Wimbledon 2014 is shaping up to be one of the most wide open Grand Slams in recent memory. The women's draw is without a defending champion due to Marion Bartoli's retirement last summer, and all of the top men enter with serious questions surrounding their readiness for a deep run at the season's third major. This Wimbledon also marks the first time in two years that the Big Four of the ATP are seeded 1-4 at a Grand Slam. Yes, Murray benefits from a bump in the seedings, but it feels oh so right to see Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, and Murray drawn to meet in the semifinals. How fantastic would it be to see the men's draw play to its seedings and produce Djokovic-Murray and Nadal-Federer semifinals? Sadly, there are no marquee match-ups on the women's side for championship weekend, as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are slated to meet in the quarters for the second straight Slam.
It's difficult to make predictions with any certitude given how little grass court tennis is played these days. Nonetheless, let's take a look at some of the players who should capture most of the headlines over the two weeks at Wimbledon, and some of the reasons why it will be particularly difficult to predict what will happen:
"I'm going to go home and work five times as hard to make sure I never lose again."
- Serena after her second round loss to Garbine Muguruza at the 2014 French Open.
When Serena talks like that, history tells us that we should take notice.
We saw what role the pressure of history may have played on Nadal's psyche after his Australian Open loss in January. Who is to say his struggles on clay weren't due to knowing his body may have let a chance at history slip through his grasp. Serena will once more attempt to tie Martina and Chris on the all-time Slam list. Typically, we'd expect a resounding performance from Serena after a shock exit at a Slam, but will the weight of history add another dimension to her quest? Ultimately, Serena's serve will be the biggest deciding factor for her this fortnight; if she can find her rhythm, then her opponents will fall compliantly by the wayside.
"Personally I feel that I am doing things better....I am able to move myself more free now. I’m not scared about my knee. That’s the most important thing for me."
- Nadal during a pre-Wimbledon press conference.
Rafael Nadal is one of the best grass court players of his generation. He's also coming off two early round exits at Wimbledon the last two seasons. His troublesome knees have been the biggest culprit for his woes, and so it's heartening to hear him speak so confidently about them this year. Still, he is badly in need of matches on the surface heading into this tournament, and has a few tricky opponents lurking in the early rounds. If he's able to make it into the second week and find his footing, he could make some noise. He is a five-time finalist and two-time champion, but we just don't know what to expect from him at the moment.
"That's the moment that marked my career, at Wimbledon. I appreciate that moment so much. It came so unexpectedly, and yet 10 years later, to have five Grand Slams and still be playing and still have the passion to win more -- that brings a lot of joy. I want to get better. And I want even more."
- Sharapova looking back on her career and first Slam title, 10 years ago this Wimbledon.
Has it really been 10 years since Maria Sharapova dominated Serena Williams en route to a maiden Grand Slam title? Fresh off a second French Open title, and 5th Slam overall, Sharapova is undoubtedly one of the favourites. She has the desire, but she'll also need a bit of luck as she navigates the draw - a date with Serena looms in the quarters. Beating Serena on her way to winning the title would be a major feather in her cap, given her futility against the world number 1 over the last decade.
"Right now I don't feel any pain. But I felt like when I'm changing surfaces, especially from clay to grass, in the opening few days of the practice here got a little bit of a strange sensation in the wrist."
- Djokovic on the status of his nagging wrist injury.
Novak Djokovic benefits from Wimbledon's seeding formula and gets the top seed despite being marginally behind Nadal in the official ATP rankings. Despite being consistently the best player in the world over the last 2 1/2 seasons, Djokovic has only two Aussie titles to show from the last 10 majors. During that time, he's also lost in five Slam finals. This spring, he's had to deal with a balky wrist, and enters Wimbledon on the heels of another loss to Nadal at Roland Garros. Even if his wrist co-operates, how much is he suffering mentally after so many close misses in recent times? This Wimbledon is where Boris Becker must earn his salary.
“For me, it is not based on results...You cannot, as a coach, change anything in five or six days. It is silly to suggest otherwise."
- Murray speaking about his new coach, Amelie Mauresmo.
