual champion Andy Murray. 

    “It's of course nice to come back. I have still in my mind what happened last year. But everything depends how I'm going to do this year," Janowicz said on Wimbledon's website. 

    Janowicz is big and powerful, but this year he's been battling the injury bug. He had a broken foot, which he blamed his third-round loss in the Australian Open on. 

    So long as Janowicz is healthy, he could be a big threat to advance deep in the tourney. Should he reach Week 2, he'll likely have to play Roger Federer. Oof.

Venus Williams, United States

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    By this point it's largely considered that Venus Williams doesn't quite have it anymore. Her deep resume at Wimbledon that includes five titles precedes her, but we're a long way from 2008—the year she won her last Wimbledon.

    That said, she could be one of those players that could do some damage based on her track record and confidence at the All England Club. There's no pressure on her anymore to be the world-beater. That mantle was passed to her sister a long, long time ago. Williams can just go out there and let it rip.

    It's hard not to root for her after watching this short ESPN feature. If she can get crafty and manage these matches instead of overpower her opponents like she could in years past, then maybe she can advance a few rounds. 

    The Grand Slams haven't been good to her this year, so she'll have to summon all of her Wimbledonian skill.

Tomas Berdych, Monaco

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    Tomas Berdych sits in the unfortunate Djoker bracket. He doesn't have an entirely difficult road into the quarterfinals where he would most likely face Djokovic. 

    Should Berdych reach that far, he'll face a Djokovic that is 15-2 against him. But here's the thing: Berdych is 1-1 in his last two matches against Djokovic on grass, specifically at Wimbledon. Djokovic won last year in straight sets in the quarterfinals. In 2010, Berdych defeated Djokovic in the semifinals.

    There's a history there that if you dig deep enough into the past performances, there's reason to believe that Berdych could have a shot at getting past Djokovic and into the semifinals against either a Murray or a Ferrer.

Kirsten Flipkens, Belgium

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    David Vincent/Associated Press

    In Kirsten Flipkens' first four Wimbledons, she never reached farther than the third round, and that was in 2009. Last year was special; she broke through to reach the semifinals.  

    Should Flipkens get through to the third round this year, she'll likely face Angelique Kerber. Flipkens is 0-1 against Kerber, a hard-court loss in 2006. 

    Waiting for Flipkens in the fourth round may be Maria Sharapova, a star who is far from invincible. Flipkens has never defeated Sharapova in their five meetings, but she did take Sharapova to three sets in their most recent match in Miami. It could be a matter of momentum. If Flipkens has it, she may stun tennis fans.