Tag Archives: Lucie Safarova

Wide-open Wimbledon: my pre-tournament thoughts

There’s been an extra week of the grass court season this year but it still barely feels like we have caught breath since Jelena Ostapenko smashed her way to her first major title and Rafael Nadal bludgeoned his way to a tenth Roland Garros trophy and here we are ready to embark on the next Grand Slam on the green green grass of the home of tennis. It’s really tough to pick a winner in either tournament with much conviction but here’s a quick rundown on the main contenders.

Hat-trick hero?

In the men’s draw, Andy Murray is the defending champion and world number one but comes into the fortnight as the hunted and in relatively poor form, whilst there are also concerns about a sore hip. His first-match defeat to Jordan Thompson at Queen’s should not be something to overplay but his road to a potential third Wimbledon title is rocky to say the least. He would have to get past Stanislas Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to get his hands on the cup but he could come a cropper as early as the 4th Round when he takes on the erratic, but supremely capable Nick Kyrgios. Don’t be surprised if Kyrgios blows hot and destroys Murray’s hopes of a hat-trick.

Can Stan Wawrinka complete the career Slam by adding a Wimbledon title to his haul? There is little doubt that he has the game to beat anybody on the surface on his notorious hot days but the shame is that the little doubt there is seems to lie in Wawrinka’s own head; he never seems completely at ease and confident in his own ability on the green stuff. It will be interesting to see how he reacts if he has to face Nadal for the first time since he was schooled in the Roland Garros final.

Rafael Nadal himself is a strange one here; he has won only five matches at Wimbledon since 2011 yet is a lot of people’s pick for his third title on the lawns of South-West London. It is certainly true that he was in imperious form in Paris and looked as good as ever but his struggles at Wimbledon over the past five years should not be underestimated. An early defeat cannot be ruled out, but it is hard to confidently predict who will be the next Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis or Dustin Brown. In fact, for all the potential to fall to a shock, the Mallorcan may well reach the final here but to lift the title will be beyond him.

Novak Djokovic was very sensible to ask for a wildcard into the Eastbourne Championships this past week. He has given himself a much-needed injection of confidence and just as importantly, match practice on grass. The tournament was not particularly stacked but a run to Saturday’s final against Gael Monfils means Djokovic comes in finely-tuned and takes away the likelihood of a repeat of the early exit he suffered in 2016. If he can safely negotiate a third round test against either Juan-Martin del Potro or Thanas Kokkinakis, there is no reason why the former number one and two-time champion won’t make the semi-finals. However, there it will get more difficult…

Green green grass

 

Roger Federer is striving to make Wimbledon history. Were he to win here in a fortnight’s time, he would go clear of Pete Sampras and William Renshaw to take his eighth SW19 crown, more than any other player in history. Of course, that quest has been the same every year since he lifted number 8 in 2012 and he went close in 2014 and 2015 to doing just that. Nevertheless, this is his best shot. We have not seen the Swiss since the American spring season but if his rest has done him as much good as it did before the Australian Open (and his ninth win in Halle indicates it has), then he has to be considered favourite. His path to further history will not be easy – a potential run to glory goes past Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Djokovic and Nadal but if he brings his Australian Open game to his favourite court, then Wimbledon immortality awaits.

If the men’s tournament is difficult to predict, at least it is the usual suspects who are clouding the picture. The women’s field is ridiculously difficult to fathom. You could make cases for Johanna Konta, CoCo Vandeweghe, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and even Elena Vesnina given current and/or previous Wimbledon form due to the absence of former champions like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and the continued struggles of the world number one Angelique Kerber. So which ladies have the best shot at lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish?

Lucie Safarova is a former semi-finalist and was in great form at Edgbaston recently before she had to pull out of her semi-final with a leg injury. The Czech is in Angelique Kerber’s section but she may not even have to dispose of the world number one if Kerber were to lose early again. Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2012 finalist, could test her but Safarova is hitting freely and accurately and has the power game to reach another semi-final. Her doubles career really feels like it has strengthened her singles game and it is lovely to see her enjoying her tennis at her relatively-veteran age.

