Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It's Grass, It's Wimbledon!

Change is in the air! Green is in! The red clay is no more to be seen, the colourful clothings also go and the whites come in. We'll also have some royal guests in the box. But more than that, the grinders go and the first strike tennis comes back.

Wimbledon separates itself from the other Grand Slams in history, tradition, the uniqueness of surface and the pull to join the league of greats who have won here. Wimbledon has it all. And from 2009 its centre court also has a retractable roof. However, what makes it the most special is the fact that its the ONLY Grand Slam that is played on grass. 

In 1982, the great Ivan Lendl skipped Wimbledon and went for a holiday, famously quoting, "Grass is for the cows." He must have regretted that. After 1982, he tried several times but he is the best player in the history to have never won on the grass of Wimbledon.

The grass season is very very small. Two weeks at Wimbledon (that too not for all) and two weeks before that. But no Masters 1000 or even ATP 500 - just a few ATP 250 tourneys. So the less it is, the better it is to savour while it lasts. Actually, we all know the grass courts are hard to maintain and to manage them over the year for one tournament does not seem to be a great idea for many investors. 

Having said that, grass is for the shot makers. It is exciting because it produces more upsets than any other surface. Remember, Lukas Rosol vs Rafael Nadal 2012. They are the fastest courts in tennis, with the ball skidding and snatching away the time to grind in the rallies. Serving is strength, the volleys are rewarded, the top spin passing shots are difficult to execute and the ball stays low to enhance powerful drives but even the slices are pretty useful. Basically, it encourages an all court game and versatile players succeed more here.

Still, purists believe the courts of Wimbledon are not what they used to be. They have grown slower and slower in the first decade of 21st century which can be seen from the gradual demise of the serve-volley game. Baseline exchanges have increased and the grinders have a fair chance as well. Still, it's still grass.

In the tune up for the event, the reigning French Open champion Rafa Nadal and world number one Novak Djokovic have decided to keep out of the events and enter directly at Wimby. The other two - Federer and Murray have won at Halle and Queens respectively to set themselves adequately for the Lawns.

Player Dynamics

No surprises here. Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Nadal are the top contenders without doubt. The rest of the field like Tsonga, Del Potro, Berdych can cause upsets but does not have the fire power and sustenance to go all the way.

Let's assess the top four briefly:

Rafael Nadal: Back and back at his best. With virtually no points to defend from here on till next years Aussie Open (having been out for 7 months last year), and having won the French by defeating Djokovic on the way, his confidence buldging like his biceps. He'll be ready to make the title run and the run for the World No. 1 position as well. Rest three are all under pressure. He just needs to adjust better to grass in the earlier rounds to avoid upsets. Also, his seeding (5) may put him against one of the top seeds in the Quarters itself.

Novak Djokovic: He'll be hungry, both for title and to hold on to the top spot. Losing to Nadal at French once again must have been hard to swallow and he'll have to work hard to put it together again. He lost to Federer last year and understands the increased threat with Nadal's return. Consistency has been the concern area for him recently.

Andy Murray: He skipped Roland Garros to be fit and fighting at Wimbledon. He is more than hungry and its in front of his home crowd. He had a tough loss last year but that made him more determined and he got rewarded at Olympics and US Open. Just a chink in the armour here, Nadal wasn't around. He has never defeated Rafa in a Grand Slam. Well, you gotta beat everyone around to gain the title. And dear Ivan Lendl in his box, will want one for himself too - even if its as a coach only.

Roger Federer: Not in his best form, just won his 1st title in Halle after almost an year's drought but he's the defending champion. And he did it defeating Novak and Andy in consecutive high pressure matches. This is his favourite tournament, he has reined here more than others and he'll see Wimbledon as his better chance to add to his Grand Slam glory. Still, he cannot afford off days which are more there these days. Considering recent form, the expectations will be low from him to win. Let's see if he responds otherwise like last year.

....we'll see how they all fare in the next few weeks as the draw opens on Friday 21st and the Tournament begins on Monday 24th June. Grass is greener for all tennis fans in the days to come. Happy watching :)

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