Wimbledon 2014: Bold Predictions for the 2nd Week

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

Wimbledon 2014: Bold Predictions for the 2nd Week

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Wimbledon 2014 had a remarkable start that sets up a power-packed second week. ATP champions Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all look ready to battle for the title.

    Meanwhile, young players such as Nick Kyrgios and Grigor Dimitrov are showing that the future might be closer than ever. Can either of them crash the semifinals and challenge for the Holy Grail of tennis?

    The WTA also has most of its stars ready to rumble. Serena Williams is gone, but Eugenie Bouchard is on track to meet up with Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Can Simona Halep continue her rise with a major win, or is this Sharapova's tournament to lose?

    The following bold predictions are strong possibilities, not absolute forecasts. Conditions and results will change round by round, so this is simply a glance ahead at a week filled with countless possibilities. This is why we play the matches.

Eugenie Bouchard Will Get Crushed by Maria Sharapova in the Quarterfinals

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    Let's get started with some reality. Eugenie Bouchard is a fine young player with a bright future, but she is not ready to defeat Maria Sharapova.

    For starters, the veteran Sharapova has undoubtedly heard some of the Bouchard-Sharapova comparisons. Bouchard's agent Sam Duvall, per Michael Chammas, told The Sydney Morning Herald that Bouchard can surpass Sharapova's marketing success:

    But if Maria is the bar, Genie has the ability to exceed that bar. She has to perform on the court to do that, and Genie knows that. Maria has won four slams. Her marketability, if she [Bouchard] performs, I have to say is better than anyone on tour. She is the total package. It's unbelievable how focused this girl is.

    For all of the Sharapova hype, she has earned her place in tennis history with a career Grand Slam. She recently picked up her fifth major by burning up the clay-court swing and playing perhaps the best tennis of her life.

    Bouchard is a nice player who can pick up the ball early on grass. She is unafraid of creating shots, and she is confident. But her groundstrokes and tenacity will not be able to match the intensity and competitiveness of Sharapova.

    This will be a quick straight-sets victory for Sharapova, and it will be a lesson for Bouchard: She has a lot of big winning to accomplish before earning any Sharapova comparisons.

Nick Kyrgios Will Gain More Believers After 4th-Round Loss to Rafael Nadal

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    Get Ready for a tantalizing and possibly historic match between No. 1 Rafael Nadal and future star Nick Kyrgios.

    The 19-year-old Kyrgios has been earmarked as one of the future stars in men's tennis, but right now he is looking to enter the conversation. He outlasted No. 13 seed Richard Gasquet with an impressive comeback five-set win, staving off nine match points. Then he topped fellow young gun Jiri Vesely.

    Kyrgios has already flashed excellent footwork and intelligence. Against Vesely, he moved into the baseline, took percentage chances and showed that he has a lot of physical toughness, something we haven't seen in a teenager since, well, Nadal.

    The most difficult thing for Kyrgios will be to overcome the presence of Nadal. Kyrgios will be competing against a champion who has shown endless capacity to overcome pressure and adjust his game. Nadal creates greater energy as important points come to decide matches.

    Look for Kyrgios to hold his own for a set and maybe get tennis fans excited for a Grand Slam champion sooner than we realize. But Nadal will shift his game into a higher gear, probably sometime in the second set and win going away. He's seen these kinds of matches so many times and knows how to finish them.

    Kyrgios will not disappoint with his talent and effort. Welcome to the ATP, Nick.

Simona Halep Will Lose Before the Semifinals

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    French Open finalist and World No. 3 Simona Halep has played a lot of tennis in the past couple of months. Other than a pair of losses to Sharapova, Halep has shown that she can grind her way to victory with patient, calculated execution and a lot of heart.

    But grass is not her best surface. The speedy pace should favor potential quarterfinals opponents Ana Ivanovic and 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki. At some point, Halep just won't have the energy and time to counter bigger hitters, and certainly a semifinal showdown against Sharapova is another formidable obstacle.

