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Seedings, strikes and controversy: Wimbledon Men’s preview

For many, this is the pinnacle of the annual tennis season. An event steeped in tradition, with a distinct sense of class and sophistication, Wimbledon is the amalgamation of all that is both new and old in the world of tennis.

Traditional tennis lovers with a longing for the serve and volley to become the norm in the sport once again mix with the refreshing new generations waltzing their way through SW19 to produce the affectionate, uniquely civilised crowd that sporting fans the world over have come to love.

For many, this year’s rendition of the most prestigious Grand Slam on the calendar is one of the more interesting in recent memory for myriad reasons. So without further ado, let’s take a look at what will present itself over the next two weeks.

The Formula

20130625-073256.jpgBefore analysing the aspirations of the ‘Big 4’, there is a little contentious matter that has reared its head throughout the past week. As announcements last Wednesday filtered through that, arguably, the most in-form player on the tour right now in Rafael Nadal would be seeded fifth for the Championships, cries of conspiracy and condemnation were widespread. These calls intensified upon Rafa being drawn in the same half of the draw as Andy Murray, and in the same quarter as Roger Federer.

How could Nadal, 2008 and 2010 Wimbledon champion, and three-time finalist be seeded lower than his fellow countryman in David Ferrer? In a cruel twist of irony, the source of this situation arose from the discontent of some fellow Spaniards more than a decade ago.

Prior to the 2000 instalment of Wimbledon, the process of seeding players for the Championships was a contentious issue. A select committee would choose to elect 16 seeds based on a player’s record on grass, with little to no consideration for their ATP ranking.

The dawn of the new millennium saw two Spaniards in the top 16 in the ATP rankings; Alex Corretja and Albert Costa boycott the tournament following preferential treatment given to lesser-ranked players, citing problems with the subjective manner of choosing seeds as their reason for withdrawing.

Thus saw the commencement of the new objective formula system that has been in place ever since.

The current system sees a three-part formula shape the composition of men’s seedings, where the current top 32 in the rankings can be seeded higher or lower based on certain constraints.

Wimbledon takes a player’s current ranking points tally, adds 100% points from all grass court tournaments played in the previous year, and 75% of points from the year prior to that.

In practice: Rafael Nadal currently has 6895 points to his name. Add a total of 45 points for his shock second round defeat at the hands of Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon last year, and 75% of his 2011 Wimbledon final performance (900 points), for a grand total of 7840 points.

In contrast, David Ferrer sits on 7220 points. With an extended 2012 grass court season in comparison to Rafa, he receives 680 points for a win in s’Hertogenbosch, quarterfinal showing at Wimbledon and third round exit at the Olympics. With a further 135 points from Wimbledon 2011, his total ends up at 8035 points, evidently ahead of Nadal.

While the formula may not have dished up an ideal scenario for tournament schedulers and the paying public alike, it dispels any allusion of favouritism towards certain players; exactly what the tournament organisers intended.

The ‘Big 4’

As noted above, the nature of Wimbledon’s seeding system, combined with the ‘Big 4’ taking part in a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since the same event last year produced the unthinkable: three of the ‘Big 4’ being situated in the same half of the draw.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have never met in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament before – a testament to the sheer domination they have had over the sport – with two out of their 10 meetings coming at the semi-final stage.

The matter of fact is that they still have to win their way through to what could be one of the more entertaining Grand Slam quarterfinals in history.

Nadal starts off his tournament against unheralded Belgian Steve Darcis, before potentially taking on either the Polish doubles specialist in Lukasz Kubot, or former French Open quarterfinalist and fourth round Wimbledon player Igor Andreev. From there, promising Frenchman Benoit Paire would pose a challenging hurdle to overcome, before a likely fourth round showdown with the winner of tonight’s first round showdown between Lleyton Hewitt and Stanislas Wawrinka.

Federer commences his 2013 campaign by facing a tough opponent in Victor Hanescu; however with the Romanian converting less than 50% of his matches on grass, the Fed Express should cruise home with the victory. He faces a potential second round match against perennial ATP figure Sergiy Stakhovsky, who was embroiled in a minor scandal after tweeting a picture of a ballmark at Roland Garros this year.

Then comes a true test of Federer’s mettle, where a showdown with the man who ousted Nadal at the same tournament last year could eventuate. Lukas Rosol’s ability to get into the zone, and with an incredibly aggressive, powerful game off both his serve and groundstrokes shocked Nadal last year, especially given these attributes are perfect tools on grass.

