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I like sports....lots of sports...all sports!  Follow my blog as I talk about sports....if you like sports of course

Monday, 27 June 2016

#BetweenTheBaselines: Wimbledon 2016 Preview
The green grass is ready for SW19


I must admit I love the end of June...especially this year.  As North American's prepare to celebrate national birthdays (ie: Canada Day on July 1 and Fourth of July in the US), the sports loving community also has additional reasons to celebrate.  Final preparations and qualifications are underway for #Rio2016.  The #Euro2016 has reached the knockout round.  AND....Wimbledon has started!!

Without a doubt one of the most anticipated grand slam events each year is Wimbledon.  The tradition of the All-England Club, with white dress code and strawberries & cream for everyone, just brings a certain level of excitement and elegance to the tennis world.  Personally, one of my big reasons I love Wimbledon is the absence of sponsor advertising.  Usually you watch a tennis event, or any sporting event nowadays, and surrounding the playing surface is advertising after advertising after advertising.  It gets annoying and distracting.  I like the Wimbledon tradition of banning this on court level.  Also, as mentioned above, players will not only play for a grand slam title but try to keep in top physical condition for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil starting in August.

Before we serve up a preview of the action, let's take note of a few minor details to focus on heading into Wimbledon 2016:

  • Tennis parity?  On the WTA?  Could it be? - For many years the conversation on the women's game has been Serena vs. everyone else.  When at the top of her game nobody can beat her and most grand slams revolved around watching the draw to then guess which player would at least have the best shot at the finalist trophy.  Not the case lately.  The past 3 majors have all been won by "upset" contenders.  Serena has not hoisted a grand slam trophy since her win here 1 year ago.  The parity in women's tennis, or at least the excitement of the unknown, is actually what the sport needs.  Sure we all love watching Serena be dominant from time to time but seeing some up and coming players challenge and beat her on a more regular basis is good for the sport too. #growthesport
  • Djokovic vs. The Field - See above and flip it.  Well in the past there were at least a handful of men who we thought could challenge for a grand slam title, now we have the "Serena" issue on the men's side of the game.  Novak is absolutely destroying his competition and looks almost unbeatable.  He currently holds all 4 majors.  He is half way to the calendar grand slam.  Can anyone really step up and stop him?
  • Stay clean Wimby! - There are so many off-court issues clouding tennis right now.  From drug scandals and suspensions (see Maria Sharapova) to match-fixing and bettering...tennis is experiencing it all in 2016.  In fact, in January, Wimbledon was named as one of the tennis tournaments under investigation for serious match-fixing.  Nobody wants to see this in the sport.  Nobody wants to see "cheating" and "unsportsmanlike" behaviour at any grand slam event.  Let's hope we get two weeks of CLEAN action on...and off...the grass courts!
  • SW19...Huh? - Ok, let's quickly clear this up.  I am often surprised how many people follow sports, and tennis, yet do not know what SW19 means.  Here is the quick explanation folks: Postcode area!  London is located within the SW (South Western and Battersea) postcode area.  Wimbledon is specifically located within the SW19 district.  Hence the SW19 reference to The Championships every year!  Glad we got that cleared up....

Bring on the preview!!

The Favourite

Novak Djokovic (#1) - What is there left to say that I didn't mention above?  Defending champion!  Currently holds all 4 grand slam titles!  #1 ranked player in the world!  He is playing tennis at a level above and beyond any of his competitors so why would anyone doubt him repeating his title win from a year ago and advancing to the US Open looking to win the calendar grand slam?  Heading into The Championships, he is on a 28-match grand slam winning streak.  Yikes!  His draw is very friendly as well as the top seed in his section is #13 David Ferrer, not exactly a threat on grass.  Djokovic should coast to the QF where he could find hard hitting, fast serving, sleeve wearing Canadian Milos Raonic waiting for him.  Milos could be the biggest threat he faces all tournament though.

