The varied ochre hues of the clay courts at Roland Garros and the gentle green shades of the lawns at Wimbledon are starkly juxtaposed at this time every year.
Suddenly things change from tennis on the gritty terre battue of Court Philippe Chatrier in Paris to a different game on the fescue-fortified lawn at Centre Court in London – a three-week transition that ends with tournament finals this Saturday before Wimbledon’s first matches begin at 11:30 a.m. in London SW 19 next Monday.
Two players – Roger Federer and Petra Kvitova – already appear near peak form after their victories in Halle, Germany and Birmingham, England, respectively over the weekend.
In hindsight, it looks like Federer’s opening-round loss to Tommy Haas in Stuttgart two weeks ago was just what he needed. It was a jolt of reality and a spur to help him find the superior lawn tennis he displayed in a 6-1, 6-3 victory over 20-year-old Sascha Zverev in Sunday’s Halle final. Even more impressive was the way he handled the brute power of Karen Khachanov in a 6-4, 7-6(5) win in the semifinals.
It seemed at times that the 35-year-old Swiss (above with Khachanov pre-tournament) was hanging on for dear life in rallies with the 6-foot-6 Russian. But he was able to neutralize the 21-year-old’s ultra-aggressive tennis in a test that should reassure him for future meetings with a big-hitting generation of young players, some of whom could end up on the other side of the net from him at the All England Club.
A side note about Federer: there’s always an endless list of new records for the great Swiss. It gets a bit much after a while because there are so many. Well…here’s a new one for 2017. Never in his illustrious career has he played into July – more than halfway through the year – and reached match point in every single match he has contested. This year he has played 26 matches and lost only two – and in both those two losses, to Evgeny Donskoy (3) in Dubai in February, and to Tommy Haas (1) in Stuttgart earlier this month, he reached match point.
Kvitova has rapidly re-established herself as the woman to beat on grass after winning the WTA event in Birmingham on Sunday with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Ashleigh Barty. The plucky 21-year-old Australian was the only player to win a set against Kvitova, who lost just one point after trailing 2-2, 40-love in the final set of the championship match. Following a win and a loss at Roland Garros, Sunday’s final was only the seventh match the 27-year-old Czech has played since last November 12th. She has made a remarkable recovery from the home invasion on December 20th, which resulted in extensive knife cuts to her left racquet hand.
It’s no surprise that many observers are picking Federer to chalk up his eighth Wimbledon and Kvitova to win her third.
With most people focusing on the most prominent, highly-seeded players: here’s a look at six women and six men outside the seeds who could cause surprises when Wimbledon begins on July 3rd, the latest starting date for The Championships since way back in 1896 when the event began on July 13th.
Mona Barthel: A lanky 6-foot-1 German, the 26-year-old started 2016 at No. 183 and is now No. 50. She was as high as No. 23 in 2013 and at her free-swinging best is scary for any WTA player on a given day.
Anna Kontaveit: The 21-year-old Estonian won her first title, and her first title on grass, at the Ricoh Open in the Netherlands two weeks ago. She has jumped from No. 110 to No. 37 in 2017 and is an athletic player with a strong forehand.
Ekaterina Makarova: The 29-year-old Russian is 13-9 at Wimbledon and beat two-time champion Petra Kvitova in the second round last year. Ranked No. 47, the lefty can perform on the big stage and had a huge win over Serena Williams at the 2012 Australian Open.
Ashleigh Barty: Back from a two-year break from tennis – Sept. 2014 until Nov. 2016 – the 21-year-old Barty won Junior Wimbledon at 15 in 2011. A gutsy competitor ranked No. 54, on Sunday she was runner-up to Petra Kvitova in Birmingham.
Kristyna Pliskova. Her twin sister Karolina is a hot favourite for Wimbledon but Kristyna leads the WTA in aces with 257 – one more than Karolina. A 6-foot-1 lefthander, the 25-year-old has the kind of levers that can do damage on grass.
Donna Vekic: The Croat, 20, beat No. 44 Lucie Safarova and No. 8 Johanna Konta, both in three sets, in the semis and final on grass two weeks ago in Nottingham. An unlikely winner, the streaky world No. 58 has weapons to hurt opponents at Wimbledon.
