The Wimbledon gentlemen’s champions from 2005-2009 reached at least the semifinal round of the French Open. With slower grass courts and strings making extreme topspin possible off of even low bouncing shots, Wimbledon is not as far removed from clay as it once was. It appears that the momentum and confidence a player builds during the clay court season are factors that can outweigh any nuances forced by a new surface.
Rafael Nadal’s confidence should be a mile high. He won a Grand Slam title and 3 Masters 1000 events consecutively. No player in the locker room will enter Wimbledon with more momentum. Robin Soderling will have some of his confidence blunted by the thorough beating Nadal gave him. Still, Soderling might wonder if Nadal could turn back some of his break point attempts on grass. If all observers assume that Jurgen Melzer will likely not duplicate his French Open results, that leaves Miami runner-up and French Open semifinalist Thomas Berdych trying to ride his serve and powerful ground strokes to a deep Wimbledon run.
While Nadal is a likely candidate to win Wimbledon and Soderling and Berdych each could harness a big serve and nasty ground strokes to full effect, others may ride a different wave to success in London. Roger Federer’s quarterfinal showing at Roland Garros should not stunt his grass court aspirations. Even if he does not win Halle, his 11 grass court titles will afford him respect at Wimbledon. Andy Roddick had tallied more rankings points than anyone in 2010 when Miami ended. His non-clay court season may have been by design. I would not be shocked to see Roddick in tip top grass court form and shape heading into Wimbledon. Novak Djokovic winning his first grass court match has to help as he needs to forget his collapse versus Melzer. Andy Murray, much like Djokovic, needs confidence. Murray needs to forget most of his results after Melbourne. Being the object of the London media’s attention while also defending a fair amount of ranking points will not make Murray’s path to forgetfulness easy. If Murray can move well, hit his returns and fight, he can enter the second week with momentum. Still, Murray and Djokovic, for different reasons, will have to demonstrate great mental strength to conquer the second week regardless of how much momentum each builds.
Queen’s Club and Halle will offer glimpses of mental attitudes and physical preparedness for this short grass court season. If momentum from the clay season continues to indicate who will perform well at Wimbledon, it may demonstrate that grass court success takes root in the early spring dirt. If these trends do not continue, it may mark a return to an era of tennis in which elite players do not contend on every surface. That will be a day worth mourning as the unified tour I have grown accustomed to may prove to be the exception rather than the rule.
Post Script – A World Made Strange?
French Open results have not typically indicated likely Wimbledon success. Stefan Edberg beat Boris Becker in the 1990 Wimbledon final after each man lost in the first round of the previous month’s French Open. Roger Federer posted a 2-2 record at Roland Garros in 2003-2004, but he followed up his clay feet with his first and second Wimbledon titles. Only two of Pete Sampras’ seven Wimbledon titles came after modest success at the French Open (quarterfinal appearances in 1993 and 1994). Sampras’ lone loss at Wimbledon over an eight year period came in 1996 weeks after posting his best finish in Paris. Richard Krajicek did reach the French Open quarterfinals in 1996 prior to his lone Wimbledon title, but Goran Ivanesevic was absent in Paris in 2001 prior to his inspirational Wimbledon triumph. Prior to the 2005-2009 streak, one has to go back to Andre Agassi’s 1992 triumph to see a Wimbledon champion reach at least the French Open semifinal round. Granted Michael Stich and Boris Becker also won Wimbledon after reaching the French Open semifinals in 1991 and 1989. 2005-2009 may not be so odd after all.
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