by: Tom Cochrane

Will Venus Williams ever seriously contend for another Grand Slam title? That was the question many tennis pundits were asking after the 5-time Wimbledon champion crashed out in the first round of this year’s tournament on Day 1.

Day 1 Recap

While Williams has been struggling with illness and injury for the last 9 months, many observers thought the switch to grass-courts would see her fortunes improve. That wasn’t the case, as the elder Williams sister went down rather meekly, winning just 4 games in total against Russia’s Elena Vesnina.

There was better news for most of the other seeds in the women’s tournament on Day 1, with Maria Sharapova having few problems against Anastasia Rodionova, and fellow seeds Li Na, Agnieszka Radwanska and Sam Stosur also progressing in straight sets. Maria Kirilenko and Sabine Lisicki will join them in the second round, as will veteran Kim Clijsters, who took down eighteenth seed Jelena Jankovic in straight sets.

In the men’s tournament, the biggest casualty on Day 1 was former Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych, who went down to the enigmatic Ernests Gulbis. The unpredictable Latvian showed his immense talent by capturing 3 consecutive tiebreakers against the sixth seed to claim an impressive straight sets victory. Another big upset came at the hands of Alejandro Falla, whom some tennis followers will recall pushed Roger Federer to 5 sets at the All England Club a couple of years ago. This year, Falla kept his nerve in the fifth set to take down the lanky American John Isner.

World number one Novak Djokovic had no such troubles, easily accounting for Juan Carlos Ferrero in straight sets. There were also wins for Djokovic’s Serbian compatriots Viktor Troicki, who laboured to take down Marcel Granollers 8-6 in the deciding set, and Janko Tipsarevic, who scored a fine victory over David Nalbandian.

Among the other men’s seeds, Day 1 saw wins for Richard Gasquet, Juan Monaco, Fernando Verdasco and third seed Roger Federer, who pummelled the Spaniard Albert Ramos in straight sets.

Match of the Day – Day 2

1. Nikolay Davydenko vs. Andy Murray

Andy Murray has been handed a hellish draw as he once again attempts to end Britain’s lengthy drought in the men’s singles championships. The tough matches for Murray start from his very first one, with the Scot up against Russian veteran and former top 5 player Nikolay Davydenko.

Davydenko isn’t at his strongest on grass-courts, and is in the twilight of his career, but the Russian remains a great counterpuncher and mover on all surfaces. Murray should be too strong in this one, but he will need to be focused from the outset. Murray in 3.

2. Rafael Nadal vs. Thomaz Bellucci

Thomaz Bellucci is an unpredictable player, but at his best the former top 30 player is capable of matching it with the best players on the ATP Tour. The Brazilian plays his best tennis on clay-courts, as does Nadal, but unlike Nadal he hasn’t been able to develop his grass-court game to become a force on the surface.

Full of confidence after snapping his Grand Slam hoodoo against Djokovic in the French Open final a fortnight ago, Nadal will be looking to gain a third Wimbledon crown this year, and should account for Bellucci with a minimum of fuss. Nadal in 3.

3. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Lleyton Hewitt

To my mind, this is the pick of the opening round matches at this year’s tournament. Former champion and world number one Lleyton Hewitt loves this tournament, and the Aussie has been handed a wildcard entry into this year’s edition since injury has pushed his ranking beyond the automatic qualification point. The veteran is nearing the end of a fantastic career, but grew up on grass-courts and would love to register at least one more famous victory at Wimbledon.

Tsonga played very well here last year, taking down Federer in the quarter-finals and having his chances against Djokovic in the semi-finals. Tsonga again had his chances against Djokovic in Paris (multiple match points, in fact) but couldn’t get the job done. This is a major danger match for the Frenchman, as Hewitt won’t hand him any free points. I think the Frenchman has the edge as he is far more match-fit than Hewitt, but don’t rule out the plucky Australian. Tsonga in 4.

4. Bernard Tomic vs. David Goffin

Young Australian Bernard Tomic came out of nowhere to make the quarter-finals at the All England Club last year, having started his run in the qualifying tournament. This year Tomic arrives at the tournament as the twentieth seed and will face the burden of living up to expectations that were not there last year. Additionally, Tomic has battled illness in the last 2 weeks, so it remains to be seen how well his body will hold up to best of 5 sets tennis.

Similar to Tomic at Wimbledon last year, Belgian David Goffin was the surprise packet at this year’s French Open. A “lucky loser” from qualifying, who gained a berth in the main draw when Gael Monfils withdrew before the tournament started, Goffin rode his luck through to the fourth round, where he put in a good performance against Roger Federer. Goffin showed against Federer that he is a fine ball-striker, and he will have no pressure on him against Tomic today. I think the Australian has the talent and grass-court prowess to progress, but this could be a tricky match for him. Tomic in 4.

5. Serena Williams vs. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova

After crashing out of the first round in Paris, and then seeing sister Venus lose in the first round of Wimbledon yesterday, Serena Williams will be especially motivated to put in a good performance at the All England Club this year.

Zahlavova Strycova is a former junior star who hasn’t managed to really stamp her authority on the WTA Tour as of yet. I suspect she will feel the full extent of Williams’ rage in this encounter, which could make for a very short match indeed. Williams in 2.

Put your house on: Second seed Victoria Azarenka to be at her ruthless best against Irina Falconi. The American will do well to capture more than a handful of games.

Upset alert: Robin Haase has a chance to oust Juan Martin Del Potro, who isn’t at his best on grass, while David Goffin could well trouble Bernard Tomic, as detailed above.

Likely to go the distance: I’m backing the opening round match between rising star Grigor Dimitrov and big-serving Kevin Anderson to go to a fifth set, with Anderson’s serve eventually getting him over the line.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow.


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