Thursday, June 19, 2008
Wimbledon begins Monday!
My favorite major, the French Open, is over, and now it's time to move to the grass. With so few grass tournaments played, the competitors do not get much of a warm-up for Wimbledon. Of course, with the courts playing significantly slower than they used to, this is not the liability it could be.
Venus Williams: The defending champion has won Wimbledon four times. Her fortunes go up and down, but on occasion, she likes to stop by the All England Club headquarters and win the tournament. There is every reason to believe she can do it again this year.
Maria Sharapova: Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, and in doing so, launched a huge international career. Since then, she has won two other majors, but has not reached the final in London. An educated guess is that she wants this title really badly, and she is definitely a top contender to win it.
Serena Williams: Williams has won Wimbledon twice, and--if she shows up in the right mode--there is no reason to believe she cannot win it a third time.
Ana Ivanovic: The winner of the 2008 French Open has what it takes to succeed on grass. Ivanovic has a huge serve and she likes short rallies. Her volleying is not the best, but it certainly isn't the worst. She is definitely one of the women who could win.
Jelena Jankovic: Jankovic thought she was going to win the French Open, and was crushed when her countrywoman took her out in the semifinals. The argument is frequently made that if Jankovic is going to win a major, it is going to be in Paris. Yes, she is a very good clay competitor, but she also has a game that works on all surfaces. Jankovic's first serve has improved significantly, though the second serve still needs a lot of work. Nevertheless, her new serve, her athleticism and her court sense can take her a long way, and she is a contender to win this title.
These are the women who--for one reason or the other--deserve to be spoken of with respect, but are not likely to win the tournament:
Amelie Mauresmo: The 2006 champion, one of the great grass players of her generation, is not having a good season. She did not have a good season last year, either, leaving the tour to have surgery, then falling victim to a surgery-related injury. Since then, her confidence has been down, and she has not played enough matches to make her tough. As of this writing, she may have to withdraw because of a new quadriceps tear.
Marion Bartoli: The big news of the 2007 Wimbledon tournament was that Bartoli reached the final. As a tennis fan, I consider her run unforgettable. Channeling Monica Seles, Bartoli stood in front of the baseline and used both hands as laser-like weapons, finessing her way past the likes of Jankovic and then-world number 1 Justine Henin. Her performance was a thing to behold. She was finally stopped by Venus Williams, but it was a hell of a run. It is unlikely that she will have such a run again--and a few days ago--it was unlikely that she would even be at the tournament, so painful was her wrist injury. However, she appears to be better and will probably not have to withdraw from Wimbledon. (Note to Tennis Channel: No, Marion is not in excellent health. And learn how to pronounce "Devonshire." And "Morariu." And everything else.)
Lindsay Davenport: Davenport won Wimbledon in 1999, and has since been a finalist twice. Both times, she was defeated by Venus Williams. She left the tour, then came back a year later, and is once again seeking a second Wimbledon title. Depending on the draw, Davenport could do rather well in London, but it is unlikely that she will emerge the winner.
Svetlana Kuznetsova: I mention Kuznetsova because she is simply one of the best tennis players in the world, but she seems to have a problem winning titles, now more than ever, and grass is not a good surface for her.
Dinara Safina: A few years ago, Safina had a breakthrough, but then again retreated to almost-great status. During this year's clay season, she had another breakthrough, and this one feels like the real deal. Her stunning performances in Berlin and at Roland Garros are more than noteworthy. I do not see Safina making the same splash on grass, but I think she is likely to resume her dominance during the hard court season. Nevertheless, she deserves recognition as a very hot player in 2008.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Agnes Szavay: Her name is pronounced "SHAH-veye," and she has a backhand that must be the envy of many of her peers. Look for Szavay to cause some trouble on the grass.
Agnieszka Radwanska: Radwanska has already caused some trouble, making it to the round of 16 in 2006 (she was taken out by Kim Clijsters). Radwanska is getting used to a big stage, and could go far at Wimbledon this year.
Victoria Azarenka: Unfortunately, Azarenka had to withdraw from Eastbourne because of what now appears to be a chronic knee injury. As of this writing, she is still a Wimbledon entrant, but her fitness is questionable. If she is healthy, though, she could go far.
Michaella Krajicek: Krajicek was out for several months with a really bad wrist injury, and has had a hard time finding her way back. This season, she has won only three matches, all of them recent; she played extremely well in Eastbourne, hitting aces like crazy, but lost today in a very tight match. If she is going to shine, it is going to be at Wimbledon, where the grass is still fast enough (we hope) to bring her game to the forefront. She made it to the quarterfinals last year, then became of one Bartoli's many victims.
Sam Stosur: Stosur, too, has had a hard time of it, missing months of play because of illness. She's back now, though, and is generally a grass competitor worth watching.
Patty Schnyder: Okay, she isn't known for grass play; grass is generally considered her weakest surface. But last year, she made it to the quarterfinals, and lost a heart-breaking and very exciting match against Sharapova. So she's worth watching this year (some of us think she's worth watching any year).
Tamarine Tanasugarn: Tanasugarn has reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon six times in her career. The last time was in 2004. However, she is playing so well at the Ordina Open this week that she could cause some trouble for higher-ranked players. Grass is definitely her surface.
Daniela Hantuchova: As of now, Hantuchova is still entered, but her foot problems--which have taken her out of most of the season--may also keep her out of Wimbledon. Even she plays, she will not be match-tough. Nevertheless, Hantuchova has done well in the past (when not choking), and her elegant game is a highlight of any major.
Tamira Paszek: Paszek is in a terrible slump right now, but she could energize for the big one. The only time she ever entered the tournament--2007--she made it to the round of 16.