Tag Archives: Novak Djokovic

Plenty of early Brexits, but Serena and Djokovic Remain the ones to beat

The Championships

There’s a strong temptation these days to just hand the Wimbledon trophies over to Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic and not bother playing the tournament at all. But with Andy Murray reuniting with Ivan Lendl and Serena not having won a major since this time a year ago, what hope is there for a different name on those trophies in two weeks’ time?

Serena Williams should not have too many issues until next weekend, when she is set for a Centre Court showdown with either Heather Watson, who came so close to defeating her on that very court at the same stage last year or, more probably, with Kiki Mladenovic who pushed her close in Paris last month. If Serena were to come through that potential banana skin, she could race away to her 22nd Grand Slam but I just have a gut feeling that Mladenovic may get the better of her in a big shock.

Still 21 not out

If Serena does fall by the wayside, who are the main candidates for victory? As I so often say, you cannot discount Agnieszka Radwanska from a run at the All England Club and should she benefit from Serena being ousted she would be the most experienced player left in that half of the draw. Of course, Radwanska’s career has been ruined by a niggling lack of bottle when the going gets tough so I wouldn’t make her outright favourite at any stage. Gaby Muguruza is aiming to win back-to-back majors but may find the quick turnaround a little bit too tough emotionally and I wouldn’t be surprised if she too goes out in the first week.

Sabine Lisicki may be unseeded but, as a former finalist here, she can never be ruled out. Her form has been less than desirable for over nine months now but she always brings her best form to South West London. The same applies to Petra Kvitova, the two-time former champ. Can she bring her A game to Wimbledon 2016? Nothing coming in suggests that it is likely and she is going to come up against a dangerous floater in Barbora Strycova as early as the third round so I’d be amazed if she were to complete a hat-trick of titles.

It is Madison Keys who I believe stands the strongest outside bet going into this year’s championships. Her game is improving solidly; she has been to a Major semi-final at last year’s Australian Open and is fresh from a grass court title in Brimingham last two weeks ago. Were she to have to go through Serena Williams in the final, I would make her the underdog and not back against Serena. But should Serena not make it, I expect the Stars and Stripes to still be flying, this time for a new champion in Madison Keys.

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Madison Keys is in fine form

 

In the men’s tournament, there is simply nothing that will scare Novak Djokovic. He must recognise that he is head and shoulders above everybody in the game right now. If he plays to his maximum ability and intensity he will walk away from here just seven match wins away from the Grand Slam, all four majors in the same calendar year. He could face a small test in the Last 16 in the shape of Philipp Kohlschreiber who has caused him trouble in the past but there is nothing to indicate the German could take out the 2016 Djokovic over five sets. After that, Milos Raonic would need to play the match of his life to take out a warmed-up Djokovic and it is just unlikely to happen.

Everything points to a second Wimbledon final between the World number one and Britain’s number one Andy Murray. Murray won their previous final encounter, in straight sets back in 2013 but only the most patriotic Brit or foolhardy gambler would back him to achieve such a convincing victory this time around. Does Murray have a shot? Yes. He has a very favourable draw and I can see him losing no more than two sets on his way to another home Grand Slam final appearance. But he would need to be absolutely on it and hope Djokovic is not at the top of his game for him to take home the title. Having Ivan Lendl back in his camp will be important to him and there was always a sense that these two special characters would end up back together; they’re almost meant to be. But it looks like a third runners-up trophy of the year for the Scot.

On course for the calendar Grand Slam

 

Away from the top two, expect a decent tournament but nothing more from 7-time champ Roger Federer. His season has been too affected by injury for him to string anything more than five matches together at his spiritual home. The Swiss legend should content himself with a quarter-final berth. Of the “next generation”, I’d pick Dominic Thiem to once again go the deepest but a place in the last 16 will probably be the best he can hope for here, which doesn’t quite stand up to his semi-final result in Paris. That said, it would represent real consolidation of an excellent spring for the talented young Austrian. The pack is assembling under Djokovic but there is some way to go before they start snapping at his heels.

