Friday, June 19, 2009

The remaining six prepare to inhale

My headline should have read “the remaining five”. And of course the inhaling is a bad pun on the grass surface. (It’s Friday evening, cut me some slack). But with Rafa’s announcement that he will not be defending his trophy, all of a sudden there’s a new scent in the air. Can you smell it? It’s the scent of opportunity. And hunger.

6. Andy Roddick
There is really no reason why Andy Roddick cannot win Wimbledon. His serves are still fierce. His forehands can be a bit slappy but they get the job done. His backhands are consistent and reliable. He can now even drop shot. Why hasn’t he won? There are a number of answers to that question, but primary among them (in my opinion) is that Andy has lost the intimidation factor. It disappeared a couple of years ago, along with his Mojo. Andy just doesn’t scare anyone anymore. He can keep raining down those booming serves and guys are still confident that they can beat him. And he knows this. So when things start going wrong, he starts throwing a tantrum, attacking the Chair sarcastically over some minor point that he should have moved past half-hour ago. He ends up looking like a big baby. You just want to hand him his pacifier.

7. Gilles Simon
In a word -- overrated. I know that he has had some good wins. But he has also had some pitiful losses. The great ones know how to break through and keep going. Gilles seems to get so thrilled about having weaseled his way to a win that he forgets he has to wake up the next day and play another match. He needs to learn not to celebrate too much too soon. Or not to celebrate as if the current victory is the only one that matters. It doesn’t. Tomorrow is another day, and another match. Et celui qui oublie va perdre.

8. Fernando Verdasco
His semi-final breakthrough in Australia was no fluke. He is being taught by the best. The minute he decided to commit himself to Gil Reyes’ brand of Zen conditioning, Verdasco had signaled that he was serious about getting to the top. His loss in Halle last week didn’t bother me -- it takes some time for these claymates to adjust to the grass. And along with Nadal, Ferrer, and other key members of the Spanish Armada, Verdasco has shown that there is more than one way to both play and win on grass. For years we all were convinced that if you couldn’t serve and volley like Sampras, you had no chance in heck of winning Wimbledon. Nadal’s win last year confirmed this to be untrue. This year, Verdasco has a shot at making closing arguments for the defense.

9. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
I was curious to see how Tsonga would perform in Halle against the currently hot Tommy Haas, the principal king of comebacks. Haas was named ATP Comeback Player of the Year in 2004 after clawing his way back from injury to position # 17 in the rankings. Then he sort of disappeared again. Once again, he seems to be on his way back. Is it possible to give the same player the same title twice in his career? Why not? Playing against Haas -- a most dangerous floater -- was a good test for Tsonga. His performance was alright, but I am still not convinced that he is ready for the breakthrough that he promised in Australia last year. That said, with the size of Tsonga’s game, it must gall him to be ranked below Simon.

10. Fernando Gonzalez
How do I love him? Let me count the ways. I love how hungry he is for a Slam. I love how motivated he has been to put in the hard work. I loved how pissed off he was that he didn’t beat Federer in Paris. But I didn’t love his tendency to fall back on old bad habits when pressured. Like hitting every shot as if it has to be a monster shot. I know that that is not what Stefanki has told him to do. It’s a big waste of energy, hence his inability to close out a five-setter when it matters. Despite what Maria has been paid to tell us, you simply cannot make every shot a power shot. Can Gonzo win Wimbledon? Most definitely. But he needs to learn how to play more within himself. And how to use spin to run his opponents ragged before moving in for the well-timed kill.

The also-rans: Look who’s hanging out at # 12? None other than king-beater, Robin Soderling. Can he do it again? I hope so. That would make for a riveting story.

I’m getting tired of waiting for Ernests Gulbis to deliver on the promise. He needs to know that I can only wait for so long.
(Part 2 of 2)

Courtesy Joshua Fiedler:
Wimbledon Champs Past and Present
Vote for the Greatest Wimbleson Champ

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