The world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, Wimbledon, gets underway on Monday. In the men’s tournament, all eyes are on the top trio of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. In the women’s tournament, new world number one Ashleigh Barty starts her reign with an immediate challenge: negotiating one of the toughest quarters of a Grand Slam in recent memory. Read on to receive my tips and predictions for the fortnight of action ahead.
Rafael Nadal, fresh off yet another French Open title, has made no secret of his frustration with the seeding criteria for Wimbledon. The Spaniard, ranked second in the world, has been bumped down to third seed for the event, meaning he is scheduled to face long-time rival Roger Federer in the semi-finals. To make matters worse, Nadal has been placed in a particularly competitive section of the draw, with a scheduled second round encounter with the outspoken and unpredictable Nick Kyrgios just one of the challenges awaiting the eighteen time major winner.
Federer, on the other hand, looks to have the most benign draw of the top seeds, with the big-serving John Isner and Frenchman Richard Gasquet, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist, among the few realistic threats to the Swiss maestro in his bracket of the draw. Federer exceeded his own expectations in his return to clay-court tennis earlier this year, and I think the experience (in particular, the match play and the match fitness he gained) will hold him in good stead at the All England Club in the coming fortnight. Should Nadal and Federer square off in the semi-finals as predicted, I’m backing the Swiss second seed to avenge his loss to Nadal at Roland Garros earlier this month.
World number one Novak Djokovic looked out of sorts in his five-set loss to Dominic Thiem in Paris, but perhaps it was simply the burden of trying to win four majors in a row for the second time in his career. With that weight now lifted from his shoulders, I’m expecting the Serb to be in a positive mindset and raring to go when he takes to Centre Court on Monday. Djokovic has a tricky first round clash against German Philipp Kohlschreiber, who upset the top seed at Indian Wells earlier this year. But emerge victorious in that match, and the rest of the quarter doesn’t look as dangerous for Djokovic. There are some dangerous floaters in the top quarter, including Gulbis and Dimitrov, but the world number one should make his way to the semi-finals with relative ease.
Who Djokovic will likely face in the semi-finals, if he makes it that far, is a tough question to answer. The second quarter of the draw features the likes of Anderson and Raonic, both Wimbledon finalists, along with the rising stars Tsitsipas and Zverev. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see David Goffin make a deep run at the tournament, with the Belgian having been in good form of late, including on grass-courts.
Overall, I think Djokovic will be too strong and will likely add another crown to his Wimbledon tally. Federer, should he make the final, would no doubt receive a huge amount of support, but in a tight match I’d give Djokovic a slight edge over his Swiss adversary.
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Finalist: Roger Federer
Outside Chance: Nadal, Goffin, Cilic
After winning the title in Birmingham and becoming world number one, Aussie Ash Barty said she wasn’t going to do too much celebrating, and it’s just as well. The top seed has landed in a quarter of the draw featuring no less than seven major champions (including four who’ve triumphed at Wimbledon) and five former world number ones, including Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber. On one hand, it’s a quarter of death; on the other hand, whoever emerges victorious from this quarter of the draw will be battle-hardened and most likely very hard to stop.
Barty performed magnificently to win the French Open and, in many respects, has a game that is better suited to grass-courts than clay-courts. That said, it remains to be seen how she fares with the added pressure and attention that comes with being world number one and top seed. I’ve no doubt she will handle it well, but I also think it will take some time to adjust to her new role. Kerber and Serena Williams haven’t had great years, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them come through this part of the draw.
The second quarter of the draw looks, to me, like Petra Kvitova’s for the taking, as long as the two-time Wimbledon winner is fully fit and healthy (which is not guaranteed after the French Open withdrawal with an arm injury). Fourth seed Bertens isn’t a natural grass-courter, but local hope Jo Konta and American Sloane Stephens could pose threats to Kvitova.
In the bottom half of the draw, I think the big-serving Czech Karolina Pliskova has a terrific opportunity to make a deep run into the second week of the tournament. Veteran Venus Williams, if she can get past teenage qualifier Cori “Coco” Gauff in round one, could be another dangerous floater, with the five-time winner certainly knowing how to get the job done at the All England Club.
Second seed Naomi Osaka could do just about anything, but my hunch is that she needs a few more years of learning the nuances of grass-court tennis before posing a realistic title threat. That leaves an opening for former world number one Simona Halep, whose footspeed and court craft has served her well in the past in London.
With so many recent first time major winners on the WTA Tour, it feels foolish to try to pick who will collect the Venus Rosewater Dish as the ladies’ champion this year, but I’ll take a punt and go with Petra Kvitova to buck the trend of maiden major winners.
Winner: Petra Kvitova
Finalist: Karolina Pliskova
Outside Chance: Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Barty
Enjoy the fortnight of tennis from the All England Club and keep up to date with my additional thoughts as the action unfolds on Twitter: @satelliteserve.