From Roger to Venus, what to watch at Wim­ble­don

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SCOREBOARD -

As ten­nis turns to Wim­ble­don, there’s been a bit of a throw­back feel to this Grand Slam sea­son so far.

At the year’s first ma­jor tour­na­ment, the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary, Roger Fed­erer beat Rafael Nadal for the men’s ti­tle, and Ser­ena Wil­liams de­feated her sis­ter, Venus, for the women’s ti­tle.

Matchups from a decade ago or more, right?

Then, at the French Open in May and June, Nadal reached a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive ma­jor fi­nal for the first time since 2014, and won one for the first time since that year.

And now, when play be­gins at the All Eng­land Club, so many of the key story lines will in­volve those same four play­ers: Fed­erer and Nadal be­cause of their re­cent resur­gence; Ser­ena Wil­liams be­cause of her ab­sence (she’s

ex­pect­ing a baby in Septem­ber); Venus Wil­liams be­cause she is one of only two past cham­pi­ons in the women’s draw.

Here is what to watch on the grass courts of the year’s third Grand Slam tour­na­ment, which starts Mon­day:

FED­ERER THE FA­VORITE

It wasn’t all that long ago

that folks were fig­ur­ing Fed­erer’s best days were long be­hind him. He hadn’t won a Grand Slam ti­tle since 2012, and as he en­tered his mid-30s, he was miss­ing Grand Slam tour­na­ments for the first time in more than 15 years be­cause of in­jury. And now? He ex­tended his record with an 18th ma­jor cham­pi­onship in Aus­tralia, opened the year 19-1, took some time

off and then won a grass ti­tle at Halle, Ger­many. With de­fend­ing cham­pion Andy Mur­ray off-form this sea­son, Fed­erer is a pop­u­lar pick to win Wim­ble­don for what would be a record eighth time.

FROM CLAY TO GRASS

There was a time that Nadal ex­celled on any sur­face, win­ning Wim­ble­don twice and reach­ing the fi­nal on three other oc­ca­sions while march­ing his way to­ward 10 French Open ti­tles and com­plet­ing a ca­reer Grand Slam, too. But then his knees be­came a real prob­lem on grass and he not only started los­ing early at the All Eng­land Club, he started los­ing to play­ers ranked 100th or worse. “When Rafael is good with his knees,” said Nadal’s un­cle and coach, Toni, “he can play well on the grass.”

VENUS, KVI­TOVA

So the two past win­ners in the field are Venus Wil­liams, a five-time cham­pion, and Pe­tra Kvi­tova, a twotime champ. Kvi­tova will get plenty of at­ten­tion be­cause of what she went through in late De­cem­ber: An in­truder at­tacked her with a knife at her home in the Czech Repub­lic. Kvi­tova wound up with cuts to her left hand — the one she uses to swing a racket — and needed surgery. Wim­ble­don will be the third tour­na­ment of her come­back; she won the sec­ond last week on grass. An­other two-time ma­jor cham­pion to keep an eye on: for­mer No. 1 Vic­to­ria Azarenka. This will be her first Grand Slam tour­na­ment in more than a year; she re­turned to the tour in June after giv­ing birth to a son.

NOT A TYP­I­CAL YEAR

No­vak Djokovic has won three Wim­ble­don ti­tles and nor­mally would be con­sid­ered a likely can­di­date for a fourth, but he has not played up to his usual stan­dards over the past year. He went from win­ning four con­sec­u­tive Grand Slam ti­tles, some­thing no man had done in nearly a half-cen­tury, to fail­ing to de­fend any of those cham­pi­onships; he lost in the third round at Wim­ble­don in 2016. He tried to look on the bright side re­cently, say­ing: “It is lib­er­at­ing a bit. I was very for­tu­nate and priv­i­leged to have so much suc­cess in the last eight, nine years, and kind of en­tered most of the tour­na­ments as one of the big­gest fa­vorites. So for a change, it’s good to not be one of the top fa­vorites. It re­leases a bit of the pres­sure.”

Fed­erer

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