Why Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova will be this year's Wimbledon aces
June 18th 2008
Over the past 10 years, as inevitable changes in the surface have slowed down play, baseliners have been more and more successful at Wimbledon. Although net play is still important in winning matches, a solid baseline tactic is a more dependable skill to have.
Not long ago, previous champions at Wimbledon won more points at the net than from the baseline. Serve-and-volleyers like Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic and Martina Navratilova to name but a few were clear favorites to bring home the trophy. But the serve-and-volley experts faded and were replaced by the all-court players of today’s game. Not only at Wimbledon but also on the slow, rubbery court of the Australian Open, the fast and punishing hard court of the US Open and the dirt at Roland Garros.
Perhaps there is nobody who exhibits this kind of play better than Roger Federer, current and four-time Wimbledon champion. The world No1 had a five-set scare during last year's final with Rafael Nadal, the closest anyone has come to ending his Wimbledon dominance.
On the women’s circuit there is no obvious favorite. The more the game changes the more variety of names we see challenging, from the double-handed play of Marion Bartoli of France - which earned her a runner-up plate in 2007 - to the ball-bashing game of Maria Sharapova making her the surprising 2004 winner. Then there was Justine Henin, who possesses mobility, brilliant shot selections and a skilled net player, but still could not win on grass. Her best performance was way back in 2001, when she was beaten by Venus Williams.
Regarded as the biggest tennis tournament in the world and the only Grand Slam that is still played on grass, Wimbledon produces thrilling matches, unexpected champions and orchestrated dramas that we can re-live years after the first ball was served. With all these uncertainties surrounding the grass at the All England Club, here is my fearless forecast of who will do what at the most coveted event of the year...
David Nalbandian - Quarter-final
: He was a finalist in 2002 but the extra pounds that travel with him may prevent him from reaching his goals. Has a smooth, well-rounded game and a backhand to die for but, until he really believes he can be a contender to Federer's throne, his run will probably end in the last eight.
Richard Gasquet - Fourth round
: Once dubbed the 'Baby Federer' but never lived up to the label. Is he that good after all? Let’s not forget the Davis Cup event in April this year where Gasquet pulled out of his game with Roddick simply because he didn’t think he could win.
Rafael Nadal - Semi-final
: He is just a fish out of water when it comes to Wimbledon. Nadal believes he can win this Slam but his game is built for something else - clay. Always a good outside bet because, as I've already said, the game can be played differently at Wimbledon.
Andy Roddick - Quarter-final
: Being in the Wimbledon finals is not unknown territory for the man who could very well be the second–best grass court player in the game. His powerful serve is built for the surface, not to the mention his under-rated consistency from the baseline.
Roger Federer - Runner-up
: If there was a year that showed Federer's vulnerability, it was 2007. This is also the year when the Swiss master accepted the fact he can never beat Nadal at Roland Garros. But Wimbledon is Federer favorite slam, this is where he started to believe he is the best and where he started growing up. It could also be the place he realises he's not invincible.
Novak Djokovic - Champion:
This year Djokovic thinks and plays as one of the elite players. He already has victories over Federer and Nadal, a great addition to his rocketing confidence. He made the semis in 2007 showing his well-rounded grass play. Now that he has won a Grand Slam in Australia there is no reason to fear either of the top two. Most importantly he has the skill and attitude to oust Federer in his favorite tournament.
Venus Williams - Quarter-final: Winner in 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2007, Venus has what it takes to go all the way. However, the new generation have really closed the gap. In fact, the women's game is so tight at the moment that Venus could easily be ousted by a player outside the top 10.
Svetlana Kuznetsova - Quarter-final: A real danger on grass because of her mobility and athleticism. Kuznetsova can beat any player regardless of rank on any given day. Her best performance at Wimbledon was in reaching the quarter-finals. Until she finds a way to combat her frustrations on court, we won't see the best of this Russian.
Jelena Jankovic - Semi-final: Many wondered how good Martina Hingis would be if she added some real power to her game. Well, Jankovic has shown us the answer. She has death-defying defense on court and her backhand down the line is probably the best in the game. But, just like Hingis, Jankovic has a weak serve and her play is based on consistency rather than attack.
Ana Ivanovic - Semi-final: Her fitness and toughness were questioned earlier in her career, but she has proved to the world the she is Grand Slam material having won Roland Garros this year. Ivanovic prefers to attack - a big requirement on grass - but it is when she is defending that she fails.
Serena Williams - Runner-up: Believes and plays like she is the best - which was true four years ago. Serena's power game was in a class of its own, topped by a pure determination to crush any player that stood between her and the trophy. She still has the best service game on the women's circuit - which is a huge boost on grass - but the reality is that it won't be quite enough on its own.
Maria Sharapova - Champion: Regarded by many as the ball-basher, her screams on court earned her the name 'Shriekapova'. The Russian beat Venus in the final in 2004, with many suggesting that moment would constitute a passing of the baton. But that proved premature as the American won the title again in 2007. One big advantage Sharapova has - and the thing which I believe will give her this year's title - is her quite incredible desire to win.