Cut to a pristine 8mm in length, the Wimbledon Grass plays like no other surface. Which player will master it?
The fortnight is nearly upon us, and those two voracious tennis luminaries, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, will once again be looking to have the locker room all to themselves on the final Sunday of the tournament.
Like a snake that tries to fit an alligator into its stomach, both Federer and Nadal are resolutely driven to lording over tennis' wild kingdom. At Wimbledon, each player has done his fair share of hoarding the feast, with six of the last seven titles going to the gluttonous Federer, and the other being hunted down by the sleek predator known as Rafa.
Will the feasting continue for these two, or will one of the ATP's vultures try to crash the party and fly off with the prize?
Federer, in search of a record-tying seventh Wimbledon title, is fresh off what had to be a disconcerting loss to Lleyton Hewitt in Halle, Germany. The Swiss maestro had reeled off fifteen consecutive victories over the Aussie going into the match.
Federer has made a habit of proving that many good things must come to an end this season . It has been a spring of retribution for several players that Federer used to dominate. He's given up ground to Soderling, Berdych, Gulbis, Baghdatis, and now Hewitt.
It used to be that you could throw away these un-Federer-like results when the Slams began, but after Soderling pounded him into the clay at Paris, it's hard not to wonder if Roger has lost too much of what made him so invincible in the past. There's no question that the aura of invincibility has vanished, but his uncanny ability to rise to the occasion - especially at Wimbledon - might still be enough to get Federer this coveted title.
Nadal, who was bounced from Queens in the quarterfinals by his friend and country mate, Feliciano Lopez, has likely given a sliver of hope to all his future Wimbledon opponents. The loss to Lopez proves that he can be beaten on grass, which is a lot more than they could count on when facing him on clay.
While Nadal was rarely tested on clay this spring, the fact remains that he was fully invested both mentally and physically in restoring his French Open legacy. Now that he's achieved that task, he'll have to brush off the fatigue that undoubtedly exists and draw upon his incredible desire to compete.
Can Rafa ramp it up in time to reassert himself as the force on the grass that he was during his run of three straight final appearances from 2006-2008? And, more importantly perhaps, will the hamstring strain that hampered him in Queen's cause his game to suffer at Wimbledon?
If Federer or Nadal should falter, there will be many title-starved vultures ready to pounce. Soderling comes to mind first, but Roddick, Cilic, Berdych, Tsonga, Hewitt, and many others lie in wait.
Read on, as we break out our crystal balls and do our best to make sense of the draws:
The mighty Fed has actually done quite well with this draw. By the looks of things he'll be able to breeze into the fourth-round, where he could face Feliciano Lopez or Jurgen Melzer if the seeds hold. But something tells me they won't. Carsten Ball and Ricardas Berankis are two qualifiers who've got upsets on their mind.
In the quarters, if the seeds hold, Federer will face either a very dangerous Tomas Berdych or a rounding into form Nikolay Davydenko. Stan the man Wawrinka will also try to make his presence felt in this section of the draw, but in the end, Federer might have too lethal a combination of firepower, grass acumen, and big match experience to be upset.
Novak Djokovic has lost three of his four career matches versus his first-round opponent Olivier Rochus. In other words, Novak might want to avoid slipping all over the court like he did in his sloppy first-round victory over Julien Benneteau at Wimbledon last year. The good news for Djokovic is that he did defeat the 5'6" Rochus on grass in their only meeting on that surface.
IF Novak survives the first round, all signs point to what is sure to be a classic match with Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round. And the winner will have to face the likes of either Roddick, Kohlschreiber, Ljubicic, or Cilic in the quarters.
It'd be nice if the English Football team can get out of Group C of the World Cup, because that would take some of the pressure off the young man from Dunblane, Scotland. When you think about it, there's really no reason that Murray can't make it through to his second consecutive Wimbledon semifinal. He's proved in runs to the finals of the U.S. Open and Australian Open that he gets the Grand Slam dynamic. He can navigate his way through the myriad trials and tribulations that will inevitably occur during the course of the six matches that it takes to get there.
But he's not the only former Grand Slam finalist in his quarter. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will also be gunning for another trip to a Grand Slam semifinal, and if his back doesn't give him too much trouble, his amped-up serve and keen sense for the volley make him a formidable threat to get through as well.
Fernando Verdasco, Nicolas Almagro, and Juan Carlos Ferrero will look to add some Spanish flavor to this quarter of the draw, and Sam Querrey will do his best to represent the American's.
Rafa's draw is loaded with land mines. His first round match with Kei Nishikori could end up being difficult, as Nishikori has enough power to dictate against anyone if his game is clicking. James Blake might meet Rafa in the second round; Hard-serving Phillipp Petzschner might meet him in the third; John Isner or Mikhail Youzhny could meet him in the fourth.
And if Rafa passes each of those tests with aplomb (odds are that he will), he'll be rewarded with another meeting with Kamikaze Swede Robin Soderling.
Rafa must be wondering, what did I do to deserve this?
Semis: Federer over Hewitt, Soderling over Murray
Finals: Soderling over Federer