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Monday, 3 July 2017

#BetweenTheBaselines: Wimbledon Preview
Take me to Church (Road) for SW19 and some #HistoryRepeating?


The grass is green.  The outfits are white.  And the food is red.  Welcome to July and the tradition known as Wimbledon!  The third grand slam of the tennis season hits the historic courts of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club for the 131st edition of The Championships and the 50th in the Open Era.

Defending gentlemen's champion Andy Murray looks to defend his crown in front of the home "nation" supporters while defending women's champion Serena Williams prepares for motherhood and will miss her second consecutive slam.  The fight for the #1 will also be on the line for both the ATP and WTA rankings.  Murray, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic are all in contention to claim the #1 ranking by the end of The Championships.  Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova will aim for the title and #1 ranking on the WTA side of the draw.

Up to this point of the season, the ATP tour has hit a reset button and the hands of time are being reversed.  31 year old Rafael Nadal is fresh off another French Open title following the heals of rival Roger Federer claiming his 18th grand slam at the Australian Open at the tender age of 35.  Djokovic and Murray have now reached the pivotal age of 30 and Wawrinka, another multi-grand slam champion, is 32 years old.  It was only a few years ago we were talking about the "young" generation toppling the "experienced" generation at the top of the rankings.  Yet, here we are in 2017 with 30+ year old players still dominating the tour results and winning the big slams.  The up and comers of Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov and now Dominic Thiem and Alex Zverev have yet to make their move to the grand slam champions table.  Could this be the slam we see a changing of the guard or #HistoryRepeating?

While the ATP slam results see the same names at the end of the week, the WTA is seeing the opposite occur.  Each slam poses a realistic opportunity for a number of players to claim a grand slam championship.  Case in point, the 2017 French Open.  20-year old Latvian Jelena Ostapenko claimed her maiden slam title by dispatching heavily favoured Romanian Simona Halep in the championship final.  Ostapenko was a dark horse entering the event but few predicted her to actually win the title.  Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky and Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova reached the SF round in Paris, ensuring a first-time champion would be crowned on the red clay.  Sure Serena Williams won the Australian Open to kick off the slam season, besting sister Venus in the final, but last season we started seeing this parity on the women's tour with Angelique Kerber claiming two grand slam titles (Australian Open, US Open) and Garbine Muguruza winning her first (French Open).  And now with Serena hitting the sidelines for the remainder of the season, the field is wide open for the trend of maiden slam winners to provide shock, awe and inspiration to the WTA tour.

Let's get to the #TwineTime preview and predictions for both the gentlemen's and ladies draws.  For the preview, a Top 5 list of Favourites, Watch Out For and Dark Horses will be presented.  The Favourites list can include anyone in the draw while the Watch Out For are players seeded below 10 and/or unseeded and Dark Horse picks are players unseeded.  Serve it up....let's see if #TwineTime can hit an ace:

GENTLEMEN

The Favourites

Andy Murray (#1) - The defending champ automatically is tabbed as a favourite, regardless of the less-than-stellar season he has put together this year.  He loves this event and loves playing in front of the supporting Great Britain fans...and they love him.  His draw to the QF is not too daunting either which should help build some confidence.  The hip is a concern though.

Roger Federer (#3) - Can Federer continue to turn back the clock and claim Wimbledon title #8 this year?  He won the tuneup event in Halle (again!) and after winning in Australia earlier this season, why would anyone bet against him?  He will turn 36 in a  month but he still plays like he is 26.  A tough start for RFed against Ukraine's Alex Dolgopolov and possibly German Mischa Zverev in R3 before an anticipated RFed vs Baby Fed R4 match up vs Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov.

Novak Djokovic (#2) - No slams this year.  Struggled during the early part of the season.  Looked like a shell of his player self from a few years ago.  Can he right the ship?  He did win the tune up event last week in Eastbourne, which is a positive sign.  However this was only his second win of the season with the last coming at the season opening event in Qatar in January.  Novak needs a good result here....and never count out a former champ and #1 ranked player.  Novak's big test could come early in R3 vs his Rio 2016 slayer Juan Martin del Potro.

Rafael Nadal (#4) - The French Open champion and past Wimbledon winner will always be a favourite but, in all honesty, he really is more listed here out of respect than actually having a shot at winning this title.  Nadal has not made the second week of Wimbledon since 2011 and is prone to an early upset on the tough grass courts of SW19.  His draw is not favourable either with #30 seed Russian Karen Khachanov posing a tough R3 challenge.