    It's been a very good run up the WTA ladder, so a setback at Wimbledon would be understandable. Look for Halep to be one of the favorites at the U.S. Open.

Kei Nishikori vs. Milos Raonic Will Be a Great Match

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    Kei Nishikori first needs to finish his third-round match against Simone Bolelli. They are knotted at three games apiece in the fifth set, a match suspended by darkness and scheduled to be completed on Monday.

    If Nishikori gets through, he will face bullet-serving Milos Raonic in the fourth round. Raonic has yet to lose his serve through three matches but would face an excellent defender in Nishikori.

    The intrigue with this match is their many contrasts. Raonic is a serveborg, a player who is riding behind big blasts, tiebreaker wins and a semblance of fair groundstrokes, despite his lumbering footwork. Nishikori is slight and speedy but possesses excellent hand-eye coordination, taking the ball early, finding sharp angles and improving his status as a top-flight contender.

    It might be the poor man's version of young 1992 Wimbledon finalists Goran Ivanisevic and Andre Agassi. Raonic could play the role of the machine-serving Ivanisevic, while Nishikori's early racket preparation and countering offense could serve as Agassi for one match. While Raonic and Nishikori are far from being Grand Slam champions, their styles and best tennis could produce an excellent match.

    We just might get a great match here, with the winner likely to face Nadal. But this will be a grueling match, and it could empty either player of the fuel he will need to keep up with the champion Spaniard.

Petra Kvitova Will Get Back to the Wimbledon Final

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    Three years ago, Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon. There were tennis pundits who figured that her raw power and potential could help her compete at the very top of the WTA rankings. Could she win several majors and become a consistent hitter?

    It's been an especially bumpy road in the last two years. The talent is there, but the consistency has been missing. She's had to claw her way back into contender status at No. 6 in the rankings.

    And now the draw has been parted like the Red Sea. Her fourth-round opponent is No. 61 Shuai Peng; The quarterfinals could be Caroline Wozniacki. Her biggest test could be semifinalist Agnieszka Radwanska, a model of consistent and cerebral groundstrokes but who severely lacks the power and big-match toughness needed to finish off majors.

    For success or disappointment, it's all on Kvitova's racket. And then she has a puncher's chance to defeat Sharapova.

Grigor Dimitrov Will Upset Andy Murray

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    Ben Curtis/Associated Press

    We've discussed the possibility of Grigor Dimitrov challenging for the Wimbledon title. While this is a tall order for 2014, he is progressing in a tough era of men's tennis and is now looking to win big matches against the perennial tennis powers.

    And he will likely get his chance against defending champion Andy Murray.

    Dimitrov will first have to hold his nerve on Centre Court with virtually everyone in attendance looking for their British champion to win his second consecutive Wimbledon title.

    Can there be greater pressure than for Dimitrov to prove that he is the better player?

    He will need his A-game. Dimitrov has a big serve, fine net skills and a fearsome forehand—when he feels like unleashing it. There are times he can be complacent with the forehand when he could otherwise dictate play. Plus, he will need to ride more power against Murray who is well-versed with crafty and versatile strokes and a superior backhand.

    But Dimitrov and coach Roger Rasheed realize this. Dimitrov will come out swinging for the win, and he will not get his strings pulled as if he were Murray's marionette. Early momentum will build his confidence and get Murray scrambling in the corners and scowling behind the baseline.

    Ultimately, Dimitrov will get his big win and go on to the semifinals for a crack at Djokovic.

Maria Sharapova Will Steamroll to the Championship

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    Ben Curtis/Associated Press

    With nemesis Serena Williams now ousted from Wimbledon and showing signs of decline, the short-term prognosis might be a few more major championships for Sharapova.

    Wimbledon is hers to lose.

    Now that her troubled serving shoulder (bursitis) is not inhibiting her, Sharapova is showing rejuvenated spirit and power with fresh legs that have benefited from several months of being sidelined from summer to winter 2013.

    The road to Wimbledon contains several dangerous potential opponents, including Angelique Kerber (fourth round), Bouchard (quarterfinals), Halep (semifinals) and Radwanska or Kvitova in the final.

