The most famous tennis tournament in the world returns tomorrow to the luscious grass courts of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club for the 128th Wimbledon Championships, where defending champions Novak Djokovic and Petra Kvitova will be hoping to reclaim their crown once again. However, there are plenty more challengers in both the gentlemen’s and the ladies’ draws who feel that they have an opportunity to go all the way and lift the Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy or the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft in two weeks’ time. Among these are home-favourite and 2013 champion Andy Murray, Swiss legend Roger Federer as well as American superstar Serena Williams, the top seed in the ladies’ draw.
Serbian world number one Novak Djokovic will be aiming to claim his 3rd Wimbledon title and is the bookies’ favourite to win back-to-back crowns after beating Roger Federer in an enthralling five-set final which lasted 3 hours 56 minutes after beating Andy Murray’s conqueror Grigor Dimitrov at the semi-final stage. Despite defeat to Kei Nishikori in last years’s US Open, Djokovic bounced back strongly by winning the ATP World Tour Finals (albeit by default in the final as Federer withdrew) and has not looked back since. The 2015 season started with Djokovic claiming a fifth Australian Open crown, defeating a dejected Murray, who himself lost his third final ‘Down Under.’ Despite losing to Federer in the final of the ATP 500 tournament in Dubai, Djokovic went on to claim both Masters 1000 titles on the hard courts of America (Indian Wells & Miami), backed up with a further two on the European clay (Monte Carlo & Rome), becoming the first player to claim all four Masters titles in that period in the same season. Djokovic took this remarkable form into the French Open as he prepared to try and complete the Grand Slam, with the French the last of the four to evade the Serb. Going in to the second Grand Slam of the year, Djokovic was the top seed and favourite and met nine-time champion and ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals, where the Spaniard was dispatched emphatically in three sets. Djokovic then defeated Murray in a gruelling five-set semi-final and met an inspired Stanislas Wawrinka in the final. The Swiss number 2 played an incredible game and defeated Djokovic in four sets, ending Djokovic’s impressive winning run of 29 matches. Djokovic, as normal, decided against playing a warm-up tournament before Wimbledon and instead spent more time practising on the grass before the tournament rather than putting himself through the stress of an unnecessary tournament. This means that when Djokovic opens Wimbledon tomorrow with his first round match against Philipp Kolschreiber, the world number 33 and therefore on paper the hardest first round opponent for a seed, he will be fresh and replenished. Djokovic’s draw doesn’t look particularly easy and may have to defeat Bernard Tomic, Kevin Anderson, potentially one of Kei Nishikori or US Open champion Marin Cilic and French Open winner Stan Wawrinka to reach the final. But Djokovic will feed off this competition and being the true champion that he is, I can’t see him not reaching the final and have placed him as my favourite going into the tournament.
One man who will be desperate to deny Djokovic of a third Wimbledon crown is Andy Murray. Britain’s number one won the tournament in 2013 when he defeated the Serb, becoming the first Brit to win one of the world’s most prestigious tournaments for 77 years, after the great Fred Perry. The following year, Murray’s campaign to defend his title came to a premature end with a quarter-final humbling by rising Bulgarian star Grigor Dimitrov. 2015 started strongly for the Scot who reached the Australian Open final but lost to Djokovic in four sets, seemingly crumbling mid-way through the third set. Murray then struggled to kick-on from this and suffered surprise defeats to Giles Simon and Borna Coric in Rotterdam and Dubai respectively before two crucial wins for Britain’s Davis Cup team against the USA. Two further defeats came against Djokovic in the semi-final of the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells and the final in Miami before winning his first clay court title with a victory in Munich, defeating Philipp Kolschreiber in a very tight final. In his next tournament, Murray beat Nadal in the final of the Madrid Open, his second title on clay just a week after his first. Murray progressed into the semi-finals of the French Open fairly comfortably but even though he fought back from two sets down against Djokovic, he was once again on the losing side, losing the deciding set 6-1. Murray decided to play one warm-up tournament for Wimbledon, as he looked to join John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Leyton Hewit and Andy Roddick on four titles at the Queen’s Club Championships. Murray progressed through the rounds with relative ease and overcame South African Kevin Anderson in the final with another dominant display of quality tennis. It is this quality that has seen Murray become the public’s favourite to win the title this year, who albeit may be slightly biased towards the Brit, but Murray may have to overcome three previous champions in Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in successive matches to become champion for a second time. With the ability and crowd behind him, could we see a repeat of 2013?