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Safarova is enjoying her game

 

If Safarova can be described as a veteran, what does that make Venus Williams? The five-time champion has not won the big one on her Centre Court home since 2008, and has not reached the final since the following year but her run to the semi-finals here last year as well as to the same stage in Melbourne in January means she is one of the biggest to beat here. She could have been the main one to beat until only a few days ago but it remains to be seen how she fares mentally amid rumours that she will be filed with a lawsuit due to her role in a fatal road collision. In purely tennis terms, her biggest obstacles to a further semi-final appearance would be Dominika Cibulkova and the in-form former Wimbledon junior champion Ash Barty.

Petra Kvitova would be a tremendously popular champion in the tennis world. Just seven months ago, her career looked in grave danger after being stabbed in her playing hand by an intruder to her Prague home. Her appearance at Roland Garros was already a remarkable achievement but she quickly followed this up by winning her second tournament back on tour when she lifted the title at Edgbaston one week ago. I was fortunate to be there for quarter-final day and she looked incredibly strong both physically and mentally in overcoming Kristina Mladenovic in straight sets. Her draw is an excellent one with no tough tests on the horizon until a potential semi-final with Venus. Can she win a third Wimbledon title?

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Kvitova would be a popular three-time champ

 

We could well see the first ever all-Czech final at Wimbledon. Karolina Pliskova has really kicked on in the last twelve months, her game is perfectly suited to grass and she comes in fresh from an appearance in the final at Eastbourne. A potential tussle with CoCo Vandeweghe in the quarter-finals has the makings of the match of the tournament but Pliskova’s huge serve will come good in the end and she would have the firepower to get past Safarova or Radwanska in the final four. A battle between her and Kvitova in the final would be a fantastic slog, come down to who holds their nerve and be decided by a few points either way. Kvitova would be the fans’ choice but it is important that Pliskova grabs this opportunity to shine and take her career to the next step.

Predictions:

Federer to beat Nadal to win men’s title.

Karolina Pliskova to beat Kvitova to win women’s title.

Andy Murray to go out before the quarter-finals.

Ash Barty to make quarter-finals.

A crowd to inexplicably laugh when a seagull lands on the court.

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Reasons not to miss Wimbledon 2015

The Championships

The Championships

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion this is going to be one of the better Wimbledons, nay one of the better Grand Slams, in recent years. Rather than simply state that feeling, I decided to dig deeper down into why my heart is saying this. So it’s not just my instinct, here are the reasons the 129th edition of the All-England Lawn Tennis Club Championships is going to be a belter.

Serena’s Calendar Grand Slam quest

There’s no doubt for me that this is the single most thrilling sub-plot to tennis in 2015.  The 20-time Grand Slam champion has won the first two majors of 2015 and thus is half-way to completing the elusive Calendar Grand Slam. Only Margaret Court and Steffi Graf have achieved this feat during the Open Era and should Serena emerge from this tournament holding a sixth Wimbledon title above her head, only a fool would bet against her completing the Calendar Slam in her home major in New York. Once again, the field may have to hope that she has an off-day somewhere along the line because when Serena is on you’d have to think that nobody, with the possible exception of an at-her-very-best Petra Kvitova, could hurt the American.

An ex-champ bows out

I sincerely hope Lleyton Hewitt can find a way to get through his first-round encounter with fellow veteran Jarkko Nieminen. Tennis loves bidding farewell to its champions and the 2002 winner would deserve one last day under the Centre Court sun against the reigning champion Novak Djokovic on Wednesday afternoon. Hewitt’s career will be remembered for his epic four and five-set struggles and his never-say-die attitude rather than any particular shot or technical attribute. He carried the sport for the 18 months at the beginning of the millennium when Sampras’ light had dimmed and whilst Federer’s was only just starting to flicker. Hewitt’s last act of his career will be walking off the Rod Laver Arena in seven months’ time, but for now the Wimbledon crowd that has always so admired him would love to cheer Rocky on to one last grass-court knockout punch.

