Sunday, June 19, 2011
The Pick of Men's First Round Matches
The first thing that many noticed as soon as the Wimbledon draw was announced was that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were in opposite sides of the draw - leaving open the possibility of seeing a final the two best grass court players in both the draws. Federer and Nadal have combined for the last 8 of the men's titles. But before we get to the final, there are 126 other matches to be played in the men's draw. And while we can tennis fans can salivate at the prospect of another Federer vs Nadal final, there is no guarantee that will pan out. What is guaranteed are the first round match-ups and here are my pick of the most exciting first-round clashes in the men's draw.
John Isner v Nicolas Mahut – Head to Head 1-1 (both on grass)The most famous first round tennis match in tennis history will get its sequel – only this time, all eyes will be on the match from the very beginning. No matter how good this match gets, it will be hard for Isner and Mahut to top their effort from 2010 where they engaged in a 11 hour battle that spanned over 3 days and ended in a 70-68 fifth set win for the American in what is the longest match in tennis history. The pair have since become good friends although they have never spoken about the match to date. They were scheduled to practice together this weekend in preparation for Wimbledon but canceled their practice session as soon as they heard the draw. Isner has struggled since the Herculean effort last year but if his performance at Roland Garros is any indication (he is the only man in history to take Nadal to 5 sets at the French Open), he might be back on his way up. Mahut, who has written a book on last year's first round, is now back in the top 100 and did not have to scrape through qualifying like last year. It would be interesting to see if this
match gets scheduled on one of the show courts or is put back out on Court 18 where the duo battled last year.
Prediction – Isner in 4 sets
Radek Stepanek v Fernando Verdasco (21) – Stepanek leads H2H 3-2 (1-0 on grass)
This will be one of the few matches where we might see a battle of contrasting styles. 32 year old Stepanek likes to play an attacking style and will need to get to the net often if he hopes to upset the 21st seeded Spaniard. Stepanek has been as far as the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2006 and is making his first appearance at SW 19 in three years due to injury. Verdasco is fairly adept himself on the grass having made it to the last 16 in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Prediction – Stepanek in 4 sets
Bernard Tomic v Nikolay Davydenko (29) – First Meeting
Davydenko may not be a top 3 player anymore but the Russian still has one of the best baseline games when he's on. On the other hand, Tomic is an 18 year old Australian, ranked 158 in the world, who plays a versatile game – mixing power groundstrokes with slices and dinks which will serve him well on the grass courts. The Australian has already won 3 matches to qualify for the main draw here which means he's battle ready. Davydenko will need to be in top form if he is to survive and get to the second round.
Prediction – Tomic in 5 sets
Marcos Baghdatis (32) v James Blake – Baghdatis leads 1-0 (First
meeting on grass)
This should be another exciting baseline battle. Hard to believe that Baghdatis is now 27 years old. The potential Slams written in his future when he came out on tour might remain only a potential. The Cypriot had a good 2010 to get back into the top 20 but has struggled this year. He has done well in London earlier – having reached the semis in 2006 and the quarters in 2007. 31 year old Blake is probably playing his last full season on tour and will need to be at his explosive best to have any chance against Baghdatis. Nonetheless, it should be a fun match to watch.
Prediction – Baghdatis in straight sets
Kei Nishikori v Lleyton Hewitt – First Meeting
Here's another rising youngster vs aging former champion battle. Hewitt is the last player not named Federer or Nadal to have triumphed at Wimbledon but injuries have taken a toll on the Australian's battle-hard body. He played his first match in 3 months just two weeks ago but had to withdraw from last week's event in Eastbourne due to injury again. While he hopes to be fit in time for this first round match, he certainly won't fancy his chances against Nishikori, a Japanese player who plays the same style as Hewitt only in a body that's a decade younger and fitter.
Prediction – Nishikori in four sets
Posted by Haresh at 10:57 AM