Despite these two players being the favourites, one cannot rule out Federer. The second seed is, after all, a seven-time champion at SW19 and has relished under the guidance of Stefan Edberg, as he had a fantastic 2014 and remains second in the world rankings. However, the Swiss has claimed just one Grand Slam title since January 2010, the Wimbledon crown in 2012 where he defeated Murray. Rafael Nadal, seeded 10th this year, hasn’t been in great form in recent months and has struggled to find his best at Wimbledon in recent years, but did win on the grass in Stuttgart before a first round defeat to Alexandr Dolgopolov at Queen’s. Nadal’s nemisis from last year, Nick Kyrgios, will be hoping to improve on his quarter-final showing last year but the young Australian may come up against Canadian Milos Raonic in Round 3. Meanwhile, other threats are posed in the shape of Dimitrov, French Open winner Wawrinka and the big-serving Kevin Anderson, whose game seems to work exceptionally well on the lightning fast grass courts of the All England Club.
On the women’s side, Petra Kvitova will be hoping to defend her title, starting with a first round match against Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands in what should be a relatively straightforward opening match for the Czech player. After her success in last year’s tournament, where she beat young Canadian prodigy Eugenie Bouchard in straight sets to win the title for a second time, Kvitova went on to win the Connecticut Open and then the Wuhan Open, where she once again defeated Bouchard in the final. These titles were sandwiched around a poor display at the US Open, with the Czech losing in the 3rd round to Aleksandra Krunic, a Serbian qualifier. Despite a poor showing in the WTA Finals at in Singapore, Kvitova played a crucial role in helping her Czech Republic team win the team competition for the country, their third title in four years. After winning her 15th title in Sydney early in 2015, Kvitova struggled after this, with surprising defeats in Dubai and Doha before withdrawal from Indian Wells and Miami. But Kvitova rediscovered her form in the Fed Cup once again and then won the Madrid Open, ending Serena Williams’ 29-match unbeaten run en route to the final. Kvitova reached the fourth round at the French Open but was dumped out by Timea Bacsinszky and then pulled out of Eastbourne due to illness, therefore has had no warm-up tournament ahead of her Wimbledon defence, but should still prove to be a stern opposition for anyone she faces. If Kvitova is to successfully defend her crown, she may have to beat Agnieszka Radwandska, Bouchard or Ekaterina Makarova, Simona Halep or Caroline Wozniaki and then Serena Williams in the final, but the unpredictability of the ladies’ game, especially at the Grand Slams, makes it almost impossible to make a definite call.
One player, though, who looks as though they may be the favourite is Serena Williams who is looking to hold all four Grand Slams once again after doing so in 2003 when she won the Australian Open. A win in the final next Saturday at SW19 would also put her three-quarters of the way towards the Calendar Grand Slam, joining an elite league of three. If Williams were to complete this fantastic achievement, she would only be the fourth female in tennis history to do so, alongside Maureen Connolly Brinker (1953), Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graff (1988). This all comes just four years after serious health scares for the American, who suffered both a hematoma and a pulmonary embolism, leading to fears that she would never return to the level she had reached in previous years. But Williams fought hard to get back to the top of her game and despite a surprise defeat in last year’s 3rd round to Alize Cornet, she came back strong at Flushing Meadows, the WTA Finals, Melbourne Park and Roland Garros, winning the four most significant tournaments since Wimbledon 2014. Williams will be hoping to continue this fantastic form and to repeat something she has done a total of five times, most recently in 2012, and to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish once again. And who’s going to stop her?
Among those trying to stop Williams from holding all four Grand Slams once again will be last year’s runner-up Bouchard who will be determined to go one better this year. Seeded 12th, she may have to beat some big names before a potential final against Williams. Another is Ana Ivanovic who has had a phenomenal 2015 so far and will be looking to build upon her semi-final appearance in Paris. Furthermore, Belinda Bencic will be hoping to build on reaching the quarter-finals at the US Open last year as well as victory in Eastbourne last week, beating Wozniaki and Radwanska along the way. At just 18-years-old, though, it may be a little soon to tip the 20th seed for a Wimbledon title just yet! Having said that, 2004 champion Maria Sharapova was just 17 when she won Wimbledon 11 years ago, but will be hoping to add to her solitary crown this time out. Other contenders include 5th seed Wozniaki and also 3rd seed Simona Halep, who find themselves in the same quarter, but both of which are more that capable of reaching the latter stages.
Overall, this year’s Wimbledon Championships promise to provide memorable moments, scintillating shots and ridiculous rallies, entertaining the crowd who’ll be delving into a combined 27,000 kilos of strawberries, accompanied with 7,000 litres of cream! My personal prediction is that Djokovic will defeat Murray in the men’s final, whilst Williams will defeat Makarova in the ladies’ final, putting her well on her way to the Calendar Grand Slam! But with tennis, nothing is definite and anything can happen, which is what makes Wimbledon truly special.