Rolling from the start

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It’s not often that the first two days are stacked with so many high-quality matches but boy would I love to have a ground pass in South-West London over the next few days. For whatever reason, there are some great match-ups in both first round draws. Wimbledon favourite Daniela Hantuchova takes on last year’s Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova in a Slovakian derby whilst former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone takes on her compatriot Sara Errani, herself a former Roland Garros finalist.  The Eastbourne winner Belinda Bencic comes up against grass-court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova, a former semi-finalist at the All-England Club and there are a whole host of other intriguing clashes over the first two days. On the men’s side, there are tough openers for Gilles Simon, against the unpredictable Nicolas Almagro, and for two-time former champion Rafael Nadal who will be hoping that Thomaz Bellucci doesn’t have one of his ‘on’ days. The undoubted highlight of the first round on the men’s side however is Philipp Kohlschrieber challenging the defending champion and World Number 1 Novak Djokovic. Kohlschrieber is always capable of stringing together three winning sets in a Grand Slam whoever the opponent, but consistency has always been his biggest foe. Djokovic would do well to have a word with Hewitt on how to avoid the ultimate upset when he opens up proceedings on Centre Court tomorrow; the name Ivo Karlovic looms large on Hewitt’s career obituary.

British flag flying high

Not just for June - more than only Murray should make it into July

Not just for June – more than only Murray should make it into July

There is a very good chance that British hopes will not be pinned exclusively on Andy Murray as we head into July. I can’t remember the last time more than one Brit was left in the tournament when the seventh month of the year arrived so this is incredible progress. Granted, this has much to do with the fact the event starts a week later this year, but still……..

Four potential winners on the women’s side

2013 Finalist Sabine Lisicki has as good a shot as any

2013 Finalist Sabine Lisicki has as good a shot as any

Serena is the favourite but there are cases to be made for Sabine Lisicki, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova. Lisicki turns into a different player when she walks through the gates of the All-England Club. Until four weeks ago, Lisicki had won more matches at Wimbledon than at all the other Grand Slams put together – an incredible record. The German, who broke her own WTA record for the most aces in a match earlier this month, is a Top 20 player who transforms into a Top 5 one for two weeks every year. Kvitova is now a two-time Wimbledon champion whose best game can blow most top players off the court. Her demolition of Genie Bouchard (spare a thought for the Canadian – let’s hope she doesn’t lose too many ranking points this week to further crush her confidence) proved exactly that when she simply blasted the Canadian defender straight off the court. Her compatriot Safarova pushed her close in last year’s semi-final and comes into this off the back of her first Grand Slam final and at her highest-ever ranking. Her confidence is at an all-time high and she will have gained heart from that second-set display in Paris.

Three potential winner’s on the men’s side

Novak Djokovic has to be the favourite. He’s the defending champion and with renewed vigour after his Paris disappointment, he will aim to channel his hurt from that crushing defeat to Stan Wawrinka by lifting his third Wimbledon crown. After the first round, his route through to the finals is a relatively straight-forward one, save for a potential third-round clash with former quarter-finalist Bernard Tomic. I expect to see him in the final two weeks today. Who he will face is tougher to call; Andy Murray is back to his best, and has a terrific opportunity to reach his third Wimbledon final – should he do so, he stands his best chance, on this surface and with the home crowd behind him, of getting the better of Djokovic for the first time since his back surgery……..

Last chance saloon for King Roger

The third potential winner is Roger Federer. This is where it gets interesting – Old Father Time is finally calling last orders on the Swiss maestro’s realistic chances of winning this title. This is his last plausible opportunity to lift an eighth Wimbledon title, and 18th major. I think he knows it too. He can still beat all of the top guys on grass at Wimbledon over five sets. He must seek to avoid upsets en route to the semi-finals and hope that crowd support carries him through titanic struggles with Murray and Djokovic. He’s capable. One last time, he’s more than capable.

Wish I was there

Wish I was there

And finally,

It’s tennis on grass at Wimbledon. Biased I may be but it’s just aesthetically pleasing, isn’t it.

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French Open wrap – things I learned from Roland Garros

Third  time unlucky - the career Grand Slam still eludes Djokovic

Third time unlucky – the career Grand Slam still eludes Djokovic

The Golden Oldies show no sign of slowing down

Not the usual suspects that get spoken of all the time, but the veterans that rarely get a mention. Two former Roland Garros champs put on one of the matches of the tournament; Francesca Schiavone’s defeat of Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round had the fans out of their seats on so many occasions. Errors were scarce as each point turned into a mini-classic. Eventually it was the 2010 champion who overcame her 2009 counterpart, just as she had done in the 2011 Australian Open in their 4hour 45 minutes record-breaking encounter. It’s worth noting that this was Schiavone’s 59th consecutive Grand Slam, an absolutely incredible achievement which is great testament to the way the Italian, who turns 35 in a fortnight, has looked after her body over the years. In addition, the titles were won by champions who are both in their fourth decade. On top of all of this, you have the likes of Ana Ivanovic, Lucie Safarova and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who are playing as well as, if not better, than at any other time in their careers.

