get high on grass
Defending champion Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and and Novak Djokovic head to Wimbledon fearing the title may be beyond them as the season’s third Grand Slam tournament, scheduled to beging jater this week (25 June), shapes up to be the most open in a decade.
Andy Murray, having become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win Wimbledon when he trounced Djokovic in straight sets last year, goes into the tournament with his form also giving cause for concern. The world number five, who recently hired Amelie Mauresmo as coach, hasn’t reached another final since and lost in the third round at Queen’s Club last week to 35-year-old Czech, Radek Stepanek.
‘The difference between this year and last year is that I’ve played a lot of matches on clay in the last couple of weeks this time. Last year I had about a week to 10 days’ preparation on grass before Queen’s,’ said Murray, who made the semi-finals at the French Open, losing to Nadal. Murray has been seeded three for Wimbledon, above seven-time champion Roger Federer. Wimbledon 2014 will not be the final time Federer competes at a major venue, but is it the last time he will realistically have a chance to win his 18th Grand Slam title?
Never mind that Federer is nearing his 33rd birthday (August 8) and that he is trying to become the oldest man to win a major title since Andres Gimeno in 1972. What else would he be playing for? The love of the game? The travel and the grind of training? Maybe, but once a champion, always a believer.
There are champions who understand this. The great Pete Sampras believes Federer will win another Grand Slam title if he plays his best tennis. Sampras told AP: ‘That’s why he’s playing, I don’t think he’s playing for anything else but to win some more majors.
Indeed, Federer plays on as the world No. 4. He has trained hard to overcome a disappointing 2013 season, and he has prepared himself for the next few weeks. He has to feel that Wimbledon, right now, is his very best chance to hold up major trophy No. 18.
Federer has aged gracefully, even if his era of dominance has passed. Not long ago, the landscape of challengers included Andy Roddick, Marat Safin and David Nalbandian. Aging veterans like Lleyton Hewitt and Tommy Haas are the last ghosts who roam the sidelines, testaments to when Federer was king. Now Federer has adapted to challenge a new generation of tennis competitors and a more grueling style of baseline pounding. He plays with added variety, including more slice, and a concerted effort to finish more at net. He does not want to accept anything short of dueling and defeating Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. ut it’s also been a long time since he captured one of tennis’ Grand Slam titles. Since the 2010 Australian Open, Federer has only won at Wimbledon in 2012. That’s one major title in 17 attempts. It will take his best play, and probably some help along the way, if he is to win No. 18.
Each match will be a golden opportunity. Federer’s not going to go down in the early rounds to the likes of Sergiy Stakhovsky or Jeremy Chardy. He will play as if each match is indeed his very last chance to climb the mountain and raise his banner over the conquered ATP. He will be rested, confident, experienced and ready to focus on each point, ready to pay the price mentally and physically. He will win or go down swinging.
Meanwhile, world number one Nadal, fresh from a record ninth French Open title, was the champion in 2008 and 2010 and runner-up in 2006, 2007 and 2010.But his last two visits have been humiliating disasters. The Spaniard suffered his first ever opening round exit at a Grand Slam in 2013 to Belgian journeyman Steve Darcis who was ranked 135 at the time and has not won a main tour match since. Twelve months earlier, the world’s 100th best player, big-hitting Lukas Rosol put him out in the second round, a defeat which precipitated a seven-month absence from the sport for the man from Mallorca.
The 28-year-old hinted at another Wimbledon letdown in the immediate aftermath of his triumph over Djokovic in the French Open final two weeks ago where he claimed his 14th major. ‘I am healthy, that’s the most important thing. I hope my knee will have a positive feeling on grass because I felt my knee was better last year on the other surfaces,’ said Nadal, who has been seeded number two for Wimbledon.
Grass is always a little bit harder for me after injury. I played Wimbledon in 2012 with my knee injury and I never played another match after. Last year I tried but I was not ready enough to compete. Let’s see how are my feelings this year,’ he added.
World number two Djokovic, who won his only Wimbledon title in 2011 and was runner-up to Andy Murray in 2013, has not played a grasscourt warm-up event since 2010. The 27-year-old Serb, the top seed for Wimbledon, won the last of his six majors at the Australian Open in 2013. But his latest thwarted attempt to win a first French Open and become just the eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam represented his seventh defeat in 13 finals at the majors. Even more worryingly, Djokovic has now lost five of his last six Grand Slam finals. Meanwhile, in the women’s section, five-time champion Serena Williams is top seed followed by China’s Li Na, Simona Halep of Romainia in third and Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska taking fourth spot. Maria Sharapova, the champion at Wimbledon 10 years ago as a 17-year-old, is seeded five.