There’s an old saying that a cornered animal is a dangerous animal. And right now I get the feeling that Roger Federer is that cornered animal, but is he really still dangerous? With each passing week and with each passing event, Federer has seemingly been losing tennis real estate to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who may both be still behind the Swiss in the rear view mirror but let’s face it, the distance is closing rapidly.
Federer use to absolutely own the tour. That changed a few years ago with the advance of Nadal and more recently the success of Djokovic. Federer use to own the U.S. season, starting with Indian Well and Miami, but Guillermo Canas single handedly put an end to that back in 2007 [edited:corrected]. Federer once reigned in Australia. That ended this year. And while Federer never attained glory at Roland Garros, he at least had Hamburg. That is until this year.
Despite the tournament lost real estate, Federer can, for the moment, confidently still put his name down for Tennis Masters Cup, the US Open and the grass season, which includes Wimbledon. But how much longer will it be until he loses those properties as well? I am going to say a little longer, at least at Wimbledon.
Of the “Big Three”, Federer has toughest draw at 2008 Wimbledon. And I think that’s the way he would want it. Champions tend to rise up and the way the draws unfolded it’s offers a perfect challenge and a perfect way to remind everyone from fans to critics to players that he’s still the guy to beat. That he’s still No. 1. That he’s still won 59 straight grass matches. That among those in the draw only Nicolas Kiefer and Mario Ancic can say they’ve beaten the guy on turf.
But the Tennis Gods did him no favors with the draw. At least on paper they didn’t. Federer opens with Dominik Hrbaty, who is one of three active players (Murray, Nadal the others) to hold a winning edge of Roger but realistically he’s a shell of his former self. He then will likely face tough-out Swede Robin Soderling who has a big serve, big forehand and who nearly ushered out Nadal last year. In the third round I hope it will be my man Gael Monfils, and I’ll pick him out that far, but with the Frenchman you really don’t know yet. Physically he’s there, but mentally no way. Fed gets through regardless if it is Monfils or someone else, and I think sets up a meeting with Fernando Gonzalez who overpowers Lleyton Hewitt for that spot. Gonzalez on a fast court, or any court really, is dangerous but just not as much at Wimbledon. Same goes for Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals. The Czech, who I give the edge over Mario Ancic, has a huge power game but I think you need more to beat Fed at his house. I like Fed getting through to the semifinals with a couple of lost sets.
In the second quarter, Djokovic couldn’t have asked for an easier path. Sure, Marat Safin may wait in the second, but Marat’s days of greatness have long passed – he is what he is, the 77th ranked player people, get over it! Novak could get a sterner test from Stan Wawrinka or Sam Q in the fourth round – I think Sam gets there – and then Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals. I like Lopez over David Nalbandian, who’s about as predictable as the English weather, and then I think he beats Marcos Baghdatis, who hasn’t played much tennis lately but will have played enough to end Ivo Karlovic’s hope.
The third quarter is simply the toughest to call. I want to pick Roddick but something tells me not to. But who else is there? Dmitry Tursunov? James Blake? Ivan Ljubicic? Paul-Henri Mathieu? Nikolay Davydenko? I’m going to say Tursunov somehow gets Roddick in round three. It’s shaky, I know, especially given that Tursunov just got defaulted out of Nottingham and he plays Nicolas Mahut to open the event, but I’m going to go out on a limb and ride him to Wimbledon semifinal glory. Plus if Russia keeps winning in the Euro Cup…
The final quarter I give to Nadal who really has a tricky draw. A second round with Ernests Gulbis figures to be tight with the big-hitting teen. But experience wins out in what could be his toughest test. Nicolas Kiefer is about as tricky as they come on the Tour, the German is capable of beating anyone. But I’m not convinced of his form. In the fourth round I think Radek Stapanek succumbs to Nadal, but again I don’t think it will be easy. Awaiting Rafa in the quarters is a real toss up. Richard Gasquet warrants consideration but he’s been absent for much of 2008. Andy Murray has a lot of promise but he’s Andy Murray. I might even lean to Guillermo Canas. That said, I think I’ll go Murray to somehow do it and beat Gasquet. But it won’t matter, Rafa gets through after pounding Murray.
So for the semifinals, I have Federer v. Djokovic and Tursunov v. Nadal. Again, I like Federer to beat Novak. Yes, Novak’s been playing well and he’s been close to crashing the Fed-Rafa party but honestly, outside of a win over an allegedly “Mono” Federer in Australia, what’s been his big Grand Slam result? Beating JW Tsonga? Beating David Ferrer? I need to see more from him in best of five.
Meanwhile, Nadal should steamroll, however Tursunov has the firepower to do damage. The same is goes for Roddick if he gets there.
As for the final, just like Nadal protects his turf I think Federer protects his grass. It’s his home. For Federer, this really is his last piece of real estate and I think he hangs on to it just a little longer.
As for the women, Venus, Serena and Maria are the girls to beat. Jelena’s in the hunt while I give Ana an outside shot. That said, I think Venus takes it again here. Too much grass experience, too much Williams sisters revenge for the French Open.
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