If Federer manages to get through that duel unscathed, another tough opponent awaits in either the form of Nicolas Almagro or Jerzy Janowicz. Both players possess aggressive gameplans in a similar vein to Rosol, and could cause havoc, especially if they direct traffic to Federer’s backhand, which has been known for failing to fire under pressure in recent times.

Both Nadal and Federer have particularly challenging draws, especially from the third round onwards. However given their recent form, with Nadal losing just three matches this year along with seven tournament victories, and Federer sewing up the Halle title last weekend, it is difficult to not see a showdown between arguably the two best tennis players of this era go head-to-head in the quarter finals. In recent history, Rafa has had the edge over Roger in best-of-five tennis, currently on a five match winning streak against the Swiss Master. The trend could be set to continue, with Federer underperforming by his standards this season; Halle being his only final he has contested thus far.

Andy Murray, who up until last year’s US Open was garnering the tag as one of the best ever players to reach a number of finals without success, shook it off following success at the 2012 Olympics; the catalyst for an increased sense of confidence, ultimately eventuating in victory at Flushing Meadows. Since, Murray has improved his ranking to number two in the world, along with contesting four ATP finals this year for three tournament victories – the last coming on grass at Queen’s Club last weekend.

The Scot commences his 2013 endeavours by facing Germany’s Benjamin Becker, who while possessing a powerful game, has failed to make significant inroads at SW19. Murray could spar against fellow countryman James Ward in round two, a match with blowout potential, before an intriguing encounter against either resurgent Spaniard, and feel-good player at Roland Garros, Tommy Robredo, or Wimbledon marathon man and 2013 s’Hertogenbosch victor Nicolas Mahut. From there, it ceases to get easier as Russian firebrand and 2013 Halle finalist Mikhail Youzhny or struggling Serbian Janko Tipsarevic are likely fourth round opponents.

Murray’s greatest challenge prior to reaching the semi-finals, if he outlasts his aforementioned opponents, is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has made grass his own over the years. With a flamboyant game plan not devoid of flashiness and brilliant shotmaking in equal measures, this is seen to be a real danger match for the Scot.

Lastly, current world number one Novak Djokovic, who potentially has the comparatively easiest of draws out of those in the ‘Big 4’, has endured a somewhat fluctuating season. Despite securing three titles to date, Djokovic has also experience some early tournament departures in Miami, Madrid and Rome. The Serb has been prone to lapses in concentration in some crucial matches – cases in point, his fourth round epic against Stanislas Wawrinka at the Australian Open and bewildering loss to Tomas Berdych in Rome after serving for the match – which could prove his downfall in some early danger matches.

Djokovic has the toughest of the first round draws, facing German world number 33 Florian Mayer, who reached the quarter finals at SW19 last year. Mayer’s unorthodox game, which could prove to be familiar with Australian audiences as being somewhat akin to that of Bernard Tomic’s, is littered with a combination of topspin, slice, sidespinning shots that make him quite uncomfortable to front up against. A meeting with one of two unsung Americans – Bobby Reynolds or Steve Johnson – awaits, before a potential date with Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.

Tommy Haas, who Djokovic has played twice this season with both players splitting results, appears to be next in line. Haas is a former semi-finalist at Wimbledon, and has been the epitome of resurgence this year; this has the hallmarks of an epic. The quarterfinal could play host to any number of big serving beanpoles, as Sam Querrey, Kevin Anderson, Daniel Brands and Tomas Berdych all occupy the bottom half of the quarter. The latter, who is a former Wimbledon finalist, brought Djokovic’s 10-match winning streak against the Czech to an end this year in Rome in bewildering circumstances. Their only meeting on grass, at Wimbledon in 2010, saw the Czech overcome Nole in straight sets.

Seedlings – seeds bubbling beneath the surface

A number of other seeds can also lay claim to being touted as potential upset makers during the course of the Grand Slam tournaments:

Tommy Haas (13) – After seeing Haas get bundled out in the first round of the Australian Open this year by fellow journey Jarkko Niemenen, you could have been forgiven for thinking the German may have been close to calling it quits. However, his relatively lacklustre start to the year seemed to be the facilitator of a remarkable revival, and is currently 11th in the year-to-date rankings race. The German number one has had a stellar month, reaching the quarter finals at Roland Garros before challenging Novak Djokovic in a tight three-setter, before reaching the semi finals in Halle, taking a set off Roger Federer along the way.