Milos Raonic (#6) - The big serving Canadian had his slam breakout one year ago here when he reached the championship final.  Wimbledon success has also been talked about for Milos with his game tailored perfectly for the green grass.  It has not been a great season for Milos up to the point though so confidence and momentum could be a concern for Canadian fans.  His draw is favourable until a possible R4 clash with up and coming German Alex Zverev.

Watch Out For

Grigor Dimitrov (#13) - Oh Baby Fed....we love you at one slam and you infuriate us at another.  Consistency has been Dimitrov's biggest issue in the past.  He has the game.  He has the talent.  Can he live up to his potential?  You still have to believe he has a deep run at a slam in him....and possibly a shot to claim a title.  But the clock is ticking.  He did reach the SF of the Australian Open this year and has a previous SF performance here (2014).  It's unfortunate he was drawn in the same section as Federer though.

Lucas Pouille (#14) - The young Frenchman reached the QF stage last year and is a rare breed French player who finds better success on grass compared to clay.  Pouille had a tough start to the season dealing with injuries and inconsistent play but seems to have turned the corner at the half-way point of the year.  A SF appearance in Monte-Carlo and a win in Budapest helped get his game back on track.  He also won in Stuttgart leading into the grass court season over another Watch Out For player (more on him below).  A possible R4 showdown with defending champ Murray could be fun to watch.

Feliciano Lopez (#19) - The 35-year old Spaniard defies the Spanish tennis player stereotype.  He hates the red clay of Roland Garros and loves the green grass of Wimbledon.  And what a build-up he has put together.  He was the runner-up in Stuttgart and winner at Queen's Club.  He could draw #15 Gael Monfils in R3 and Djokovic in R4 mind you...although the way he is playing do not underestimate him to reach the QF here.

Mischa Zverev (#27) - The 29-year old German is quickly becoming a house hold name alongside his brother Alex.  Mischa showed he is just as solid of a contender when he defeated #1 Murray at the Australian Open this year.  Alex has shown a more rapid ascension up the rankings but #TwineTime has said for a few years now Mischa could have the longevity and consistency up the rankings over his younger brother.  Tough opener vs erratic Aussie Bernard Tomic and then Federer in R3 means the draw gods did him no favours.

Karen Khachanov (#30) - Beware the Big Russian!  Standing at 6'6 and being the tender age of 21, Khachanov has been on a major tear over the past 12 months.  After back-to-back R2 losses at the 2016 US Open and 2017 Australian Open, Khachanov broke through with a strong R4 appearance in Paris and has been steadily climbing the rankings all year.  He won his first ATP title last October and reached the SF at the tune up event in Halle.  If he can survive tough compatriot Andrey Kuznetsov in R1, he could face a vulnerable Nadal in R3 and an over-achieving Gilles Muller in R4.  A QF appearance perhaps?

The Dark Horses

Kevin Anderson - The big serving 6'8 South African seems to be back from injury and looking like a threat for deep runs in slams once again.  He comes to Wimbledon fresh off a QF appearance at the French Open, looking like the former Top 10 ranking in 2015.  2016 was a tough season but prior to last year he did have back-to-back R4 appearances here.  He opens with a vulnerable seeded player (#31 Fernando Verdasco) and, should he win, he could go far.  #5 seed Stan Wawrinka looms in R3, assuming he even survives his R1 clash.  Don't underestimate a R4 or even QF showing here for Anderson.

Daniil Medvedev - Speaking of Wawrinka's R1 clash, time to get to know 21-year old Russian Daniil Medvedev.  Standing 6'6 and quickly climbing up the rankings, Medvedev has been the dark horse player of 2017.  He has moved from #99 to #65 to now #49 all within the first half of the season.  He is on pace to go from #99 to a slam seed by the US Open.  His grass court season has been stellar reaching the QF at Rosmalen and Aegon and the SF at Eastbourne.  Wawrinka is prone to early losses on the grass and Medvedev has the game to knock him off.  If he does, a great clash vs Anderson in R3 could see the winner progress to the Final 8.