    But Sharapova is currently at another level. She is hitting with precise power and competing with superior resolve. No disrespect to the rest of the WTA, but even on grass, where Sharapova is most vulnerable, she is currently the best champion at the top of her game.

    She will roll the rest of the tournament in straight sets, on her way to the Channel Slam (French Open and Wimbledon in the same year, a month apart).

Novak Djokovic Will Need Magic to Keep His Title Dream Alive

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    It's rarely easy for Djokovic, even with all of his great achievements such as 101 weeks at No. 1 and six Grand Slam titles. History shows that he will likely have to pull out some magical tennis in overcoming a possible upset or scare on his way to a title.

    In the 2011 semifinals against Roger Federer, Djokovic saved two match points, which elicited a bewildered response from the Swiss champion. It's part of Djokovic lore for his dominant 2011 season.

    His next magical act was to outlast Nadal in nearly six hours of tennis at the 2012 Australian Open final.

    His run to the 2013 Australian Open title included a five-set thriller over Stanislas Wawrinka, including a 12-10 score in the final frame.

    Wimbledon 2014 will require him to wave his magic wand again. How? That's the question and the beautiful but unpredictable part of tennis. Nobody can be sure how it will happen, but there's a good chance he will have to survive a scare against an inspired opponent, or he will need something special to knock off one of his champion rivals.

    Maybe he has to fight back versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Marin Cilic on a day when either one is playing the match of his life.

    Perhaps he must survive a marathon match against Murray or Dimitrov.

    Or maybe he must overcome the legendary Federer or Nadal to snag his first major since Australia 2013 and second Wimbledon title.

    Djokovic might win it all, but it won't be easy.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer Will Stage a 5-Set Semifinal Classic

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    Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press

    Just one more time, right? After all, Federer and Nadal have not met on grass in six years, dating back to their 2008 Wimbledon final classic.  Would this not be the ideal match to close their rivalry?

    They are two matches away from this match, and if there was ever one last chance for Federer to upend his Spanish nemesis, the fast grass at Wimbledon is the best he will get at a major. It would be even better for him if the rain comes and the roof closes.

    For Nadal, a fourth meeting on grass would be a chance to split four meetings on this surface. Federer defeated Nadal for the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon titles, and Nadal claimed his title in the 2008 final.

    So, let's give the tennis gods our undivided attention and may the match happen.

    If so, both players have specific advantages. For Federer, his serve, occasional net play and forehand is build for fast surfaces. It allows him to dictate shorter points and gives him the best chance to keep Nadal from grinding out the match.

    For Nadal, his physical strength and younger age—five fewer years—give him an edge. He has also dominated Federer with his formula in attacking the Swiss' backhand. He possesses the mental advantage, especially as a match drags on.

    Who would win this one? We will give each player two sets and enjoy a fifth one to decide it all. May the best player win in one more epic match for the ages.

X-Factors Will Decide the Men's Championship

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    There is no real favorite for Wimbledon, or at least there are four players who are most likely to win, notwithstanding a fair amount of questions for any one of them. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are proven champions at Wimbledon, but it's hard to feel complete confidence that any one of them will roll through to the title.

    That is why a few breaks could determine the championship:

    1. One of the Big Four could run into a hot, inspired opponent who plays the match of his life. One of the stars figures to lose this way.
    2. An injury or illness could derail one of them.
    3. Long, grinding matches in the quarterfinals and semifinals could cause one of them to be unusually fatigued or spent heading into the final.
    4. The weather could bake the courts and help baseliners Nadal and Djokovic.
    5. It could rain, and the roof could come up. Federer and Murray could benefit with lower bounces and increased speed.
    6. A crucial error or mistake could cost a player.

    This year could very well be decided by X-factors.

    Not everyone will be happy about this. We will have tennis fans and at least one hard-luck fanbase lamenting the bad breaks.

    It could lead to a lot of head-shaking and retrospective musings several years from now. But if this does occur, just remember that the champion deserves it all. No excuses.