My picks:

Women’s champion: Serena Williams

Men’s champion: Novak Djokovic

Break-out star: Madison Keys

Likely to spring a shock: Barbora Strycova, Kiki Mladenovic, Ivo Karlovic and Gilles Simon

Set to disappoint: Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and Stan Wawrinka

Brit watch: Murray to reach final, no other player to reach the second week.

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Djokovic must seize his best opportunity yet – French Open 2016 preview

The arguments that Novak Djokovic is the best tennis player to have ever lived get louder and more numerous with each passing year. His place in history is safe but only by lifting the Roland Garros crown will he feel that he’s achieved all that he is capable of. Last year showed signs that the obsession was crippling him, it all getting too much for him once again in a final. Does 2016 provide him with an ever greater opportunity than last year did?

The World Number 1 made a massive breakthrough in Paris last year when he ousted 9-time champion Rafael Nadal in straight sets, as much a mental breakthrough as anything else. Nadal is no longer impregnable at Roland Garros and this will give everybody a boost. Look what happened when Roger Federer’s invincibility started to ebb away; Sergiy Stakhovsky is what happened. Djokovic must take every match as it comes (something at which he is usually so adept) and there is little doubt that he will appear in the final in a fortnight’s time. Who is he likely to face?

Most neutrals will be cheering Djokovic on

The usual suspects will line up, minus one noticeable absentee. This will be the first Grand Slam in 66 that Roger Federer has failed to take his place in. Let’s just be clear about the enormity of that – this is the first tennis major that the Swiss has not appeared at THIS MILLENNIUM! The 17-time major winner has opted to give this one a miss in order to allow his back to fully recover, seemingly with one eye on giving Wimbledon a sizeable tilt at the end of June. His absence means genuine contenders are few and far between. The obvious two candidates are Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. The latter has been in the finest clay court form of his career recently, competing at a high level with both Nadal and Djokovic each time he has met one. His recent victory over Djokovic in the Rome final will have given him a gigantic psychological lift, ending that horrendous losing streak he had been enduring at the hands of the Serb; Murray looks set for a first French Open final. If he slips up, Nadal is sure to take advantage but it is hard to see the Mallorcan finding a way through both the Scot and Djokovic. The winner will certainly come from those three and the smart money is on Djokovic cementing his place in tennis history by completing the career Grand Slam and taking him clear of Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver to achieve his 12th major title.

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Serena will likely have her feet up with the trophy again on June 4th

 

On the women’s side, it is practically impossible to see beyond reigning champion Serena Williams. Her previous closest competitor Maria Sharapova will not be there to seek out her third French Open title and we currently do not know when, or indeed if, we will ever see her on court again after her failed drugs test. As ever, it will take a monumental effort from somebody to topple the 21-time major winner, but recent defeats in the latter stages of Grand Slams will give hope to the field. In the past, once Serena had played her way into a tournament that tended to be it – but she has lost at the semi and final stage of the last two major tournaments and the likes of Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber and even Svetlana Kuznetsova will fancy their chances if they can hit some kind of form in the French capital. Of course, Victoria Azarenka cannot be ruled out from completing her comeback by returning to the winners’ circle and Gabby Muguruza will look to defend her points from her fine Spring of 2015 by matching or bettering her results this time around. Nevertheless, the smart money will be on the younger Williams sister drawing level with Steffi Graf on 22 major titles, as long as she doesn’t get too tempted by the dog food on offer in Paris’ finest brasseries as she did recently in Rome. As for me, I’m off to the first three days so will check in with my experiences sometime next week. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take me an hour to get a coffee this time!

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Kerber opening doors, Djokovic slamming them shut- Australian Open review

 

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The first major of the tennis season followed a familiar, reassuring course for the duration of the men’s tournament. Novak Djokovic has cemented himself as the man to take tennis to a completely new level and he will now be looking to eclipse more legends with his trophy haul, and possibly even propel himself to the very top of the Roll of Honour. The women’s draw looked a foregone conclusion from the minute Serena Williams eased past Camila Giorgi on Day 1. However, there was a sting in the tail right at the very end. A top class Australian Open, albeit not one of the greatest.