Benoit Paire - Another tall dude who can make some noise at SW19.  The 6'5 Frenchman has had an up and down couple of years.  Injuries in 2014, Comeback Player of the Year in 2015, ranked #18 to start 2016 and now dipped back to #44.  Paire was plagued by the Rio 2016 incident where the French Federation booted him out of the games for "poor behaviour".  He does have R3 appearances here though back in 2012 and 2013 and could pose some problems for players early on.  A possible R3 match up vs. countryman Pouille could be exciting to watch.

Nicolas Mahut - Speaking of dark horse Frenchmen, remember Nicolas Mahut?  Crazy to think the longest match in history between Mahut and John Isner is now 7 years old, when Isner beat then-qualifier Mahut 70-68 in the fifth and deciding set after 11+ hours of play spanning over three days.  Don't undersell Mahut's potential though.  He was ranking #1 in the world in doubles only a year ago after winning the Wimbledon crown with compatriot Pierre-Hugues Herbert.  He also reached the 4R last year in singles and could be one of the most dangerous players ranked outside the Top 80 in the world.  He gets an interesting R1 pairing with Russian Mikhail Youzhny and could see #6 Raonic in R2.  A deep run might be out of the question but expect him to challenge Raonic.

David Ferrer - Out of respect, Ferrer needs to get a mention here.  The 2017 Wimbledon tournament marks the first slam Ferrer is not seeded since the 2005 Australian Open. The former #3 ranked player in the world (2013) and French Open finalist is hitting the tail end of his career.  Wimbledon has never been best slam, with his best performance being the QF in 2012 and 2013.  He opens against #22 Richard Gasquet.  His last R1 slam defeat was back at the 2005 Wimbledon.  If he can upset Gasquet, he could reach R3 and turn back the clock a bit.

Predictions

Fourth Round

#1 Andy Murray def. #14 Lucas Pouille
#24 Sam Querrey def. Daniil Medvedev
#30 Karen Khachanov def. #16 Gilles Muller
#9 Kei Nishikori def. #7 Marin Cilic
#6 Milos Raonic def. #10 Alex Zverev
#3 Roger Federer def. #13 Grigor Dimitrov
#11 Tomas Berdych def. #8 Dominic Thiem
#19 Feliciano Lopez def. #2 Novak Djokovic

Quarterfinals

#1 Murray def. #24 Querrey
#30 Khachanov def. #9 Nishikori
#3 Federer def. #6 Raonic
#19 Lopez def. #11 Berdych

Semifinals

#1 Murray def. #30 Khachanov
#3 Federer def. #19 Lopez

Gentlemen's Championship:  #3 Roger Federer def. #1 Andy Murray in 4 sets - The final we all want to see.  Expect a back and forth match for the opening two sets before Federer pulls away and collects grand slam #19 at SW19.

Gentlemen's Doubles Championship: #3 Jamie Murray / Bruno Soares def. #4 Lukasz Kubot / Marcelo Melo - The top two teams on grass this season battle it out with Murray and Melo having the extra prize of claiming the #1 ranking if they win.  Brother Andy may suffer a championship final loss but Jamie will still bring home a title to the Murray household.

LADIES

The Favourites

Angelique Kerber (#1) - The #1 player in the world.  A finalist last year.  Kerber was the story of the tennis world in 2016, claiming two majors and reaching another final.  This year however has been quite another story. She has struggled to live up to the weight she placed on her shoulders last season and come to Wimbledon fresh off a R1 defeat at the French Open.  Her draw is no walk in the park either with a real threat in #32 Safarova awaiting in R3 potentially.

Simona Halep (#2) - The #2 ranked player in the world had her first slam within grasp in Paris and faultered at the finish line, picking up her second runner-up finish at the French Open.  When she lost the final back in 2014, she rebounded nicely at Wimbledon in reaching the SF.  Given the difficult loss this year, a SF run here would be a treat for her.  Her draw is not a smooth one though with possibly former finalist Bouchard in R3 and the surviving quartet of #15 Vesnina/#18 Sevastova/Azarenka/Bellis in R4.  #Yikes

Karolina Pliskova (#3) - Meaning no disrespect to the top players ranked above her, Pliskova is probably the true top seed favourite to claim the Rosewater Dish in two weeks time.  Ok sure Pliskova has never been beyond R2 here but has had the steady results at the past three slams with a runner-up finish at the 2016 US Open, QF at 2017 Australian Open and SF at 2017 French Open.  Her game is similar to a fellow compatriot favourite below and could be well-suited to continue the trend of first-time slam champion.  On paper, Pliskova probably has the easiest draw to the SF too.

