BY Geoff Nichols
In a summer that’s crying out for sporting intrigue and heartache, Wimbledon is here to fulfil your yearly quota of tension, expectation and Sue Barker. In actuality, the World Cup has served as the ideal appetiser to get sporting pulses racing this year. You have to feel sorry for the Commonwealth Games, which I can confirm is still a thing, having to follow such a mouth-watering summer of sporting drama. However, if football is not your cup of tea and you have spent years thinking that offside meant when the ball goes off the side of the pitch, then your patience will be rewarded on Monday as the tennis elite gather for the most famous tournament in the world. Grab your shorts, dust of your sunnies, lather on the sun cream and sit inside watching people play sport on the TV. What could be better…?
Last year’s champion Andy Murray will kick-off proceedings on Centre Court and will no doubt be all smiles, as usual, having been given the privilege that all returning champions receive of being the first on court. A wacky ne'er do well from the crowd, no doubt fuelled by over-excitement and extremely reasonably priced Pimms, will shout “Go on Tim!” followed by an awkward smattering of laughter as people realise it has never been funny ever. Murray’s victory last year emphatically settled the question over the renaming of Henman Hill, but the main question on the lips of fans perched on Murray Mount this year is whether Andy can mount a similar charge to glory. I may well get carried away at his prospects. If so, I do apologise, because it will happen.
In this Wimbledon preview, we will analyse the Men’s Draw as if it were a battlefield, which goes now way to making tennis more accessible, but oh well. The increased weight given to grass court performances mean the seedings have caused a return of the Big Four, the elite soldiers at SW19. It is oddly comforting to see ‘1. Djokovic, 2. Nadal, 3.Murray, 4. Federer,’ restoring a familiar order to a tennis world that has seen the dominance of these four men waver ever so slightly in recent months. Injuries have caught up with these supermen, but their ailments have been comically average. Both Murray and Federer have dodgy backs, Nadal has jippy knees and Djokovic has dodgy hair. The demise of their stranglehold over men’s tennis was confirmed in January when Stan Wawrinka clinched the unlikeliest of maiden Grand Slam titles, a result that broke a spell of dominance only punctuated Juan other time by Del Potro in 2009.
Young pretenders including Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov are the grenades of the draw. Raw and supremely talented, pull their pins (I don’t even know) and both have the potential to be explosive and could well stun one of the big boys. The majority of the remainder of the 32 seeds are cannon fodder. They will provide small tests in the third and fourth rounds and maybe even threaten to nick a set, but ultimately they are out there to be beaten and beaten soundly. We also have the serving giants like Ivo Karlovic and John Isner. Maybe they can be the catapults. On grass these players are particularly dangerous due to their lethal serve and insect like bodies, which are less helpful to be fair. To conclude, every draw has the mines, or the floaters as fans of toilet humour refer to them. These are lower seeds and even more frequently the unseeded players who could pop up unexpectedly anywhere in the draw and blow the tournament wide open (see Darcis and Stakhovsky in 2013.)
The first quarter is headed up by first seed and last year’s runner up Novak Djokovic. He is the player that one of your friends, one of the more hip ones, supports, but you don’t really know why. He has emerged as a phenomenal player in recent years and his fun-loving personality has provided a welcome relief from the intensity at the top of the game. Those on floater-watch will have noticed a possible Second Round against journeyman Radek Stepanek (owner of the weirdest mouth on the planet), who will not be daunted by the prospect of causing an upset. The draw has been otherwise kind to Djokovic, who is seeded to meet a fading Tsonga in the Fourth Round and Berdych in the Quarters.
This quarter is also populated by 3 Brits who will all be desperately looking to avoid becoming another Alex Bogdanovic, who lost in 8 consecutive years at the First Round of Wimbledon. James Ward is the highest ranked of the three but faces a tricky opener against Mikhail Youzhny, who, so long he remembers to hit the ball and not his face, will enter as the favourite. Young prospect Kyle Edmund faces Haider-Maurer first up and could be rewarded with a Second Round tie with Marin Cilic, who he beat in an exhibition match a few days ago. Last and probably least is Dan Cox, who faces Jeremy Chardy. Excellent.
Watch in horror (or hilarity, depending on how you roll) as Russian Mikhail Youzhny reacts to losing a point by playing tennis against is face. Not recommended.
At a quick first glance Andy Murray has a very kind draw, but if you glanced too swiftly and didn’t actually read the other 31 names, do not fear, it truly is a terrific draw. His first encounter with a seed ought to be Roberto Bautista Agut in the Third Round, followed by either serve machine Kevin Anderson or rage machine Fabio Fognini. The former stands at 6 foot 8 and has more than a passing resemblance to a praying mantis. Both are likely to provide a decent test to Murray, but his cow-like affinity for grass will mean he should progress untroubled. David Ferrer will be Murray’s quarter-final compadre if seedings are to be believed, although recent Wimbledon’s have proven seedings to be very unscrupulous and sometimes downright rude.
Grigor Dimitrov may well have something polite to say about Ferrer’s place in the quarters, however, as he could well crash the party whilst simultaneously growing his burgeoning fan base. He showed all his on and off court qualities in winning Queen’s last week and is undoubtedly a dark horse for the tournament. He will look to capitalise on a recently inconsistent Murray, who has only beaten one Top 20 player since winning Wimbledon last year and that was when he tucked into his annual humiliation of Tsonga. Other names to look out for in include the German Dustin Brown. He humbled Nadal in the First Round of Halle last week and if he hits his stride in London his dreadlocks might not be the only thing on the highlight reel. Dan Evans is the final Brit in the draw, opening up against Alex Kuznetsov.
The top two quarters will hopefully bring together two great friends who share a rivalry going all the way back to when Novak was born a week before Andy. Despite this early win for the Djokovic camp, the competiveness did not stop there. Instead it transitioned to the tennis court, where both have proven themselves to be simply incredible sportsmen. It is a semi-final that the neutral will crave for and those supporting Murray and Djokovic will be in full-voice; fist pumping, heaving breathing and that’s just Judy Murray.
Stay tuned for a similarly off-topic run down of the other two quarters of the draw, or as us tennis fans like to call it, the bottom half.