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Our world number one now stands on the precipice of legendary status in my humble opinion. There will not be many who won’t want him to break his Roland Garros duck in June and at this stage, you’d have to be a crazy fan of the other top players to suggest he is incapable of completing the calendar Grand Slam in 2016. If he were dominant last year, quite what are we to make of him this January? He simply steamrolled Roger Federer in the semi-finals, losing only one game in the first two sets. That’s Roger Federer, the great Roger Federer, who is still surely the second best player in the world. You have the feeling that Federer is sticking around in the hope that somebody else takes Nole out of the equation because the Serb has any number Federer wishes to throw at him right now. Djokovic followed up that impressive performance by simply outgunning and outlasting the world number two as he has done so many times in the last few years. Murray tried to be much more aggressive than in the past, a change in tactics he had hinted at leading into the final. To say it didn’t work is an understatement; the Serb never for a second looked like even losing a set never mind the match. He started rapidly again, losing only one game in the first set; this is an interesting development in Djokovic’s game – in the past he was always slow to start in the big matches and his durability would be the important factor in his victories whereas now he isn’t even giving his major rivals a foothold in matches. ‘Catch me if you can’ appears to be the message to his foes at the moment. Having gone level with Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver on 11 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic now stands a serious shot at matching Roger Federer’s record haul of 17; he may have 14 by September.

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The women’s champ will only now be drying off after coming good on a pre-tournament promise to ‘do a Courier’ and jump into the Yarra River if she claimed the title. Angelique Kerber was the cherry on a very satisfying cake of breakout performances in the women’s tournament. I hadn’t even given the German a thought as a potential winner until she reached the semi-final stage, but anyone who hits Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams off the court, ensuring that her oft-criticised bottle held firm in the process, deserves every plaudit coming her way. Having saved match points in her opening round victory over Misaki Doi, she got stronger with each passing round and looks a real force going forward. She is now the world number two and one would hope that she copes well with the added pressure that the ranking and being a Grand Slam champion will bring. For someone who had not been past the quarter-final stage of a major since 2012 (with much of that time spent as a fixture in the Top 10), this was an astronomical leap into the winners’ circle. Kerber looks fitter than ever and her attacking game can be a real threat in the future if her new-found mettle stands the test of time. It was a refreshing change to see somebody stand toe to toe with a fully-fit Serena and slug it out fair and square. There is no doubt that Serena remains the dominant force in the women’s game and she will go onto win more majors but this was a huge shot in the arm for the WTA.

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There were other stand-out break-out performances this past fortnight, along with feel-good tales. Shuai Zhang is the only place to start – the Chinese invited her parents to watch her for the first time ever, feeling that the time had come to retire after losing all of her 14 Grand Slam matches to date. She knocked out former French Open finalist Simona Halep on the way to reaching the quarter-finals; an incredible achievement. Let’s hope she is rethinking that retirement plan. Johanna Konta reinforced her position as British number one and is likely to stay there for a long time if she continues her hard-hitting, big-serving, newly mentally-strong form. Having witnessed Konta crumble many times in the past, she is another who has taken her game to an all-new level by simply getting herself right between the ears, her semi-final berth fine reward for her endeavours at Melbourne Park. How far mental strength can take you in this sport. Milos Raonic is the other stand-out performer for me this fortnight with a second Slam semi-final now under his belt. He will be one to watch as a potential challenger to Djokovic at both Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows this summer.

So, there has been a promising start to the tennis narrative in 2016; there is much to look forward to going forward. The main storyline will centre on Novak Djokovic’s quest to win all four majors in one year but there is hope yet that Serena Williams is not simply an immovable object at Grand Slam level. Let’s hope that tennis makes the headlines for all the right reasons as we progress through the year.