Denis Shapovalov: The 18-year-old lefthander made a strong impression in qualifying for Queen’s Club and beating No. 47 Kyle Edmund and pushing Tomas Berdych to 7-5 in the third set. His reward was a main-draw wild card to Wimbledon and a solid shot at beating any unseeded player.
Daniil Medvedev: Reaching the quarter-finals of his last two events on grass – ’s-Hertogenbosch and Queen’s Club – the lean 6-foot-6 Russian, 21, hits huge and can make an impression if he controls his emotions.
Robin Haase: The No. 38-ranked Dutchman is close to his career high of No. 33 in 2012. At 30, and capable of playing a dominating game on grass, the 6-foot-3 Haase has a chance to better his 6-8 overall Wimbledon record.
Bernard Tomic: With a 13-7 career win/loss at Wimbledon, the flaky 24-year-old Aussie knows that London SW 19 is the tennis grounds that best suits his crafty tennis game. Experience may finally begin to work to Bernie’s advantage.
Vasek Pospisil: With a record of 9-3, including qualifying, at ATP events the past three weeks, the 27-year-old is again demonstrating his skill on grass. From a ranking of No. 135 in January to No. 75 currently, he’s back on track after tough times.
Jeremy Chardy: The 30-year-old Frenchman has a better than .500 record at each of the Grand Slam events. A Wimbledon junior champion in 2005, he ranks No. 70 but is 4-2, including qualifying, at ATP grass-court events in 2017.
MILOS AND GENIE AND WIMBLEDON
It’s hard to believe Canada’s top male and female players will enter the biggest tournament of the year, Wimbledon, without having won a single match at any of the grass prep tournaments.
Raonic only played one – losing 7-6(5), 7-6(8) to Aussie wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis at Queen’s Club. It was a quirky match where Raonic had eight break chances to none for Kokkinakis in the first set, and then had three set points leading 6-3 in the second-set tiebreak, but still lost in straight sets. Undeniably a day when nothing broke for Raonic, Bouchard cannot say the same about her two losses – 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-3 to No. 73-ranked Francesca Schiavone in Majorca last week and 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 to No. 23 Barbora Strycova in Eastbourne on Monday.
The results are not good omens for Bouchard unless she is still affected by the right ankle sprain that bothered her at the French Open. But she does have a Wimbledon pedigree working for her, having been in the 2014 final.
As for Raonic, it’s remarkable how little respect he’s getting when it comes to speculation about potential winners in 2017. On a list of “Pre-Tournament Media Availabilities” for this Saturday at the All England Club, the names include Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, with defending champion Andy Murray slated for Sunday. The 2016 runner-up, Raonic, is nowhere to be found on that list.
Maybe he can use that, and other slights ignoring what he achieved a year ago, as motivation as he plays his seventh (16-6) Wimbledon.
The bothers Zverev – Mischa (on left) and Sascha – last week joined Americans Gene and Sandy Mayer as the only two brothers to rank in the Top 30 at the same time since the ATP rankings were introduced in 1973.
The 29-year-old Mischa broke the Top 30 barrier at No. 29 after reaching the semifinals of the ATP 250 in Stuttgart two weeks ago while Sascha, 20, is currently at No. 12, two off his career best of No. 10 recorded last month right before the French Open.
The Mayer brothers, both born in New York City, finished the 1983 year in the Top 20. Gene, who played two-handed on both sides, was No. 10 while Sandy, four years older, was No. 18. Gene had a career high of No. 4 in 1980 while Alexander or ‘Sandy’ made it to No. 7 in 1982.
It may be tough for Mischa to reach the Top 20 in order for him and Sascha to join the Mayers – but he has already accomplished a lot after suffering through injuries, including a wrist surgery, and starting the 2016 season ranked No. 344. The 6-foot-3 Mischa – Sascha is 6-foot-6 – plays an aggressive serve-and-volley game and has an ability to dispatch laser volleys that few of his peers can rival.
Here are interviews with Mischa and Sascha from the ATP World Tour website –
BRAVO MONSIEUR LE PRESIDENT
— Arnaud Sloim 📱📸 (@ASloim) June 24, 2017
It’s great to see a prominent political leader who has a clue about tennis. New French president, 39-year-old Emmanuelle Macron, recently took part in an event to promote Paris’ bid to host the 2024 Olympics. As part of it he showed some good form as he hit some tennis balls, including with current world No. 15 Lucas Pouille.