Philipp Kohlschreiber (16) – one of two German quarter finalists last year, Kohlschreiber was the beneficiary of Nadal’s early exit from the tournament after his shock five-set loss to Rosol. While Kohlschreiber’s grand slam career has been quite underwhelming at best, with last year’s performance his best ever showing at a top-tier tournament, his performance in majors since has been consistent, with two showings in the fourth round at the US Open and Roland Garros. Defeated in the quarter finals in Halle – a tournament he has won on two occasions – by eventual finalist Youzhny, and in his first match in Eastbourne against Radek Stepanek, his grass form has been underwhelming of late, which could be a worry.

Grigor Dimitrov (29) – the man touted, not of his own accord, as the successor to Roger Federer, Dimitrov wields a one-handed backhand so remarkably similar to one of the greatest players of all time that comparisons were inevitable. While indicating his distaste for such evaluations, Dimitrov’s potential is palpable, having laid claim to a victory over Novak Djokovic in Madrid. His grand slam results have been less than remarkable to date, but many are tipping a deep run at SW19, considering he is situated in David Ferrer’s quarter of the draw. However, a giant hurdle in Juan Martin Del Potro may silence the Bulgarian’s well-wishers.

Stanislas Wawrinka (11) – the big-hitting understudy of Roger Federer made his presence well and truly known in Australia this year, forcing Novak Djokovic to his limits in order to be overcome in a five-set confrontation for the ages. Since then, Wawrinka has enjoyed one of his most prolific seasons on tour, acquiring one title in four finals appearances. Additionally, a hard-fought journey to the quarter finals at Roland Garros, before succumbing in a dominant performance by Rafael Nadal, cements this year as one of Wawrinka’s best. Wawrinka’s form leading into Wimbledon was auspicious by advancing to the final at s-Hertogenbosch before being overawed by Frenchman Nicolas Mahut. ‘Stan the Man’ initiates his title aspirations with a demanding assignment against Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt. With indications last month that Hewitt may be physically underdone for five set tennis – after holding a commanding two sets to love position against Gilles Simon in Roland Garros, he was eventually defeated in five sets – Wawrinka may have the physical aptitude to outlast ‘Rusty’. A date with marathon conqueror John Isner looms in round three, before a showdown beckons with Rafa in round four.

Jerzy Janowicz (24) – Janowicz is one of the up and comers in the men’s tour, having risen up the ranks since his miraculous run to the finals of the Masters 1000 tournament at Bercy last year. The towering Pole’s potency resides in his incredible serve, achieving both incredible pace and bounce courtesy of his build. The 203cm behemoth has incredible court movement for a man of his stature, and his ability to change up play by employing well-disguised drop shots add to his unpredictability. Fronting up against hometown hopeful Kyle Edmund in the first round, a tremendously passionate outing with Radek Stepanek could give way to an intriguing matchup. Nicolas Almagro, who defeated Janowicz earlier this year in Melbourne Park, could then lead to a fourth round clash with Roger Federer.

Aussies

The Australian contingent was roughly dealt with during the draw ceremony, with a number of our combatants pitted against tough opposition; attempts to dispel reminders of Australia’s dire predicament following the first round at last year’s instalment ill-fated. However, with Australia’s representation in the men’s draw the largest since 2003, there is a strong chance of better success this time around. Australia’s two qualifying entrants – Matt Reid and James Duckworth – have Radek Stepanek and Denis Kudla respectively. Duckworth possibly has a better likelihood of progressing to the second round given his opponent is a fellow qualifier, as opposed to the renowned veteran that Reid will face. Kei Nishikori presents himself as an arduous task for Matt Ebden, who was granted a wildcard into the tournament. The world number 11 is currently playing in the best form of his career, and will be hard to topple. Marinko Matosevic will be seeking to break his Grand Slam duck – he has partaken in nine Grand Slams for zero victories – against humble Frenchman Guillaume Rufin. Australia’s two highest-profile contenders – Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic – have strenuous assignments ahead of them. Hewitt takes the honours for competing in what is expected to be the popcorn match of the first round against Swiss big-hitter Stanislas Wawrinka. While Hewitt’s ailing fitness established itself at the French Open, he will be endeavouring to complete the match as rapidly as possible if he were to progress through the tournament. Tomic, on the other hand, confronts Sam Querrey, a big serving American. While Querrey’s poor footwork will work in Bernie’s favour, he needs to attempt to make inroads on the American’s service games if he fancies himself as a victor, particularly considering Tomic’s still-vulnerable serve.

