Monday, June 20, 2011


The Wimbledon Championships will begin in a few hours from now - the 125th edition! The oldest tennis tournament in the world began way back in 1877, incidentally the same year when Test cricket was born. A quick look at the Wikipedia article on the 1st edition of the Championships reveals a curious connection with cricket.

"The tournament began on July 9, 1877, but due to the scheduling after the Semifinals had concluded on July 12 play was to be suspended until July 16 due to the Eton and Harrow cricket match at Lord's. The final was further postponed from Monday July 16 at 4 p.m. to Thursday July 19 at 3:30 p.m. because of rain. It was still showery, so the final began an hour late, at 4:30 p.m."

A lot has changed over the first 124 editions... but a lot has remained the same as well! A beautiful piece of writing on the traditions of the Wimbledon Championships by the unmatchable Rohit Brijnath (pointed out by Sidvee) is a must read for those who have ever followed the Wimbledon Championships.

As the 125th edition is set to begin with the Gentlemen's Singles defending champion Rafael Nadal starting the Centre Court proceedings, the focus will be on a lot of players across various disciplines.

Gentlemen's Singles

1st seed - Rafael Nadal (Spain)
2nd seed - Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
3rd seed - Roger Federer (Switzerland)
4th seed - Andy Murray (Great Britain)

The top-4 seeds are undoubtedly the best 4 players in Men's Singles tennis today. 3 of them played in the semi-finals of the last edition of the Wimbledon Championships. The one who did not feature in those semi-finals is the one whose name is etched on the glittering golden Cup no less than 6 times.

In the last Grand Slam played, on the red dirt of Paris just a month back, all four of them featured in the semi-finals. They have been consistently the best performers in the ATP tour, and there is no reason why we cannot have a repeat of the semi-finals line-up of Roland Garros 2011. In fact, there is no reason why we cannot have a repeat of the results of the last 3 matches of Roland Garros 2011, since the draws permit it to happen!

From the article by Rohit Brijnath that I have mentioned above, I'll quote this: "Federer will see the champions’ board and convince himself he owns this turf, Rafael Nadal will know he owns Federer, Novak Djokovic will believe he owns the tour." He makes no mention of Andy Murray, despite his win in the Aegon Championships, and it's not difficult to see why. His tendency to lose the nerve in big matches is always counted against him!

While the focus will undoubtedly be on the top-4, the others in the draw who will be worth keeping an eye on, in my opinion, are the 5th seed Robin Soderling (Sweden), 8th seed Andy Roddick (USA), 12th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 31st seed Milos Raonic (Canada). The focus will also be on the first round match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut because of their record-breaking, energy-sapping 11 hour 5 minute encounter at the same stage last year.

Ladies' Singles

1st seed - Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)
2nd seed - Vera Zvonareva (Russia)
3rd seed - Li Na (China)
4th seed - Victoria Azarenka (Belarus)

In complete contrast to the Men's singles draw, I do not expect great performances by any of the Women's top-4 seeds. Maybe Zvonareva and Azarenka might make it to the last-4, but I do not expect either of them to win the Championships.

Caroline Wozniacki's game still does not look like a Grand Slam-winning one to me, and Li Na should be mindful of the fact that the French Open champion in 2010, Italian Francesca Schiavone (7th seed here), made a first round exit in the Wimbledon Championships of 2010. Schiavone, the French Open runner-up this year, should herself be mindful of the fact that last year's French Open runner-up, Australian Samantha Stosur (10th seed here), also bowed out in the 1st round last year.

The focus in Ladies' Singles will undoubtedly be on the defending champion Serena Williams, seeded 7th, and making a comeback after not just a career-threatening, but a life-threatening health scare. Venus Williams, seeded 23rd, will also be keenly watched... the two sisters have won 9 of the last 11 Ladies' Singles titles, and there is a good chance that it becomes 10 of 12 this year.

Apart from the Williams sisters, the only other Wimbledon Ladies' Singles champion in the current draw is the 5th-seed Russian Maria Sharapova. She has had a decent 2011 thus far, and a semi-final appearance at Roland Garros should give the 2004 Champion the confidence to put up a good challenge at SW19 this year.

Gentlemen's Doubles

1st seed - Bob Bryan (USA) and Mike Bryan (USA)
2nd seed - Max Mirnyi (Belarus) and Daniel Nestor (Canada)
3rd seed - Mahesh Bhupathi (India) and Leander Paes (India)
4th seed - Rohan Bopanna (India) and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi (Pakistan)

While the Bryan brothers may be the best team in Men's Doubles tennis in the world by a long margin, their record on the Wimbledon's grass is less impressive as compared to their records elsewhere. They have been the Champions just once here (2006), though they have also been runners-up thrice here.

Nestor won the title here with Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia in 2009 and 2008, whereas his partner Max Mirnyi has just the runners-up performance of 2003 to boast of. Incidentally, that 2003 run to the finals was in partnership with Mahesh Bhupathi, who will be looking for his 2nd Wimbledon Men's Doubles title after his 1999 title, also win in the company of Leander Paes.

For the Ind-Pak Express of Bopanna and Qureshi, a 4th-seed here just shows how far they have come together in this journey by playing Men's Doubles tennis together. While most people will remember their run to the US Open finals last year, most forget that it all kind-of started here for them last year, when they reached the Quarter-finals (their first Grand Slam Quarter-finals) and lost to the eventual Champions Jurgen Melzer (Austria) and Philipp Petzschner (Germany), who have continued their pairing and are seeded 5th here.

Ladies' Doubles

1st seed - Vania King (USA) and Yaroslava Shvedova (Kazakhstan)
2nd seed - Kveta Peschke (Czech Republic) and Katarina Srebotnik (Slovenia)
3rd seed - Liezel Huber (USA) and Lisa Raymond (USA)
4th seed - Sania Mirza (India) and Elena Vesnina (Russia)

The defending champions and top-seeded pair of King and Shvedova will be confident, particularly in the absence of the Williams sisters from the draw, who have won 4 Ladies' Doubles titles here. Huber (2 titles here) and Raymond (1 title here) will also be fancy their chances.

Srebotnik has the experience of making it to the finals in 2007, while her partner Peschke has only ever reached a Grand Slam finals once in Women's Doubles - the US Open last year. Similarly, Vesnina has the experience of a finals appearance last year, while Mirza has only ever reached a Grand Slam finals once in Women's Doubles - the recently concluded French Open.

The 14th seed pair of Cara Black (Zimbabwe) and Shahar Peer (Israel) will also be strong... given the record of Cara Black on these lawns - 3 Ladies' Doubles titles (2 of them with Huber).

The Indian Challenge

The Indian contingent in the Championships this year is strong. While not much is expected of Somdev Devvarman and Sania Mirza in Singles, there is quite some expectation from the Indian Express and Indo-Pak Express in the Gentlemen's Doubles. Even the 4th-seed Ladies' Doubles pairing of Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina has had a good season together thus far, though I do not expect a lot out of them.

The Mixed Doubles seeds and draws have not yet been released, but the defending champions last year were Cara Black and Leander Paes. Paes and Bhupathi combined have 5 Mixed Doubles titles here and 2 Runners-up titles. So expect a good Indian challenge in the Mixed Doubles as well.

Last Word

The 125th edition of the Wimbledon Championships promise to be every bit as special as all the other editions have been. While we had the epic 11 hour 5 minute match last year, the Men's Singles finals of the 2 years preceding it were also epics, the 2008 one being more than just epic!

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