Serena Williams (#1) - Serena is still chasing the elusive 22nd grand slam title.  After being denied the calendar grand slam (and fourth straight) US Open title last year, Serena has somehow managed to make the past two grand slam finals only to be "upset" in the championship match.  Serena has never lost two grand slam finals in a row.  Wimbledon is one of her favourite events and one where she has been dubbed "Queen of the Court" for her dominating performances.  However, the last few years have been suspect.  Sure she enters as the defending champion but she suffered early round exits in 2014 (3R) and 2013 (4R).  One has to wonder if the pressure of the moment is starting to get to here or if the other players have finally caught up and found a winnable formula to knock her off.  Either way, the pressure is on...this time coming from her competition and not just the media.  She will always be the favourite as long as she is playing and remains relatively healthy though.

Watch Out For

Milos Raonic (#6) - Could this be the breakout event from the towering Canadian?  Being a Canadian myself, I certainly am hopeful!  Milos has the perfect all-around game for success at the All-England Club.  His serve is a rocket.  His return game has improved as has his ability to move around the court.  He is a former SF here (2014) and did reach the SF in Australia this season.  The downside to Milos is Rafa Nadal.  No, no...I know Rafa withdrew from the event awhile ago.  I mean Rafa's absence actually boosted Milos seed to #6 and now he finds himself in the same quadrant as Djokovic.  Had Rafa been playing, perhaps Milos would be on the other side of the draw completely and probably would be one of the top favourites to make the final.  A QF appearance should be in the cards, if he can overcome rising star #27 Jack Sock and #11 David Goffin of course.  This could be the year though...#FearTheSleeve


Petra Kvitova (#10) - If there was a female player in the draw I would be most nervous about playing, especially in the later rounds, it would be Petra Kvitova.  Kvitova is a two-time champion here (2011, 2014) and has the all-around game that translates well to success on grass.  While she may struggle at the other majors, Wimbledon seems to be where she is most comfortable and, more importantly, most confident.  Outside of her shocking 3R ouster last year, she has made the QF or better since 2010.  Petra has always been subjected to comments surrounding her mental space in matches and throughout a tournament, often leaving her more susceptible to early round upsets.  Her draw is not easy, opening with Romanian Sorana Cirstea and possibly playing Ekaterina Makarova and Barb Stycova just to make 4R.  However, if she survives some of the early tests in her section of the draw, she could become a huge threat to go far.  I would imagine Kvitova is one player Serena is hoping to avoid in the SF.  Interesting to note, in her previous championship runs Kvitova was seeded #6 and #8.  This year she is seeded #10.  She seems to love these outside the main contender seed spots.


The Dark Horse

Juan Martin del Potro - Ok I get it might be a bit weird seeing a past grand slam champion (US Open, 2009) listed as a dark horse pick but delPo fits the bill I think.  JMdP is on his way back from a wrist injury and is still trying to move his way back up the rankings.  He is only entered into SW19 due to his protective ranking as his tour ranking is currently 165 in the world.  The big Argentine hasn't played a grand slam match since his 2R loss in Australia back in 2014.  But the last time we saw him at Wimbledon he reached the SF (2013).  Is he a contender for the title?  Probably not.  Is he a threat and a player nobody wants to see in the early rounds?  Without a doubt!  He played in Stuttgart as a warm-up event and made the SF, beating Dimitrov and Simon along the way.  He could see #4 Stan Wawrinka in 2R though here....but what a second round match that would be!  Stan could be prone to an early upset on grass too...and if delPo can pull it off, he may just make the second week of his returning major.

Anna-Lena Friedsam - The 22-year old German is probably a player most fans know little about.  Friedsam is at a career high ranking of 48 and should see that ranking continue to rise throughout the remainder of 2016.  She broke through at the Australian Open this year, reaching the 4R and giving Aggie Radwanska a battle once there.  The draw gods also blessed her.  The closest seeds she could face early on, #23 Ana Ivanovic (2R) and #15 Karolina Pliskova (3R), are prone to early round upsets and are not exactly big grass court threats.  Pliskova could be dangerous, especially after her finals appearance in Nottingham leading into Wimbledon, but Pliskova has found success leading into grand slams before and faltered.  I wouldn't be surprised to see an All-German 4R match between Friedsam and #4 Aussie Open Champ Angie Kerber.  With so many strong German female players on tour right now (ie: Kerber, Petkovic, Siegemund, Lisicki, Barthel, Beck), Friedsam needs a strong showing here to start distancing herself from the German Pack.  She already will miss Rio due to rankings and having two Germans ahead of her.

