Expect a First-time Finalist at Wimbledon 6

The Athlete Advantage at Wimbledon

Twenty six years ago I stepped onto a grass tennis court for the first time. It was at the legendary West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills where the US Nationals and, later, the US Open had been played. I had always heard that it was a very tough surface on which to play tennis…bad bounces, very fast, very slow, difficult footing, short points, slippery. I had never hit a ball on the grass and there I was playing a match on it for the very first time.

It was love at first point for me. I felt like I had been born playing tennis on the surface. My game was suited for it. Slice backhand, lefty spin serve, shaky short volleys and, more than anything else, my movement. This surface was where I started to believe in myself as a player. In that first tournament, I beat a couple of players who were highly ranked and I did it because of my comfort on the grass. I thought, “I can play with good players. I belong.”

I was a better athlete than tennis player at that time. And the grass rewards athletics.

Sure, technique needs to be great. But the inconsistent bounces frustrate the player that doesn’t adequately adapt mid stroke while being knocked off balance. Advantage: athlete. Loves the need to be flexible and adaptable.

Fitness, definitely needs to be great to deal with the different muscles that are challenged on the grass. Again advantage: athlete whose muscles are so flexible as to deal with the different moves on the court.

Strategy is always crucial and the game usually is won by the most attacking groundstrokers. The grass calls for throwing caution to the wind, taking the net, taking the time away from the more traditional game. Advantage: athlete, who can fly to the net, dive for volleys and leap for overheads.

So, because of the “athletic edge,” I am calling for some upsets at Wimbledon. I saw Dustin Brown, an amazing athlete, play two weeks ago and thought, “this guy can beat anyone on the grass.” I started making a list of the players that I think can do damage this year at Wimbledon. All athletes. Really I was thinking that Dustin Brown could win it. The next day Brown beats Nadal! Nadal was exhausted from the French and hadn’t played on the grass for a year. Regardless, who beats Nadal? Ever? Any surface, any day. Nadal doesn’t lose to people whose name we haven’t heard.

My pick, certainly based on my heart more than anything concrete: Roger Federer. I pick him because of what I wish for. I wish for Roger to show me the athletic mastery that he has found so many times on the grass. It is, to me, the most special game of tennis that I have ever watched. The flow, the footwork, the grace, the alertness, the shot selections, the head down, the look, the formidable pump of his fist, the champion. One more time.

I don’t think that Novak has it this time. His wrist. His slight drop off from his highs of two years ago. He likes and is lacking attention because the narratives of Nadal and Federer are more compelling. And he is a guy who has to deal with wedding plans.

Nadal. Doubtful. I project that he is more mentally depleted than usual. The having to come back from the tough French to compete on a surface that he doesn’t really love. I just think he has some stories about it not being where he wants to be right now. Maybe he wants to be fishing in Majorca.

Murray has a great shot. He has won it. When you win a tournament once you always have that story in mind and it drives you in a very focused way. Done it once, can do it again. He had a really solid French Open. And an amazing athlete. He is my second favorite.

I expect a first time finalist this year. One of the top four will be playing an upset winner from the list below. I think a second of this group will make it to the semis.

Jo Willie Tsonga
Kei Nishikori (if healthy)
Milos Raonic
Feliciano Lopez
Alex Dolgopolov
Gregory Dimitrov (love his game so would love to see him get through)
Alejandro Falla
Philip Kolschreiber

With the exception of Raonic, each of these brings the athete’s edge. Raonic is the big server that could ace his way to the final rounds.

Watch for these guys to scare a few top players:
Radek Stepanak ( watch this veteran serve and volley for a real treat.)
Dustin Brown
Gael Monfils ( possibly the most athletic, most entertaining of the lot.)
Fabio Fagnini

Can’t wait. Opening toss Monday morning.

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6 thoughts on “Expect a First-time Finalist at Wimbledon

  • Pat Youngman

    Totally agree with you Bob! I still think Roger Federer has a great shot because his game is so suited to grass. You also make some good points on underdogs making it to the final – Feliciano Lopez has been playing great tennis in the smaller grass tournaments leading up to Wimbledon – who knows!

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