Greetings and welcome to the 2015 Wimbledon championships and the beginning of two weeks of coverage of the year’s most prestigious tennis tournament, courtesy of The Satellite Serve.
Coming to you daily during this year’s tournament, The Satellite Serve is back with predictions, opinions and analysis in relation to all of the action from the All England Club. As usual, the first issue showcases my overall tournament predictions as well as taking a look at the day’s feature matches.
Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles
With the break between the end of the French Open and the start of Wimbledon being extended to 3 weeks for the first time this year, it will be fascinating to see which players benefit from the longer transition period. Roger Federer, for one, claims he has never felt better prepared for the year’s third major. For players such as Wawrinka and Djokovic, who were involved in the last day of action in Paris, the extra week has to be an enormous help simply in terms of extra recovery time.
Having suffered heartache in Paris, I think Djokovic was wise to take time out and recuperate physically and mentally. Having not played any official grass-court matches this year, I think the top seed will take a while to produce his best tennis at SW19, but he’s too good a player to come unstuck in the first week of the tournament. That said, tricky contests against Kohlschreiber, Hewitt and Tomic are on the cards before a likely quarter-final contest against Nishikori or Cilic.
I can’t see Wawrinka doing particularly well in London. After playing the match of his life to beat Djokovic in Paris, I think the Swiss star will suffer some sort of letdown on the grass, which has always been his weakest surface. That provides an opportunity for the likes of Dimitrov, Gasquet and Raonic to make a deep run in Wawrinka’s quarter of the draw. With his ballistic serve, I favour Raonic to do well at Wimbledon once again this year.
In the bottom half of the draw, Federer and Murray are scheduled to square off in the semi-finals, and I can’t imagine either of them tripping up before that stage, notwithstanding the threats posed by the various talents lurking in the bottom half of the draw, including Tsonga, Nadal and Berdych. Federer is desperate to win one more title at the tournament he loves the most, whilst Murray’s tremendous form in 2015 and the support of the home crowd make him one of the title favourites.
I fancy Raonic’s chances of repeating last year’s run to the semi-finals, but I can’t see him getting the better of Djokovic. A Federer-Murray semi-final, if it happens, should be a close-run affair, but with Murray at the peak of his powers and Federer no longer at his very best, I’ll back the Scot to make it through to another final at the All England Club. But since his win over Djokovic in the 2013 Wimbledon final, Murray has struggled to match Djokovic in the critical moments of their matches, and I can’t see that trend changing if the pair meet in another major final. Djokovic in 4.
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Finalist: Andy Murray
Semi-finalists: Federer, Raonic
Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles
Whilst there are plenty of dark horses in the women’s draw, including the likes of 5-time winner Venus Williams, former finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, French Open finalist Lucie Safarova, big serving German Sabine Lisicki and grass-court expert Tsvetana Pironkova, to my mind there is only a handful of players who are actually capable of winning the tournament.
Top seed Serena Williams is halfway to completing a calendar Grand Slam and accordingly enters the tournament as the red-hot favourite. However, as she showed last year, Williams is not invincible on any surface and this year the American will have the added pressure of keeping alive her bid for the calendar Grand Slam. Williams’ win in Paris was a testament to her fighting abilities, proving once again that whilst many players can challenge Williams, few can actually go all the way and beat her.
Defending champion Petra Kvitova has a game perfectly suited to grass-courts and I expect her to be there on the final Saturday of the tournament. Kvitova’s form this year has been typically erratic, but the Czech did score an important win over Williams in Madrid (her first ever win over the world number one) and always lifts a notch or two when she arrives in London.
Maria Sharapova is the other player who I think has a realistic chance of winning the championship. It seems crazy to think it was more than a decade since the Russian claimed her one and only Wimbledon championship, but in the intervening decade the fourth seed has acquired masses of experience whilst losing none of her trademark competitiveness and determination. But, just as Murray has struggled to figure out Djokovic’s game in recent times, so has Sharapova struggled (for even longer) to find ways to beat Williams. I’ll back Williams to take down Sharapova should the pair meet in the semi-finals, with Kvitova having too much firepower for Simona Halep in the other semi-final.
A Williams-Kvitova final has all the makings of a blockbuster, but I think the American will neutralise Kvitova’s biggest weapon, her serve, with some spirited returns and move one step closer to achieving what would be the crowning glory of her illustrious career, the career Grand Slam.
