America…Fuck Yeah! There hasn’t been much to root for in the men’s brackets as an American Tennis fan for over a decade. In the 70’s and 80’s, America was represented at the highest level with names like Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Conners, John McEnroe, and Stan Smith winning championship after championship.
As McEnroe’s and Conners’ careers came to an end towards the waning years of the 80’s, some new American blood took center stage. Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras took the Tennis world by storm and seemed to be competing in the semifinals or finals of every major tournament. There was a point from 1992-2000, that either Agassi or Sampras won every Wimbledon except one. It was safe to say that America was on top of the Tennis world.
Since Sampras’ 2000 Wimbledon victory, no American male has won what is considered the most prestigious of all the tennis majors. I appreciate the Williams sisters keeping America on the map during these dark years but there is no denying that the lack of a dominant American male tennis player for over a decade has placed an unwanted stigma on our nations reputation. It’s not like America has been too far off either. Andy Roddick was supposed to be our American savior once Sampras and Agassi retired, but with only one Major victory ever, US Open 2003, Andy has been considered a little bit of a disappointment. Andy did make the finals of the 2009 Wimbledon, where he ended up losing to Roger Federer in the longest Wimbledon match (in games) in the history of the tournament.
With new American hopefuls Mardy Fish and John Isner, Roddick came into this 2012 Wimbledon as the third highest ranked American. Isner has been eliminated and Mardy and Andy are both facing difficult, but winnable, third round matches today. Even with Andy and Mardy still alive, America now has their eyes and hearts set on another American name, Brian Baker. This 27-year-old unknown has quite a fairy tale story behind his career. Baker lost six years of his career to an array of injuries that left him needing five different operations on a hernia, both of his hips and his right elbow. I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure your right elbow is important, especially when you are a right-handed tennis player.
Before Wimbledon 2012, Baker had never made it past the 2nd round in any major and the highest world ranking he ever had was 123rd. I personally had never heard of this guy until this Wimbledon and now I won’t miss a game of his. After today’s victory against France’s Benoit Paire in the third round, Baker has quickly become the American Cinderella story we have all longed for now for over a decade. Baker didn’t only just win his third round matchup against the favored Paire, he pretty much dominated it. Even better for Baker is the fact that his improbable 4th round matchup should have been against one of the Wimbledon favorites, Rafael Nadal. This is the one instance where I appreciate the Sports Debaters current curse because of Nadal’s loss, Baker will now face off with the dangerous but beatable 27th ranked, Philipp Kohlschreiber. It’s great to see that true American spirit that shows hard work and determination can lead to you overcoming any obstacle that comes your way. I hope I’m not the only one who will be tuned in for this matchup because Brian Baker is turning into an amazing story.
Tomorrow afternoon, the most prestigious, oldest tennis tournament kicks off at the All England Club in Wimbledon, England. The grass on the courts has been prepared for the best men and women to showcase their incredible talent over the course of the next few weeks. For you tennis novices, Wimbledon is the third leg of the four major tournaments that take place each year, as the Australian and French Open’s have already been played, and the U.S. Open will follow in August and September. It is by far the most traditional of all the events, as you’ll find a dress code for players (white garments), the eating of strawberries and cream by the fans, and a pleasant lack of advertisements that we normally see all over the professional sports landscape. I have attempted to break down and predict all the major story lines heading into the tournament.
The Marked Man
Novak Djokovic is the defending champion from 2011, as he used Wimbledon to launch a historic run that unfortunately came to an end a few weeks ago in Roland Garos at the French Open. He had won three Grand Slam tournaments in a row going into France, and even with that recent loss to Rafael Nadal, Djokovic has managed to win 4 out of the last 6 majors tournaments. Djokovic is the easy favorite to win again this year, as the grass plays into his favor as he can over power his opponents. Djokovic will take on Juan Carlos Ferrero, who used to be a star in his own right, in a fairly exciting first round that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Novak. He shouldn’t have much of a challenge at all until the Semi Finals where he might have a chance of seeing the great Roger Federer, who has won the tournament 6 times and is as comfortable on the WImbledon court as LeBron James is on a breakaway dunk. However, I believe the younger and current #1 player in the world will take care of the aging star, setting up the finals that everyone hopes and expects, a rematch of last year’s Final. Last July, Djokovic took down Rafael Nadal in the finals in a easy four sets and I believe the tournament is shaping up for the exact same result this year.
The Two With a Chance
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two most recognizable names in men’s tennis and are both serious contenders to Djokovic in this tournament. Though I have already stated I see Djokovic beating each man on his way to the repeat, I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of these three guys prevail at the end of the two weeks. Nadal is a two-time Champion at Wimbledon and is coming off a victory over Novak in the French open. He has made the Finals in each of the past five Wimbeldons, and has won 87.5 percent of his career matches at Wimbledon. The only legitimate test Nadal will have in reaching the Finals will be Andy Murray, who Nadal has beaten in 13 out of 18 career match ups. In contrast Djokovic and Federer stand in each others way to the make the championship match. Even though I believe Djokovic will win that heavy weight matchup, I do feel that Roger Federer will show the Wimbledon faithful glimpses of his brilliance over the next few weeks. Federer has won a career 16 grand slams and I believe he’ll be the crowd favorite as many people will want to see his return to glory. His 6 Wimbledon titles are second only to Pete Sampras’s 7 and he has three more than Djokovic and Nadal combined. He will be by far the most comfortable player on the lawns, but we need to keep in mind that Djokovic has beaten Roger in 3 out of the last 4 major matchups, including a straight set victory at the French Open a few weeks ago. If Roger can somehow squeak by Djokovic, it would set up an awesome title fight with Nada. Even though I’ll be rooting for Roger to make it to the last day, I don’t see it happening.