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Djokovic and Williams chase new records – 2016 Australian Open preview

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Rod Laver Arena at its best

 

The Australian Open often prompts claims from tennis journalists and pundits alike that it is the least predictable major of the year, yet a look at the roll of honour in recent years suggests that if Novak Djokovic plays, he wins. In the women’s tournament, just like the other majors with the exception of Roland Garros, should Serena Williams come in fully fit and focussed then she too takes the title. There is evidence to suggest that we see some breakthroughs earlier in the draws, with Sloane Stephens, Eugenie Bouchard and Madison Keys making their maiden semi-final appearances in the last three tournaments. Last year’s tournament was also a stellar one for the home favourites, with Nick Kyrgios reaching the quarter-finals, maintaining home interest well into the second week. Whilst Aussie eyes will be on Lleyton Hewitt as he ends his career on Rod Laver Arena, there is plenty elsewhere to whet the appetite for a fab fortnight in the Melbourne sunshine, even if the most likely outcomes do involve Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic retaining their titles.

It is extremely difficult to look beyond the world number 1 from Serbia as he aims to equal Roy Emerson’s record of six titles, Emerson’s haul being achieved before the professional era. Djokovic’s form is imperious; he lost only six from 88 matches in 2015 and has already won the Doha title this year, demolishing one-time nemesis Rafael Nadal in the final, after which the top seed admitted that he was playing the best tennis of his life. It must not be forgotten that that demolition in Doha was over 2016 Nadal, not 2010 Nadal. The Mallorcan endured his first title-free season in more than a decade in 2015 and although his recent form is more promising any claims that he can compete in the last two rounds in Melbourne are nonsensical; the prospect of the unpredictable Ernests Gulbis in Round 3 may already be cutting into Rafa’s sleep.

Djokovic on course for a sixth Australian Open title

I’m hard-pressed to pick anything but a Stan Wawrinka-Andy Murray semi-final in the bottom half of the draw. Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, plays some of his best tennis when he goes down under and there is nothing too scary on the horizon to block a third consecutive appearance in the final four. The likes of Jack Sock, Milos Raonic and Kevin Anderson could come calling but their styles all suit Wawrinka’s game so he should be fine. If Nadal does make it through the first week, I expect him to pose very few problems to the Swiss number 2, who collected a title in Chennai a couple of weeks ago. As for Andy Murray, he will be hoping that it is fifth time lucky as he aims to improve on his record of four runner-up appearances. There is very little to trouble the new world number 2 as he aims to push on from propelling Great Britain to their first Davis Cup title since before World War 2. A semi-final tussle with Wawrinka would most likely be the match of the fortnight with a toss of the coin seeming to be the fairest way of settling it.

2014 Champion Wawrinka should make his third consecutive semi

Roger Federer is the one member of the current Top 4 who could come a cropper before the semi-finals. He’s playing well, with a final appearance in Brisbane under his 2016 belt but there are potential matches against Grigor Dimitrov, Julien Benneteau who has pushed him all the way in a Slam before, and Nick Kyrgios. Dimitrov in particular needs to push on this year as his career is in serious danger of stalling altogether. I think he has the best shot of stopping the 17-time major winner from reaching the last four, but if Federer does come through his tricky run he will not be able to overcome eventual champion Novak Djokovic. Message to the field: do your best but this is Djokovic’s title – I firmly believe he is as close to unplayable right now as I have ever seen anybody.

Whilst Djokovic is the overwhelming favourite to lift the men’s title, his fellow defending champion Serena Williams is an extremely strong one, but not quite overwhelmingly so for the women’s championship. The world number 1 is chasing her 22nd Grand Slam title, which would equal Steffi Graf’s Open Era haul. Serena is no stranger to shock defeats in Melbourne, having lost to Ekaterina Makarova, Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanovic here in the last four years but it would be a massive surprise to see her lose early as defending champion, even if she did get literally the worst possible first round draw; a match-up against big-hitting Camila Giorgi, the highest-ranked unseeded player in Melbourne. A potential fourth-round match-up with BFF Caroline Wozniacki could be fun; however the Dane hasn’t reached the second week in Melbourne since 2013. From there, Maria Sharapova lies in Serena’s quarter and we have to discount the Russian as her long winless streak against the American simply means that she does not stand a chance.