Johanna Konta (#6) - The home nation pick has potential but has to erase the demons of the past to make a deep run here.  Konta has only reached R2 ONCE before....and that was last year.  Going into this year's event her Wimbledon record is a dismal 1-5.  The tune-up events were successful with a final appearance at Nottingham and a SF showing at Eastbourne.  However she did pull out of the SF match with a back injury so that is a concern for a long title run.  Plus she could face Kvitova in R4...assuming she makes it that far of course.

Petra Kvitova (#11) - Speaking of Kvitova, the two-time champ (2011, 2014) will easily be the sentimental favourite at SW19.  Any why not?  Having survived a home invasion attack before Christmas in 2016, she suffered tendon and nerve injuries from a knife attack on her left hand...and she is a lefty remember!  She was expected to miss the first 6-7 months of the season but made an early return to action at the French Open, losing in R2.  She is past the comeback trail though after her tune-up win in Birmingham and looks poised to win title #3.  A potential R4 threat vs. Konta could loom but, honestly, she should be the favourite to reach the SF at least given the draw ahead of her.

Watch Out For

Jelena Ostapenko (#13) - What will the French Open champ do for an encore?  The 20yo was not expected to claim the clay court title yet erased the doubters and shocked the tennis world.  What is more interesting is she is a former Wimbledon Jr. champ.....who won her first slam on clay?!  Her game seems more suited for grass too.  Could she pull the double shocker and win back to back slams?  Her opening match vs Belarus' Aliaksandra Sasnovich will be a good test and, should she survive, a R3 match vs #17 Keys could be the biggest challenge.

Elena Vesnina (#15) - A semi-finalist last year, Vesnina is looking to ride the momentum from one year ago and make another deep run on the historic grass of SW19.  The 2016 Olympic gold medal winner (in doubles) has really turned up her game in the past 12-18 months.  Her best grand slam singles results have come at Wimbledon but she has also found consistency in the past 3 slams reaching R3 each time.  The big test for her will be the R2 battle vs the Azarenka/Bellis winner.  A win there though and a R4 or QF appearance is not out of the question.

Barbara Strycova (#22) - Strycova reached a career high ranking of #16 to start the year and currently sits #20.  She is fresh off a R4 appearance at the Australian Open and is a former Wimbledon QF (2014).  Strycova comes to Wimbledon with a strong tune-up result, reaching the final in Birmingham and looking like a deep threat for slam.  Her draw is favourable until a possible R3 match vs. #10 Venus Williams.  However, Williams could have some off-court distractions and prone to an upset....which Strycova is very capable of pulling off.  We could see a R4 battle between her and fellow Watch Our For candidate....

Anna Konjuh (#27) - Currently at a career best ranking of #28, the 19yo Croatian could be the perfect Watch Out For pick for a deep run into Week #2.  Konjuh made her slam breakout at the 2016 US Open reaching the QF after knocking off then-#4 seed Radwanska in R4.  She is a two-time jr slam singles champion (2013 Australian Open, 2013 US Open) as well.  Having been at this year's Australian Open and watching Konjuh lose a tough R2 match vs Gavrilova, there is a lot to like about her game.  Her draw looks good with #8 Cibulkova in R3 but a winnable match up for her.  Should she pull the upset, a battle vs Williams or the above mentioned Strycova awaits in R4 for a QF berth!  She could be the next Ostapenko ball boys and girls!  You heard it hear first!!

Lucie Safarova (#32) - The low seed no seeded player wants to see in her draw.  The former #5 ranked player in the world has dipped to #28 but is still capable of playing Top 5 tennis at any event.  A SF appearance at the 2014 Wimbledon Championship, she also has R4 appearances in 2015 and 2016.  Wimbledon appears to be her best on grass and is a real threat for a deep run here.  Oh and lets not forget she currently co-holds the past 3 grand slam women's doubles titles (with Mattek-Sands).  Who is her possible R3 seeded victim?  None other than #1 player in the world Angelique Kerber.  Yikes!!