Schiavone and Kuznetsova always produce instant classics

Schiavone and Kuznetsova always produce instant classics

There is no Big 3 or Big 4

The golden age of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all at their peaks is history. Will Federer win another major? Possibly, though you would say that his best chance will come within the next five weeks. Will Nadal will another French Open? Probably. Will Novak Djokovic win more majors? Certainly. But the days of only this triumvirate sharing out the majors are gone for good. Djokovic is deservedly the best in the world right now, his consistency is second to none and if there’s any justice he will win that elusive French Open title – more on that to follow. Andy Murray believes he is back to playing his best tennis and ready to win more majors. His improved clay court performance points to brighter things beyond the 2015 Parisian horizon; he is well-placed to mount serious challenges for that title in the next couple of years and will be one of the two favourites going into the London summer later this month. As much as Djokovic is the most consistent and consistently best player in the world right now, Stanislas Wawrinka’s best tennis is better than anybody else’s best tennis. The way his backhand stood up to scrutiny and pressure during the final on Sunday was immense. His big shot won him a second Grand Slam, and you cannot rule out further titles for the Swiss. Much like Petra Kvitova on the women’s side, when Stan is hot nobody can touch him.

The future’s looking bright too

I believe that tennis is in rude health at this moment in time. The changing of the guard is not so much a dramatic process in the men’s game, rather an evolutionary one. And whilst Serena Williams remains the dominant force on the women’s side, there is plenty of healthy competition underneath her.  As well as the aforementioned ‘veterans’, of which runner-up Lucie Safarova deserves special mention for her magnificent run this past fortnight and her refusal to go away in the final, the new guard are all jockeying for position. You would have got big money if you had predicted that Sloane Stephens, Andrea Mitu, Elina Svitlolina and Alison van Uytvanck would all reach the Last 16 in Paris, but that they did. Stephens had eventual champion Serena on the ropes at 6-1 5-5 before slipping to a three-set defeat and Svitolina hinted at great sporadic things in her future by reaching the quarter-finals. Van Uytvanck is the wild card here; her flat-hitting may see her become a part of the establishment for years to come if she can hit so hard and consistently over the coming years. Of course it’s always a big if when a new name comes through but she definitely has the power to play a big part. On the men’s side, the likes of Jack Sock and Borna Coric are starting to win matches at Grand Slam level, which will hopefully be the next step in their transition into big deals. Sock in particular has done ever so well to overcome years of niggling injuries and it was great to see his name still in the draw as the event entered its second week. With Milos Raonic missing through injury but starting to regularly reach quarters and Kei Nishikori getting closer on a more-regular basis, the men’s game has enough depth to suggest competitive Slams lie ahead of us. The next few years promises to showcase some classic struggles as the likes of Nadal, Federer and eventually Djokovic go out fighting against the best of the rest.

Belgium's next big thing? Van Uytvanck can be proud of her ten days' work

Belgium’s next big thing? Van Uytvanck can be proud of her ten days’ work

Obsession is dangerous

Novak Djokovic must have thought his French Open time had come when he swatted aside the challenge of nine-time champion Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals and the ovation he received after losing his third final will live with him for a long time. It went on and on and on and the Serb did well to hold off his tears – so after all this time, like so often with tennis, the way you get people to like you more is by losing. Tennis fans love the guys who are chasing their own personal holy grail; Borg with Roland Garros and Goran Ivanisevic and Jana Novotna in their pursuit of a Wimbledon crown are the three that spring straight to mind. Unfortunately for Djokovic, you sense that he himself feels his career will be defined by his Roland Garros pursuit now; win it, complete the career Grand Slam and forever be immortalised but fail to do so and forever be remembered as the guy that chased the dream which was always just out of his grasp. As good as Wawrinka was in the final, you did get an overriding sense that the undisputed best player in the world felt the weight of history that was on his shoulders was just too much. I really hope for his sake that he can channel his excitement and eagerness to make history in the coming years or the career Grand Slam he deserves will pass him by.

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