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Serena is gunning for Slam number 22, but there are others who can outshine her this time

 

Agnieszka Radwanska is one to watch over the next fortnight; her best result came two years ago when she reached the semi-finals but she must be confident of at least matching that record. Whilst she faces a blockbuster encounter with an unseeded yet improving Eugenie Bouchard (finalist in Hobart this week) in the second round, as well as being in the same quarter as a resurgent Sloane Stephens (winner of Auckland) and the emerging Aussie star Daria Gavrilova, the Pole comes into 2016 on the back of a successful week at the End of Season Championships, in which she became the first non-Slam winner to be crowned year-ending champion since Amelie Mauresmo in 2005. Back then, Mauresmo took that momentum into the following season and lifted two majors, starting with the Australian Open title. The ever-popular Pole won the title in Shenzhen earlier this month so comes in carrying form; do not discount her from kicking on and bettering her previous record here, and with a bit of luck lifting the title. A potential semi-final with Serena could be a real classic clash of styles.

Radwanska would be a popular first-time winner

The number of times I have written about how Victoria Azarenka comes into a tournament with as good a chance as any of getting the better of Serena….and here we go again. The former world number one looks like she has finally recovered from her injury time-out, lifting her first trophy since 2013 last week in Brisbane, fair pummelling Top 10 player Angelique Kerber in the final. Vika comes in sharp, confident and with an insistence that she will take it one step at a time. However, with doubts over whether Serena is fully fit (an oft-written phrase) media attention will be fierce on Azarenka’s run. I have a sneaking suspicion that she will reach the final four with very little fuss or effort, largely due to a kind draw despite her lowly seeding of 14; indeed, many higher seeds would gladly swap their draws with Azarenka’s.  The bottom half of the draw is wide open, which plays into the hands of the two-time champion. If form holds, expect her semi-final to not be one for the purists, pitting her against Venus Williams (who would need to see off world number 2 Simona Halep who is aiming to ‘do a Wozniacki’ and change her defensive game into more of an attacking one – this may take some time to reap rewards). The elder Williams sister holds a winning record over Azarenka, but I’d expect the Belarussian to come through in three exhausting sets. Is she capable of defeating Serena Williams in the final? Yes. She came so close last year on three occasions, even holding match points in Madrid. She doesn’t quite have Serena’s number yet, let’s say rather that the last digit is a little bit smudged. Will she have to beat Serena to the title here? If pushed, I’d say no. An Azarenka v Radwanska final looks the most likely, another classic style clash. Whilst Azarenka has more fans in Melbourne than in any other part of the world, most neutrals would love to see Radwanska take the final step that her career has always promised possible.

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Disappointed to be missing out this year!

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London sun shines on two all-time greats – Wimbledon 2015 Review

I wrote 15 days ago about how I had a feeling that Wimbledon was going to be a stellar tournament and I have to say that for me it delivered. At the end of the fortnight, Serena Williams was the holder of her 21st Grand Slam title and Novak Djokovic was holding his eight major aloft. But on the way to these fairly predictable outcomes, we were privileged to see scintillating encounters as well as near-exhibition tennis from some of the all-time greats. Moreover, a former champ returned to the winners’ circle and the tournament played out in virtually-perfect summer weather. Yeah, 2015 was a vintage Wimbledon.

Nine majors and counting for the great Djokovic

Nine majors and counting for the great Djokovic

Novak Djokovic is a machine. He’s now gone onto nine major wins, putting him ahead of Jimmy Connors, Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall, Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi. I don’t think any of those players, especially the Open era champions, get less respect and recognition than Djokovic does. I said in January how when you watch Djokovic in the flesh up against the very best you truly appreciate just how far he has come since his early days in the sport. He was always a very good player, but what he does on a tennis court now is the stuff of legend. I have never seen such a great counter-attacker on a tennis court, hitting so accurately and so deeply on such a consistent basis. But that accurate, deep hitting allows him to set the pace in these big matches; it was Federer doing the scampering around at many stages in that final. Add to this Djokovic’s ridiculously low number of unforced errors in such a big match then you are now looking at a truly flawless tennis great; there is no weakness there.