Winner: Serena Williams
Finalist: Petra Kvitova
Semi-finalists: Sharapova, Halep
Matches of the Day – Day 1
1. Novak Djokovic vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber
The top-seeded Serb kicks off his campaign against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, who was unlucky to miss out on a seeding when David Ferrer withdrew from the tournament after today’s order of play had already been released. Kohlschreiber is a former top 20 player who has plenty of experience and who has been as far as the Wimbledon quarter-finals before.
Djokovic will still be disappointed after losing the final in Paris to Wawrinka, but as a consummate professional the world number 1 should bounce back in style at the All England Club. I expect the German to go for his shots, and for Djokovic to take his time getting settled into the match, given that the Serb has not played any official matches since Roland Garros. Look for the pair to split a tight opening couple of sets before Djokovic lifts a gear and pulls away. Djokovic in 4.
2. Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Joao Sousa
Sousa is an underrated player on the ATP Tour, with the Portuguese player recording some very solid results in the past couple of years, predominantly on clay. As noted above, I expect that Wawrinka will find it hard to back up his terrific performance in Paris, but I do think he will win a few rounds at least in London.
Wawrinka has a game that is well-suited for grass, with a powerful serve and an underrated volleying ability, but it’s never been a particularly happy hunting ground for the fourth seed. However, armed with the confidence that comes with being a winner of multiple Grand Slams, perhaps this will be the year that Wawrinka finally turns it on at SW19. Wawrinka in 4.
3. Jarkko Nieminen vs. Lleyton Hewitt
Former champion Lleyton Hewitt has announced that he will retire after next year’s Australian Open, meaning that this is the Aussie’s last trip as a player to the hallowed All England Club. The former world number one has always been a formidable grass-court player and, with Djokovic almost certain to be waiting in the second round, Hewitt will be desperate to win this match and have one final crack at the world’s best player on Hewitt’s best surface.
Nieminen is a veteran himself and the Finn will be no pushover for Hewitt. The Australian needs to pace himself through this match and not press too hard too early – Hewitt does have a tendency to get himself into trouble when he forces the play too much. That said, if he can remain composed then I think the Australian’s grass-court prowess will get him across the line in this one. Hewitt in 4.
4. Belinda Bencic vs. Tsvetana Pironkova
Young Swiss player Bencic is a star of the future and has a clever all-court game that should serve her well at the All England Club in the years to come. Pironkova is very much a hot and cold player, capable of getting on big winning streaks (such as the streak that took her from the qualifying rounds to the title in Sydney last year). The Bulgarian is something of a grass-court specialist, having made the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2010 and the quarter-finals the following year on the back of her hard, flat groundstrokes and exceptional agility.
This should be a very close contest, but on grass I think Pironkova will feel comfortable and confident, and I will back the Bulgarian to use her greater firepower to claim the win in 3 sets. Pironkova in 3.
5. Grigor Dimitrov vs. Federico Delbonis
Having defeated Andy Murray en route to the semi-finals of Wimbledon last year, the pressure is now on for Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov as he seeks to back up that superb run and defend his points from last year. The Bulgarian’s form has been up and down in 2015, but I do think his game is well-suited to grass, as last year’s efforts in London highlight. His Aussie coach Roger Rasheed is also a big fan of grass-courts and I have no doubt that Rasheed has been fine-tuning Dimitrov’s game for this tournament.
Argentine Delbonis, like so many of his compatriots, is far more assured on clay-courts and actually won a clay-court challenger event on the weekend just gone, which clearly shows his preference for the red dirt. I don’t think he will cause too many problems for Dimitrov today, but it remains to be seen how far Dimitrov can go in this year’s tournament. Dimitrov in 3.
Put your house on: Maria Sharapova. The former champion and fourth seed should be far too strong for local hope Johanna Konta.
Upset alert: Young Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis, like most of his countrymen, is very at home on grass, and I think he could upset twenty-fourth seeded Argentine Leonardo Mayer, who is much more comfortable on clay-courts.
Likely to go the distance: The all-Slovak clash between veteran Daniela Hantuchova and former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova has brutal slugfest written all over it. With Cibulkova still searching for her best form after undergoing heel surgery earlier in the year, I’ll back Hantuchova to come out on top.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.