The Dark Horses

Victoria Azarenka - Welcome back from maternity leave Vika!  The two-time slam champion will make her slam return at Wimbledon.  She has a pretty good track record on the grass courts, sporting a 26-9 record overall including two SF showings in 2011 and 2012.  She has a tough opening round match vs the youngest player in the draw 18-year old American CiCi Bellis.  Her experience could be the difference in the opening round but a tough draw vs #15 Vesnina could await in R2 and #18 Sevastova in R3.  A deep run might be out of the question this soon after a return but either way great to see her back on tour.

Sabine Lisicki - A former finalist in 2011, Lisicki has dipped from #35 back in 2012 to #131 today.  Regardless of ranking, Lisicki should never be counted out based on her serve alone.  She holds the world record for fastest serve be a female player at 131 mph (210.8 km/h).  If the shoulder injuries would just go away she could work her way back up the rankings.  She has a tough draw here though, opening with #27 Konjuh.  However, should she pull the upset a deep run to R4 is not out of the question.

Donna Vekic / Natalia Vikhlyantseva - Oh draw gods why must you curse me?  This has to be what Croatian Vekic and Russian Vikhlyantseva were saying when the Wimbledon draw was released last Friday.  Both of these players have been playing top level tennis this grass court season and both had the potential to make deep dark horse runs through the draw....until they were matched up against one another in R1.  Vekic is up to a career high #57 in the rankings after a Nottingham Open win over Konta a few weeks ago.  Vikhlyantseva also has reached a career high ranking of #65 after reaching her first career final this year at the Ricoh Open, the same time Vekic was winning a title in Nottingham.  Expect a tight 3 set match here with the winner probably getting #6 Konta in R2 with a real threat to pull the upset and make a deep run to possibly R4 vs. Kvitova.


Genie Bouchard - The former finalist has looked anything but a slam contender since her breakout year of 2014 where she reached the SF in Melbourne and Paris, the finals here at SW19 and R4 in New York.  The young Canadian is only 23-year old though remember and still has lots of time to right the ship and get her game back on track.  She showed life last year reaching R3 here and did reach R3 at the 2017 Australian Open as well.  She draws crafty Spaniard #20 Carla Suarez Navarro in R1 but, should she survive, a possible R3 battle with #2 Halep could be fun to watch.



Carina Witthoft - Germany has become one of the strongest nations fielding female tennis players (combined with the Czech Republic of course) and Carina Witthoft is the next player you should be keeping your eyes on.  Witthoft has been slowly building consistency at grand slam events, reaching R3 at last year's Wimbledon and US Open as well as last month's French Open.  She is due for a slam breakthrough and this could be the perfect event.  The draw is favourable as she gets a vulnerable #26 seed Lucic-Baroni in R1.  A nice match up with #4 Svitolina awaits in R3 and possibly French Open champ #13 Ostapenko or #17 Keys in R4.

Predictions

Fourth Round

#1 Angelique Kerber def. #23 Kiki Bertens
#7 Svetlana Kuznetsova def. #19 Timea Bacsinszky
#3 Karolina Pliskova def. #16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#24 CoCo Vandeweghe def. Tsvetana Pironkova
#27 Anna Konjuh def. #22 Barbara Strycova
#17 Madison Keys def. Carina Witthoft
#11 Petra Kvitova def. #6 Johanna Konta
#15 Elena Vesnina def. #2 Simona Halep

Quarterfinals

#1 Kerber def. #7 Kuznetsova
#3 Pliskova def. #24 Vandeweghe
#27 Konjuh def. #17 Keys
#11 Kvitova def. #15 Vesnina

Semifinals

#3 Pliskova def. #1 Kerber
#11 Kvitova def. #27 Konjuh

Ladies Championship: #3 Karolina Pliskova def. #11 Petra Kvitova in 3 sets - After everything Kvitova has been through recently, she will be the huge sentimental favourite here.  But her compatriot Pliskova will steal the spotlight and pick up her first grand slam win.

Ladies Doubles Championship: #1 Bethanie Mattek-Sands / Lucie Safarova def. #3 Chan Yung-jan / Martina Hingis in 2 sets - This win would give the #1 duo the distinction of holding all FOUR slams at the same time (otherwise known as the Serena Slam).

Enjoy the two weeks of grass court grand slam of tennis action ball boys and girls.  I always love the tradition of Wimbledon truly kicking off the summer season....and nothing quenches your taste buds better than watching people eat strawberries and cream.  Whip up your own recipe at home and cheer on your favourite players.

Anyone want to guess the plus/minus days of delay due to rain?  #TwineTime is going with 2.5!