I focused on the women’s draw going into Roland Garros. Now it’s only fair to pick apart the men and give my two cents worth. I am encouraged by the observation of a friend that as much as I claim to dislike prognostication, I really didn’t do such a bad job of it. She’s probably giving me a six for a nine but what the heck -- here we go.
1. Rafael Nadal
He just got the top seed. This either means that the folks at Wimbledon know something that we don’t about his knee, or that they are trying to entice him to play. Or both. Of course to be fair -- he has earned the top seed by being the defending champ. But Wimbledon has been known in the past to re-arrange the draw to suit the Queen or whomever. I hope Rafa’s knee is up to the challenge. I think that it is important for him to defend this title. But I can’t help but worry that his brutal style of play may finally be catching up with him.
2. Roger Federer
He’s won the French. All the pressure is off. He can relax and simply enjoy his tennis. If he wins, he wins. If he loses, who gives a crap. He made history and his wife is expecting his baby -- what else is there to achieve? Well actually, a lot. For a start, equating Sampras is not enough -- he needs to pass him. And he needs to reclaim his Wimbledon crown from Rafa. So there is more pressure going into this tournament than he may expect to feel. But not so much that it will cripple him. Because there is always the US Open.
3. Andy Murray
My favorite Murray shot is his angled rolling forehand. It is a sweet shot that pulls his opponent off the court and gives Murray the opening to put away the ball into the add court. I like that shot so much that I even practiced it today. I was inspired by how effective it was against James Blake in the finals of the Aegon Championships. That said, I was stunned when one of the commentators -- I think it was Leif Shiras -- announced boldly that he thought that Murray was the best mover in the world. Well unless Murray works for U-Haul in his spare time, Shiras must have lost his mind. Which is not to say that Murray doesn’t move well, or that this strength will not assist him at this tournament. But the best in the world? If I was Rafa I would sue the Tennis Channel for hiring such nincompoops. That said, there are a number of reasons why I don’t think Andy Murray is ready to win Wimbledon. For a start, his record in five-setters is just not as impressive as the top two. And there is his tendency to play too many short balls that his opponents can crush. His serve has improved but it is still not a reliable weapon. And then there’s the pressure to be the first Brit to win the damn tournament in like ages. Even if he tries not to, it’s going to be very hard not to succumb to the pressure of expectation. Remember poor Henman? Ay, how he suffered the poor lad.
4. Novak Djokovic
My problem with Djokovic at this point is that he has added nothing new to his arsenal. He has a good general all-round decent game. But he has had the same good general all-round decent game since his initial breakthrough. He’s added nothing. He’s improved nothing. Which is not to say that his game is bad -- you don’t make it to the top four by sucking. But being a good general all-round decent tennis player will only take you so far. That said, he’s won a Slam before and he’s hungry for another. I’m not entirely counting him out. I’d just be shocked as hell if he wins.
5. Juan Martin Del Potro
This is one ambitious dude with a superb opinion of himself. In the world of top tennis, that is an important quality. Humility gets you nowhere in my (non-humble) opinion. It’s important to be an arrogant, self-opinionated, ambitious achiever. I truly mean that. I can’t think of any player that made it to the top by being humble. OK maybe Arthur Ashe, by all reports. But I won’t at all be surprised if he was also quietly arrogant. You have to be to rise to the top. And Juan Martin Del Potro seems to be one arrogant dude. I love it. It may be the Argentine culture in which he was raised -- have you met any group of people that loved themselves more? Well, maybe Trinis but that’s a whole other blog entry. For now, I am impressed with this kid. He is tall and big and strong. He has a mean game and a focused desire to win. He is new to grass but he is a quick study. But he needs to be careful. Being overly competitive can become a hindrance when you don’t know how to control your emotions. But he’s young -- he can still learn.
(Part 1 of 2)