Both the men and women American players underperformed at the French Open. Andy Roddick was beaten in the first round on the clay and the player who was once considered among the world’s elite has for a while been forgotten in the conversation of contenders. Traditionally, Rodick plays well on grass and he is coming off a win at the tune-up for Wimbledon, AEGON International Men’s Singles Tournament. I expect Roddick to play well, show pride but ultimately fall short of the ultimate prize as he is no longer in the same league as the top players in the world. Serena Williams is another American who was quickly eliminated from the French Open field. However, in her career she has always played her best at the All England Club. Serena is still one of the best player’s in the world, even though Maria Sharapova has gotten most of the recognition as the world’s best after her recent French result. Serena and her sister rewrote the manner in which women’s tennis is played and she still has the ability to be the most dominating force in the game. I think she finds her form and captures her 5th Wimbledon tournament, as she will take advantage of the same comfort level that Roger Federer will enjoy on the men’s draw.
Parity in the Women’s Side
Though I am picking Williams to win Wimbledon, the field is very close and the favorite coming into the tournament has to be Maria Sharapova. Sharapova recently won the French Open and came extremely close last year, losing in the finals to Petra Kvitova. Kvitota has to feel as confident as anyone also, as she beat Sharapova in straight sets and has been playing great tennis all season which has earned her the #4 spot in the women’s game. This year’s Australian Open champ is the current #2 player in the world, as Victoria Azarenka also made her first semi-finals in last year’s Wimbledon Tournament. Azarenka was disappointing in the French Open but she has the ability to put that result in the rear view mirror and build on last year’s success. Rounding out the field of contenders is the always dangerous Venus Williams who is at a veteran age of 32 but always capable of getting hot, 21-year-old Caroline Wozniacki who was recently the #1 player in the world and last year’s U.S. Open winner Sam Stosur, who has often struggled on the grass of Wimbledon. Though any of the women I have written about have a shot at this year’s title, I still believe Serena will be the eventual champion.
If you are a tennis fanatic, enjoy the greatness of the next few weeks. If you are unfamiliar with the sport, I promise you that the competitiveness and athleticism of these athletes will captivate you if you just sit down and give it a shot. I’m personally very excited to sit back, brew some tea, butter my crumpets and get ready to watch some of the greatest athletes in the world perform at the top of their games on the biggest stage in the sport.
From 2005 thru 2007, Roger Federer was without question the most dominant tennis player in the world. His combination of professionalism on and off the court was something that the tennis world had not seen since the reign of Pete Sampras. During this stretch he won at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open, then started the following year by outlasting the field at the Australian Open two years in a row. Both seasons, Federer went into the French Open looking to win four Grand Slam titles in a row, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since Rod Laver in 1969. Both times, however Federer was denied history by one Rafael Nadal. Fast forward 5 years, and Novak Djokovic was presented with the same chance to make history. The only thing standing in his way was the 6’1, 190 pound Spaniard. Djokovic, like Fereder was just not up to the challenge.
Nadal triumphed over Djokovic in the French Open Final in a weird match that started yesterday and ended early this morning. Even though Djokovic was able to wrestle a set away from the reigning champion, the outcome of the match was never in real jeopardy. Nadal jumped out in front, taking the first two sets 6-4 and 6-3, and it looked like another easy French Open title for the Spaniard. However, rain caused a stoppage of play, halting all the momentum Nadal was able to build in the first two sets. When play resumed, Djokovic took advantage of the wet clay and overpowered Nadal in the third set. After the third set the weather worsened and play was suspended again until this morning. The grounds-crew spent the night working on the court, and when Nadal came back to play this morning, he appeared more comfortable and was able to slide, spin the ball and work all his clay tricks that he has mastered in Paris. The end result was a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Djokovic. Djokovic actually double faulted the last point of the match, which was a fitting way for a bizarre tennis final to end. The only reason that Djokovic was able to win a set off of Nadal was because the elements neutralized the advantages that Nadal is able to garner on the clay court; there was no question who the superior player was.
There is not much that can be written about Rafa Nadal that hasn’t already been mentioned. With the victory, Nadal won his 7th French Open title in the past 8 years, as the only year he didn’t win was 2009, when he lost to eventual Champion Robin Soderling in a shocking 4th round upset. Nadal has won every major at least once, and yesterday’s triumph has given him 11 overall. He has a stunning 52-1 record at the French Open, and passed Bjorn Borg for most French titles ever. Nadal’s career record is a masterful 581-120, and he has won over $48 million dollars in event earnings. Next up is Wimbledon, and even though Nadal got the better of Djokovic in their latest duel, there is no doubt the Nadal will be the underdog if the two of them find themselves in the final once again. Djokovic is very deserving of the status he has reached in the tennis world, as was Roger Federer during his reign as #1, though it will always be Nadal who is known as the master of clay and the records he has been setting for a decade at Rolland Garros will likely never be matched.
Has there ever been a more dominant player on any given surface than Nadal on clay? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think…