Talking points

• Is Raonic a grasscourt player? – Up until this date, the answer is a resounding no. Despite laying claim to one of the bigger serves on tour, he has only been able to string together two grasscourt wins at one tournament thus far (Halle). The drawback lies in his footwork, which naturally for a man of his stature is problematic. However, combining this with the fastest surface played on all year, and you have any tall man’s nightmare. The Canadian appears awkward if his shots are returned with interest, giving rise to unforced errors aplenty. While originally hyped as a future Wimbledon champion, it’s difficult to see him progressing deep into the tournament at this stage of his career.
• Will we see memories of 2011? – After Bernard Tomic’s run at Wimbledon in 2011, reaching the quarterfinals before succumbing in four sets to eventual champion Novak Djokovic, hopes were high that he could translate his explosive entrance into the Grand Slam scene into consistent performances. After a succession of personal misdemeanours, and growing concerns over his father’s role in his life – including the ongoing court case involving the alleged assault of Tomic’s then-hitting partner Thomas Drouet in May – such distractions have seen Tomic’s form away from that in Australia become incredibly inconsistent. A promising showing at Eastbourne – bowing out to world number 17 Gilles Simon – in the quarterfinals could catapult Tomic to reincarnating his career. A tough assignment in the first round against big-serving American Sam Querrey looms, which could see his campaign come to a halt before it gets going.
• That quarter final – one of the most anticipated potential quarter finals in recent times beckons us in the second week of competition, as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer look set to engage in their 31st ATP tour meeting on Centre Court. The match has immense ramifications not only directly on the court, but also in terms of manipulating the rankings post-Wimbledon. Federer, last year’s victor, has to defend 2000 points courtesy of last year’s efforts. Federer is situated 845 points in front of Nadal, who only has 45 points to safeguard. Ferrer, juxtaposed between both maestros with 360 points to his name, with no member of the ‘Big 4’ in his quarter could surpass last year’s efforts. If Federer were to succumb to Rafa in the quarterfinals – or earlier – he will fall to number five in the rankings, something that has not eventuated on the men’s tennis circuit since June 2003.
• Unseeded potential – a number of players flying under the radar, free from the microscope centred on the major players on the tour, have substantial ability to overcome more fancied opponents. Feliciano Lopez, victor in Eastbourne only a matter of days ago, fronts up against his fellow finalist Gilles Simon in the first round. The Spaniard, contesting two hardfought tiebreak sets before running away with the match, which was played in blustery conditions, will be endeavouring to replicate the feat. Daniel Brands, a towering German with a monumental serve-forehand combo, drew the attention of Australian fans during the second round of the Australian Open this year after competing in an enduring, tantalising four set duel with hometown hero Bernard Tomic. The German once again proved lethal at grand slam level at Roland Garros, blitzing the Spaniard to claim the first set of their encounter, before succumbing in four sets. The German has enjoyed success at Wimbledon in the past, making a surprising run to the fourth round in 2010, shocking number 7 and 31 seeds Nikolay Davydenko and Victor Hanescu, before being downed in four by his potential second round opponent, Tomas Berdych. Ernests Gulbis is disputably the most entertaining figure on the men’s circuit, if his press conferences are anything to go by. A peculiar player on the court, with one of the more unorthodox-looking forehand motions seen in the modern game, his enthralling style of play encompasses a wide variety of shotmaking. Gulbis does however hold a poor grand slam record, failing to progress past the second round of a major since his quarterfinal run at Roland Garros in 2008.

Must-watch matches

First round

Gilles Simon v Feliciano Lopez (repeat of Eastbourne final)
Dimitry Tursunov v Tommy Haas
Bernard Tomic v Sam Querrey
Martin Klizan v Tomas Berdych
Kei Nishikori v Matt Ebden
Michael Llodra v Jarkko Niemenen
Lleyton Hewitt v Stanislas Wawrinka
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v David Goffin
Fernando Verdasco v Xavier Malisse
Janko Tipsarevic v Viktor Troicki

Second round

Daniel Brands v Tomas Berdych
Radek Stepanek v Jerzy Janowicz
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v Ernests Gulbis
Fernando Verdasco v Julien Benneteau
Tommy Robredo v Nicolas Mahut

Third round

Gilles Simon v Tommy Haas
Kevin Anderson v Tomas Berdych
Milos Raonic v Philipp Kohlschreiber
Kei Nishikori v Andreas Seppi
Grigor Dimitrov v Juan Martin Del Potro

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