Andy Murray has had a rough go of it since his historic win at Wimbledon last year. A long absence due to injury and a high profile coaching switch have made more headlines than his play on court in the last 12 months. The British media have honed in on Amelie Mauresmo since Murray made the bold announcement of her hiring after the French Open. How much will this prove to be a distraction to Murray's yearly burden at Wimbledon. Having already won the title, he should feel less pressure this time around, but the spotlight remains squarely on him on home soil.
“This year I feel all the options are there: return, serve, serve and volley, my backhand - everything is working to my liking. For that reason, I feel I'm a bit more relaxed mentally because I know it is there.”
- Federer on the state of his game heading into Wimbledon.
When Roger Federer crashed out of Wimbledon last year, the likelihood of another Slam title appeared slim. He believes his dip in play was mostly due to a nagging back injury that he carried through much of the 2013 season. His improved results this year seem to back that up, as the Swiss maestro made the semis in Australia and has already won two tournaments in 2014. His confidence ahead of this Wimbledon is warranted, as this may be his best remaining shot at capturing an 18th Slam title. Let's all focus our energies to make another Federer-Nadal Wimbledon classic happen in the semifinals; this might be the last time we are treated to their rivalry on this stage.
“I wanted to have a competitive match. I wanted to test myself, to play for a long time, see how my body is going to react. I’m pretty pleased with what happened. Obviously the result is the result but that’s a beginning. It’s a starting point. There are a lot of positive things that I can take from today.”
- Azarenka speaking after her first match since the Australian Open.
I doubt anybody expects Victoria Azarenka to hold the Venus Rosewater trophy in two weeks. Even a quarter-final showing should be considered a major victory given Vika has been absent from the WTA tour since the Australian Open. The tour has missed her presence dearly. After winning the Australian Open twice and pushing Serena at the U.S. Open last fall, she put her hand up as the world number one's chief rival. Her injury thwarted her momentum towards the WTA's first true top rivalry since Justine Henin's retirement. Hopefully, she is able to complete this Wimbledon on her own terms and regain her standing by year's end.
"I have always loved grass. To win my first title on grass is just an amazing experience. Hopefully there will be many more to come."
- Madison Keys after winning her first career WTA title two days before the start of Wimbledon.
American tennis has been searching for an heir apparent to Serena's throne for many years. After the riches of the 90s, U.S. tennis has offered little outside of the Williams sisters since Lindsay Davenport's retirement. Sloane Stephens stalled after a semifinal showing in Australia last year, unable to translate solid Slam results into success at smaller events. Now, Madison Keys appears ready to make a name for herself, capturing the AEGON International yesterday for her first WTA title. Keys utilized her trademark big serve to win the Wimbledon lead-up event and instantly catapult herself to dark horse status at the All England Club.
10 More To Keep An Eye On:
The Canadian wonder is the only WTA player to reach the semifinals of the first two majors in 2014.
Has elevated her profile in rapid fashion over the last two months. Looking to build on 3rd round showing in Paris.
Blitzed Nadal in Halle and utilizes every shot imaginable. So much more than his hair.
Three titles on the year and seems to be inching closer to a major breakthrough, a first round loss at the French notwithstanding.
Very solid year and, like Dimitrov, seems destined for something big sooner rather than later. Detractors point to Milos having never made it past the second round at Wimbledon, but does that mean anything given the small sample size?
If she can win in Dubai, then why not another magical run at Wimbledon? Could there be any better story at fortnight's end than another Slam title for Vee?
Her results this year (3 titles from 4 finals) point to a resurgence and status as legitimate contender at Wimbledon. She has to make another deep run at a Slam, right?
Given Nadal's recent woes on grass, Lopez may be Spain's best bet for a deep run at Wimbledon. Thrice he's made the quarters and enters having won the warm-up AEGON International for a second straight year.
Last year's finalist gets the nod to open Centre Court play on Tuesday, a spot traditionally designated for the defending Ladies champion. With Marion Bartoli's retirement, Lisicki will get the spotlight on her best surface. Wimbledon is her favourite tournament, and this is her yearly two weeks to make any noise on the WTA.