On Monday, as the sun rises, offering the first view of the well-tended lawns at the All-England Club at Wimbledon, tennis aficionados breathe a deep sigh of relief, having survived the dust of the red clay and the sometimes ugly tenor of long, grueling matches.
Grass is green and invigorating, inviting brisk movement and light, skipping motions across the lawns.
This is the moment the earth spins properly, as we begin to relax and drink in the panorama of spectacle Wimbledon never fails to offer.
Our pre-Wimbledon Power Rankings fail to reflect the full impact of the move to grass because, as we lament, the grass season is far too short. It remains a tiny slice out of a season played primarily on artificial, often debilitating hard courts and the soft, forgiving, but deadening spirit of the clay.
Those players at the top linger there primarily due to their success on the red clay. Most hope to repair their strokes and adjust their footwork in time to excel on the grass of Wimbledon, the grandest of the slams.
The Top 10
1. Rafael Nadal (Seeded No. 2 at Wimbledon)
Last Four Tournaments: Queen’s Club [Quarterfinalist]; Roland Garros [Winner]; Madrid [Winner]; Rome [Winner]; Power Ranking Points: 981
Rafael Nadal set the tennis world back on its heels.
After reacting to the blows Nadal inflicted on the entire field during the clay-court season as he pounded his opponents into submission, the Majorcan seized the No. 1 ranking back almost a full year after he lost it in 2009. But the grass did not bow down before the new King of Tennis, seeing Nadal bounced out of Queen's in the quarterfinals by countryman Feliciano Lopez.
Nadal enters Wimbledon as the No. 2 seed, despite being crowned the No. 1 ranked player, holding onto that ranking by a mere 220 points. The Wimbledon winner in 2008, the Majorcan found himself unable to defend his championship last year as tendonitis rendered him unable to complete.
The task to reclaim the trophy looms ahead like one of the 12 labors of Hercules. Nadal’s draw does not allow for a great deal of optimism. Immediately he must face Kei Nishikori of Japan, who has untold promise, according to many who have watched him play. Then, if Nadal gets past Nishikori, he might face James Blake. Potentially, Nadal must get by Ernests Gulbis and John Isner with Robin Soderling scheduled to meet him in the quarterfinals.
Regardless, Nadal has nothing to lose because he has no points to defend. His ability to hold onto his ranking is guaranteed, so all the pressure should be off as he heads into what must be a virtual war on the grass. Should Nadal win Wimbledon again, then his reign at the top will continue as long as his knees hold out.
2. Robin Soderling (Seeded No. 6 at Wimbledon)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Finalist]; Nice [R32]; Madrid [R64]; Rome [R16]. Power Ranking Points: 413
Dispatching Roger Federer during abysmal playing conditions at Stade Roland Garros, Soderling constructed a masterful quarterfinal match. The Swede then progressed to the finals of the French Open for the second year in a row, this time facing another No. 2 ranked player, Rafael Nadal. But just like 2009, Soderling fell one match short of winning his first major.
Now as he heads onto grass where his big, booming serve can do some real damage, Soderling, who has been fighting a knee injury all season, readies himself to advance deep into the Wimbledon draw, perhaps to meet Nadal in the quarterfinals and redeem his loss at the French.
The Swede loves to upset a top seed or two on his way to a major final. He can no longer be thought of as just a streak player. The Swede, now brimming with confidence, has all the tools to win this tournament.
3. Roger Federer (Seeded No. 1 at Wimbledon)
Last Four Tournaments: Gerry Weber Open [Finalist]; Roland Garros [Quarterfinalist]; Madrid [Finalist]; Estoril [Semifinalist]. Power Ranking Points: 308
Wimbledon 2010 belongs to Roger Federer in most polls and according to most expert commentators, as the endless pre-tournament chatter fills the airwaves and the blankets the Web.
Roger Federer has appeared in every final at Wimbledon since 2003. This will mark his eighth consecutive final appearance should the Swiss maestro get that far and may offer him his seventh Wimbledon Championship, equalling the mark of American Pete Sampras and the United Kingdom’s William Renshaw.