Across from Djokovic on the champions’ dinner dancefloor was Serena Williams, celebrating her sixth Wimbledon title and 21st major in total. The elder Williams is now 75% of the way to completing the elusive calendar Grand Slam and only a fool will bet against her achieving that in New York in eight weeks’ time. Serena is now only three majors behind Margaret Court and it seems a foregone conclusion that she will now at least equal that mighty haul of 24. She came within a couple of points of being dumped out in the third round by Heather Watson, but that is where Serena’s grit shines through. Yes, she is the most powerful player to ever play the women’s game and her serve is the greatest it will ever see but it is the incredible fight that she can possess that has seen that number rise so high. Wanna play Pontoon? Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams- their total major championships come to 21, the same number as Serena has won on her own.

21 not out

21 not out – the incomparable Serena Williams

As examine the tournament, we see great examples of depth in both draws. Who would have backed Richard Gasquet to calmly see off reigning French Open champion Stan Wawrinka 11-9 in the fifth set? John Isner seemed to shy away from going for his own Wimbledon record when he bowed out on the second day of his five-set marathon with Marin Cilic. Vasek Pospisil leaped out of the Canadian shadow of Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard, who had disappointing and dreadful championships respectively, by reaching his first major quarter-final.  Roger Federer advanced defiantly into a second consecutive final and would surely have lifted an eight Wimbledon title if Kevin Anderson had have taken care of the eventual champion when he led him two sets to love last Monday evening. Federer was imperious against Gilles Simon and Andy Murray leading into that final and will be cursing his luck that he came up against the flawless Djokovic once more.

On the women’s side, there were stand-out runs to the latter stages for CoCo Vandeweghe  and Garbine Muguruza. The former showed no fear as she went toe-to-toe with Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals, pushing the five-time major winner every step of the way. It will be interesting to see if Vandeweghe pushes on from here. Muguruza had an amazing run to her first Slam final, taking out the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, Timea Bacsinszky and Agnieszka Radwanska and then doing herself proud by putting in a decent performance against Williams in that final. Her powerful groundstrokes and wingspan remind me of a young Venus Williams and she would do well to go back to Barcelona and purchase a grass court to ensure her performance here isn’t a one-off. Her results at all the slams now are showing signs of consistency and she seems to be the youngster who is most capable of being a regular feature in the world’s top five.

Muguruza, look at you. The Venezuelan-born Spaniard broke through bigtime

Muguruza, look at you. The Venezuelan-born Spaniard broke through bigtime

When Martina Hingis came back to the tennis world following a drugs ban, there were few that didn’t queue up to offer her their partnership. The chosen ones were Indian duo Sania Mirza and Leander Paes and Hingis is surely close to being the best doubles player in the world right now. She waited 18 years for another Wimbledon title, and much like London buses, two came along at the same time. It’s good to have Hingis back and so much a part of the scene, but it’s to her eternal shame that her career will forever be asterisked with a 2-year drugs ban. Having said that, it’s still good to see that smile back on a doubles court and one wonders how she’d fare if she decided to make a second singles comeback, even at the age of 34.

It wasn’t all great over the past fortnight. Caroline Wozniacki rightly opened up the debate about Wimbledon’s scheduling of the two main show courts. Their late starts (starting 90 minutes after outside courts) mean that there is only time for three matches per day on those two courts, and 99% of the time that means two men’s matches and only one women’s match each day. By also starting at 11.30am, it would give greater exposure to the top of the women’s game. (Come on) Tim Henman has promised that he and the rest of the Wimbledon Committee will look into this and Henman has been a force for good since he started in that role five years ago so expect to see change in the next year or two. Not before time.

Wimbledon's show courts all-too-often neglect the top women

Wimbledon’s show courts all-too-often neglect the top women

All in all, the British summer time sun shone brightly on a magnificent tournament. More and more players in the modern day seem to be acclimatising to playing on grass and the extra week’s rest between Roland Garros and Wimbledon ensured they had enough time to adapt to the different surface, ensuring a Wimbledon that will live long in the memory, especially for two of the greatest champions that have ever graced the sport. Roll on New York City!

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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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