So we have a quick preview.  A small overview of a few players to keep an eye on, especially if you are playing some fantasy sports action or entered in a #SuicidePool.  Let's get to the #TwineTime predictions:

GENTLEMEN

Fourth Round 

(1) Novak Djokovic def. (13) David Ferrer
(6) Milos Raonic def. (11) David Goffin
(3) Roger Federer def. Grigor Dimitrov
(23) Ivo Karlovic def. (5) Kei Nishikori
(8) Dominic Thiem def. (10) Tomas Berdych
(4) Stan Wawrinka def. (14) Roberto Bautista Agut
(7) Richard Gasquet def. (12) Jo-Wilfred Tsonga
(2) Andy Murray def. (15) Nick Kyrgios

Quarterfinals

(1) Djokovic def. (6) Raonic
(3) Federer def. (23) Karlovic
(8) Thiem def. (4) Wawrinka
(2) Murray def. (7) Gasquet

Semifinals

(3) Federer def. (1) Djokovic
(2) Murray def. (8) Thiem

WIMBLEDON GENTLEMEN'S SINGLES CHAMPION:  (2) Andy Murray def. (3) Roger Federer in 5 sets - I predicted Murray to win this championship last year and he failed to get it done.  I don't think he will come up short this year however.  I think RFed will play the match of his later-in-his-career life in besting Novak in the SF but will just not have enough in the tank to outrun, out shoot and out play a more rested Murray in the final.  The UK is looking for a hero right now (more so after all UK teams are eliminated in the Euro..Wales is gone in the QF I predict) and Andy Murray can be that hero!

MEN'S DOUBLES CHAMPIONS: (4) Jean-Julien Rojer / Horia Tecau def. (3) Jamie Murray / Bruno Soares - I bet against Rojer/Tecau last year on this blog, predicting them to make the final and lose.  I will not make that mistake again this year!


LADIES

Fourth Round

(18) Sloane Stephens def. (1) Serena Williams
(11) Timea Bacsinszky def. (6) Roberta Vinci
(3) Aggie Radwanska def. (19) Dominika Cibulkova
(10) Petra Kvitova def. (7) Belinda Bencic
(9) Madison Keys def. (5) Simona Halep
(4) Angelique Kerber def. Anna-Lena Friedsam
(29) Daria Kasatkina def. (22) Jelena Jankovic
(2) Garbine Muguruza def. Sabine Lisicki

Quarterfinals

(11) Bacsinszky def. (18) Stephens
(10) Kvitova def. (3) Radwanska
(4) Kerber def. (9) Keys
(2) Muguruza def. (29) Kasatkina

Semifinals

(10) Kvitova def. (11) Bacsinszky
(2) Muguruza def. (4) Kerber

WIMBLEDON LADIES' SINGLES CHAMPION: (10) Petra Kvitova def. (2) Garbine Muguruza in 2 sets - Kvitova is a dangerous player who loves the grass courts.  She has the perfect game to win many Wimbledon titles if she can just keep her emotions and head space in a positive place.  Plus, when she enters Wimbledon after mediocre results at the other majors and seems to be the player everyone forgets, she tends to be at her most dangerous.  Muguruza will attempt to win the Summer Slam, going back to back at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, but will come up just short.  Interesting to note, in the prior years where Kvitova was crowned champion, she never had to play Serena, with Serena losing in the early rounds.  If Serena goes down early again, that could mean another advantage for the Czech!

LADIES' DOUBLES CHAMPIONS: (1) Martina Hingis / Sania Mirza def. (4) Ekaterina Makarova / Elena Vesnina - The "Santina" coupling has been unstoppable.  They are the best women's doubles team in the world and defending champions here.  Why bet against them?  I expect a finals rematch from a year ago...with the same close three set result.


Agree with my preview and predictions?  Disagree perhaps?  Either way, share your thoughts with me in the comment section below or on twitter.  Also, follow me on twitter for a daily update on whether I can maneuver my way through the annual #SuicidePool on both the men's and women's draw.

Given the current situations going on in the UK, specifically with regards to #Brexit, a tournament full of history, tradition and national unity like Wimbledon may just be what the people need right now.  Not to mention England being sent home early at the hands of upstart Iceland in the Euro 2016 Knockout Stage.

Enjoy the grass court action everyone....