Even the most optimistic of fans recognize that Federer’s hold on the game is beginning to wane. Not that Federer cannot and does not play brilliantly at times, but often he fades, unable to sustain the day after day form required to win championships. One no longer takes it for granted that Federer will stand in the winner’s circle at the end as they did a few years ago.
Still, this is Wimbledon and the All-England Club accorded him their No. 1 seed in recognition of his greatness and his contribution to grass-court tennis. A Federer win would be a perfect statement to make at the conclusion of this tournament with a favorable draw and a most impressive seed aiding the Swiss as he enters the fray.
4. Jurgen Melzer (Seeded No. 6 at Wimbledon)
Last Four Tournaments: Gerry Weber Open [R16]; Roland Garros [Semifinalist]; Madrid [Quarterfinalist]; Rome [R64]. Power Ranking Points: 281
At age 29, and perhaps looking back on the best of his career, the Austrian Jurgen Melzer surprised everyone in the tennis world by upsetting the No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic at the 2010 French Open. Although the Austrian pushed Nadal in the semifinals, he could not nudge him far enough to take a set.
Melzer will be hoping that the promise he showed at the French will take him even further at Wimbledon, although he did go out early at Halle to a German wild card Mischa Zverev.
Seeded No. 16, the Austrian finds himself in Federer’s quarter of the draw. Should he advance that far, Melzer would meet Federer in the fourth round, but only if he can get past Feliciano Lopez in round three—a mighty tall order for Melzer.
5. Tomas Berdych (Seeded No. 12 at Wimbledon)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Semifinalist]; Munich [Quarterfinalist]; Rome [R32]; Monte Carlo [R16]. Power Ranking Points: 261
Tomas Berdych gave Robin Soderling a real battle during the French Open semifinals before falling in five sets. This was after the Czech had dismissed Andy Murray in straight sets during the third round.
In Federer’s quarter of the draw, Berdych appears to be the only significant challenge to the Swiss during the earlier stages of the Championship. Berdych has already defeated Federer once this year at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami in the round of 16. After his deep run during the French, Berdych should capitalize on his new-found confidence.
At age 24, it is time for Berdych to step up significantly if he is ever going to take that champion’s step at a major. He has the game, he just needs to convince himself that he deserves to win.
6. Nicolas Almagro (Seeded No. 19 at Wimbledon)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [Quarterfinalist]; Madrid [Semifinalist]; Munich [Quarterfinalist]; Rome [R32]. Power Ranking Points: 206
Coming off a very fruitful clay-court season, Nicolas Almagro must have hopes of honing his skills into a successful grass-court game. Indications are, however, that Almagro may not be able to make the transition, since he has never advanced past the round of 32 at Wimbledon.
The Spaniard finds himself in Murray’s quarter of the draw with a potential match-up with Jo Wilfried Tsonga in the third round. It appears that Almagro has the tools to play on grass, but perhaps not the belief. He should take a page out of Nadal’s book to see how far determination and self-belief can carry a natural clay-courter.
7. David Ferrer (Seeded No. 9 at Wimbledon)
Last Four Tournaments: Roland Garros [R32]; Madrid [Semifinalist]; Rome [Finalist]; Barcelona [Semifinalist]. Power Ranking Points: 185
You can never accuse David Ferrer of dogging it or just going through the motions. This guy, also a Spaniard, never quits trying and always plays his heart out.
Ferrer enjoyed tremendous success this year on clay and revived his sagging tennis fortunes by grinding his way into the late stages of many clay-court tournaments. But Ferrer is another clay-courter who has failed in the past to make the the transition to grass.
For all of his effort, Ferrer simply ran out of gas at the French Open, going out too meekly to Melzer during the round of 32. Ferrer is located in Nadal’s quarter of the draw at Wimbledon, but would first have to defeat Soderling in the fourth round before facing Nadal in the quarterfinals.
It seems highly unlikely that Ferrer will make it that far—not from lack of effort, but from lack of solid footing on the grass, which does not give and does not allow players to slide so easily.
8. Andy Roddick (Seeded No. 5 at Wimbledon)
Last Four Tournaments: Queen’s Club [R16]; Roland Garros [R32]; Miami [Winner]; Indian Wells [Finalist]. Power Ranking Points: 166
Andy Roddick pretty much disappeared during the clay-court season, never really showing up until the big one—the French Open.
