Second week in review
The Wimbledon ryegrass has been the stomping ground of a number of dark horse contenders this week at the Championships, as the venue has played host to a variety of upsets and unexpected appearances by players outside of the ubiquitous “Big Four.” While many usual suspects booked their spots in the quarterfinals lineup without much of an issue, the crowds were stunned by the unexpected upset of World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, courtesy of 19-year-old Australian wonder boy, Nick Krygios. Seeded into the tournament as a wild card entry, the World No. 144 made ripples earlier in the Championships with a brilliant performance against Richard Gasquet in the second round, defeating the Frenchman in five sets despite dropping the first two sets. Against Nadal in the fourth round, Krygios worked magic, defeating his beleaguered opponent in four brutal sets. Kyrgios’ brilliant run was ultimately ended at the hands of the big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, who too had booked his first quarterfinals appearance at Wimbledon. After defeating Kyrgios in four sets, Raonic fell in straight sets to Switzerland’s Roger Federer in the semifinals, who himself was fresh off a four set victory over fellow countryman Stan Wawrinka. On the other side of the draw, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov was enjoying his own success. Never having made it past the second round of Wimbledon despite being the 2008 Boys’ Singles champion, Dimitrov breezed his way into the quarterfinals and smashed the hopes of the British populace by dispatching the defending champion, Andy Murray, in three sets. He ultimately lost to World No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, despite forcing the Serbian to four sets.
Though this year’s quarterfinal and semifinal matchups were full of unexpected contenders, the Gentlemen’s Singles final once again rests in the hands of two former Wimbledon champions, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Such a finals matchup between the two former World No. 1s has not been seen since the 2007 US Open, which Federer won in straight sets. The two last met on Wimbledon grass in the 2012 semi-finals, which Federer won in four sets en route to a victory over Andy Murray in the final. But times have changed. Since his record seventh victory at Wimbledon two years ago, Federer has experienced an erratic success rate, buckling under the weight of unforeseen injures. At the age of 32, Federer is among the oldest players on the ATP World Tour, and this has contributed to the bout of lackluster play that riddled his 2013 season. He failed to make a single Grand Slam final, and only earned one title the entire year. While Federer made a rebound from injury in 2014, it is not wise to discount the toll that age can play upon the Swiss Maestro coming into the finals match, particularly after a grueling two weeks of play. On the other side of the net, Djokovic has experienced his own frustrations. His 2013 season was a similarly uninspired affair. Though he won the Australian Open, he fell to Britain’s Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final and to Rafael Nadal in the U.S. Open final, ultimately surrendering the World No. 1 ranking to the Spaniard. Novak’s 2014 season has been equally lackluster. He failed to reach the finals of the Australian Open for the first time in three years, lost to Nadal at the French Open final, and despite winning a variety of Masters titles in March of this year, has enjoyed little notable success. Grass has never been Djokovic’s favorite surface. His domain has long been the slow hard courts of Melbourne, evidenced by his stash of Australian Open titles. Conversely, Federer is often referred to as “the King of Grass,” a title that befits a man who shares the record for most Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles titles with Pete Sampras. Both players have much to gain from hoisting the trophy into the air come Sunday night. If Federer wins the title, he will hold the new record for most Wimbledon Singles titles, at eight total, adding to his record collection of 17 Grand Slam singles titles. If Djokovic wins, he will be able to make up for his brutal straight-sets loss to Murray last year and will finally end a 17 month long Grand Slam drought, seizing the No. 1 ranking from Nadal in the process.
So which player has the edge? Federer and Djokovic have met each other 34 times to date, with Federer leading 18-16 in all matches. In terms of finals, Djokovic leads 5-4. On hard court, they are tied at 13-13, and on clay, Federer leads 4-3. They most recently met at the 2014 Monte-Carlo Masters semifinal, an encounter that Federer won in straight sets. Their rivalry on hard court and on clay is the stuff of legend, but interestingly, the two have only ever met on grass during the 2012 Wimbledon semi-final, which Federer won. Going into the Wimbledon final, Federer seems more prepared. He ambled through the first four rounds of play without dropping his serve once, and his only real challenge was fellow countryman Stan Wawrinka, who took the first set of their quarterfinal match in textbook fashion. On the other hand, Djokovic suffered a series of scares in his run to the final, first against Croatia’s Marin Čilić in the quarterfinals, and then against Dimitrov in the semis. He has seemed unable to find his trademark consistency against lesser-ranked opponents, while Federer has dispatched high-ranked contenders like Raonic with ease. Similarly, Djokovic’s play on grass has been sloppy at best, with the Serbian spending more time on the ground than on his feet, wrong-footed by unexpected plays. Federer’s game has been air-tight so far, a tribute to the undefeatable Federer of old. Come Sunday night, which player will be hoisting the trophy into the twilight to the sounds of thunderous applause? It appears that Federer is the more likely candidate, though the fight will be tough and he will be forced to keep his focus and capitalize on break-point opportunities. My prediction is that Federer will win his 18th Grand Slam title in five grueling sets. Get ready for a nail-biter.