Everyone is waiting to see him play again, as he did a year ago at Wimbledon, when he met his old nemesis Federer in the final. They battled for five long sets, with Roddick suffering only one break of serve during the entire match. It was, unfortunately for Roddick, the break of serve that cost him the match.
In a classic final, Roddick proved that he could once again go the distance and play grass-court tennis on an equal footing with the Master. He wants to do it again and this time not blink. That will be his motivation for making his way through his section of the draw which would culminate with a quarterfinal match against his favorite Serb, Novak Djokovic.
9. Sam Querry (Seeded No. 18 at Wimbledon)
Last Four Tournaments: Queen’s Club [Winner]; Roland Garros [R128]; WTC [Finalist]; Madrid [R64]. Power Ranking Points: 166
As the men’s tour leaves the red clay behind, the big Americans must be relieved to find themselves on the firmer surfaces offered by grass and hard courts. Querry has been helped especially by his foray into doubles with his even taller partner, John Isner. Both will be reaping big benefits as the summer progresses.
Querry is located in Murray’s quarter of the draw and would face the Scot in the round of 16, should both make it that far. This could prove to be a real breakout tournament for the American Querry, who surprised the tennis world by winning Queens this year in a war of attrition.
The usual suspects at Queens faded early, bowing out as bad weather and lack of practice on grass took their toll on higher-ranking players. Expect Querry to do well this year at Wimbledon as he brims with new-found confidence.
10. Mikhail Youzhny (Ranked No. 13 at Wimbledon)
Last Four Tournaments: Gerry Weber Open [R32]; Roland Garros [Quarterfinalist]; Madrid [R32]; Munich [Winner]. Power Ranking Points: 163
The unpredictable Mikhail Youzhny has the unlucky seed as No. 13. He finds himself in Nadal’s quarter of the draw, which appears to be the most volatile of the four quarters. Youzhny would conceivably meet John Isner in round three. Wimbledon often has seen the Russian advance as far as the round of 16, and there is a likelihood that he may do it again this year.
Last year, he failed to make it past the first round but he suffered from injuries for a great deal of 2009. This year, Youzhny is in better shape and so far has avoided long layoffs because of injury. He went out early in Halle, but should be ready for the action when Wimbledon gets underway on Monday.
Other Contenders To Watch
Lleyton Hewitt (Seeded No. 15 at Wimbledon)
Power Ranking Points: 163
Lleyton Hewitt did what no other player had accomplished: He defeated Federer on the grass at Halle, where the Swiss had won the Gerry Weber Open every year he competed since 2003. In the process, the aggressive Aussie showed why he won Wimbledon back in 2002 and why he is still a contender to be reckoned with in 2010.
Novak Djokovic (Seeded No. 3 at Wimbledon)
Power Ranking Points: 159
You can never discount the prowess of the world No. 3 Novak Djokovic when it comes to playing tennis on any surface. Although he has never done especially well on grass, he has all the tools to do well on the lawns of Wimbledon.
His draw looks promising, though he would have to face Hewitt in the round of 16 before perhaps seeing Roddick in the quarters. The Serb should make the quarters unless Hewitt has another superlative outing.
Fernando Verdasco (Seeded No. 8 at Wimbledon)
Power Ranking Points: 150
Verdasco has played a great deal of tennis so far in 2010. Most say the man ran out of steam at Roland Garros, losing as he did in the round of 16 to Almagro. Hopefully, rested now, Verdasco can put together a real run at Wimbledon.
In Murray’s quarter of the draw, Verdasco would once again face Almagro—but we suspect this Spaniard has more wheels on the grass than Almagro. If the seeds hold, Verdasco would meet Murray in the quarters.
Andy Murray (Seeded No. 4 at Wimbledon)
Power Ranking Points: 111
Once again, with the weight and expectations of a nation riding on his shoulders, Andy Murray faces another fortnight of battling himself, opponents, and the British press.
Murray’s challenges could come from American Sam Querry in the round of 16 or perhaps Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals. He would need to get by both in order to face the winner of Nadal’s quarter in the semifinals. Perhaps this will be the year a man from the British Isles finally secures a win for the Queen, ending a drought of seemingly unending consternation.
Cheerio, and enjoy the tennis!