Keep calm and enjoy Wimbledon
Updated: Nov 24, 2018
It's all white as usual at the premier lawn tennis event of the world.
(published in the Edge Malaysia, Options lifestyle section)
Summertime in London, for fans of lawn tennis, equate to The Championships, Wimbledon - the third Grand Slam event of the year that is taking place between July 3 and 16 this year. The oldest tennis tournament of the world - the first having been held 140 years ago at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club - Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam to still be played on grass courts, the original surface since 1877.
All those who enter the grounds at SW19 will sense a unique atmosphere that sets Wimbledon apart from the other Grand Slams. Picture the pristine lawn courts against a cornflower blue summer sky, the All-White attire rule, strawberries and cream, the Royal Box and of course, Centre Court, the grandest stage of all in tennis.
Many consider Wimbledon the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. And rightly so. It's history, tradition, the epic matches, and the fact that many of the champions here are among the finest players ever to have played the sport, makes winning at Wimbledon one of the highest honours in tennis. In 2008, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played in what tennis legend John McEnroe said as “the greatest match” he had ever seen. After 4 hours and 48 minutes of high calibre tennis, Nadal beat Federer 9-7 in the final set to win his first Wimbledon title - he had lost to Federer in two previous Wimbledon finals.
And what about the longest match in Grand Slam history? In 2010, American John Isner and Nicolas Mahut of France played for 11 hours and 5 minutes over 3 days. Isner won the final set at an astonishing 70-68! Wimbledon seems to bring out the best in players and one cannot wait to see what Wimbledon 2017 has in store for tennis fans worldwide.
World No.1 and local hero Andy Murray is the Gentlemen’s defending champion while Serena Williams, who is taking a break this year for motherhood, is the Ladies'. This year, the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Singles Champion will each receive £2.2million in prize money, while the runners-up will each receive £1.1million.
The tennis story of the year so far has to be the incredible resurgence of Federer and Nadal. Federer won the Australian Open at the start of the year and followed that up with wins in two important Masters tournaments, at Indian Wells and Miami. Nadal recently won the French Open for a record 10 times, the most by a male in the Open Era. Along the way he also won at Monte Carlo and Barcelona, also for a record 10 times each. With these incredible wins, Nadal has certainly made his case as the greatest clay-court player ever. Federer missed the French Open to focus on the grass court season and a record eighth title at Wimbledon. Recently he rolled back the years by winning his ninth title in the grass court tournament in Halle by beating rising star Alexander Zverev (15 years his junior) in straight sets. With the splendid form the two men are displaying, all eyes will be on them to see if they can indeed continue to delight fans and make tennis history.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have struggled so far this year in their quest for more titles, losing in the early rounds of several tournaments they competed in. In 2013, Murray became the first British player to win Wimbledon in 77 years since Fred Perry in 1936. All the nervousness of his breakthrough win then was gone in 2016 when he won the title for the second time with a confident display of high-level tennis. Djokovic, a three-time winner at Wimbledon, together with his new coach Andre Agassi, will surely try to turn things around this year and we hope to see some inspired playing from him.
Watch out for Stan Wawrinka, the low-key World No. 3 who was this year's French Open finalist. The Swiss also reached the quarter-finals twice at Wimbledon and will be looking to add the title and complete his career Grand Slam (winning all four major titles). Big servers Milos Ranoic (last year's runner-up) and Marin Cilic are always legitimate threats on grass. Other notable players such as Japan’s Kei Nishikori, Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and Czech Tomas Berdych will also be looking to make a breathrough in this year’s Championships. Tommy Haas, in his last year as a professional player on the ATP Tour, has been given a wildcard. The 39-year old German, who recently beat Federer on grass at Stuttgart, first appeared at the Championships 20 years ago. It may be an emotional moment for him to say farewell to his fans and the Wimbledon crowd.
Eager to win their maiden grand slam would be the talented and hungry NextGen players, including Dominc Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios, David Goffin, and Lucas Pouille. Thiem, with his amazing backhand and shot-making abilities, has impressed the most so far, earning himself a top 10 world ranking. He reached the semi-finals at Roland-Garros, losing to eventual champion Nadal. Zverev had several good results earlier this year but lost in the first round at Roland Garros to veteran Fernando Verdasco. Kyrgios, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon in 2014, has the explosive serve and power groundstrokes to do damage on grass. Look out also for rising star Karen Khachanov of Russia; standing at 6ft 6in, his forehand is one lethal weapon. Indeed, the energetic and aggressive playing style of these young players is truly exciting to watch.
On the Ladies side, recent tournament results indicate that the field is wide open. The dominant Serena Williams is on the sidelines this year while the performance of World No. 1 Angelique Kerber has been patchy so far (Kerber has the dubious honour of being the first No. 1 women’s seed in the Open Era to lose in the first round of the French Open). The French Open was won by an unseeded player for the first time since 1933. Players do well in one tournament, then crash out early in the next. With all the above, the new normal really is “anything can happen”.
Here are my picks on who to look out for in this year’s Championships:
Kerber, last year’s runner-up, will be motivated to prove herself worthy of her No. 1 ranking. World No.2 Simona Halep, a semi-finalist here in 2014, has recently shown a steadier mindset in her matches and this has translated into good results; she was a finalist in the French Open. Czech World No. 3 Karolina Pliskova, and World No.5 Elina Svitolina, have not progressed past the second round at Wimbledon. Maybe this is the year they make their move on the grass courts at SW19.
Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki has been in impressive form lately, reaching the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros for the first time in seven years. She attributed her improved performance to being in a happier place off court, with great support and a new beau (NBA player David Lee of the San Antonio Spurs). Latvian 20 year-old Jelena Ostapenko, the surprise unseeded winner of the French Open and winner of the Wimbledon Junior title in 2014, may just be the most exciting player to emerge in the WTA. Her bold, take-no-prisoners style of play displayed at Roland-Garros caught everyone's attention. On her way to the title in Paris, Ostapenko hit 299 winners, 54 of them in the final against Halep. Another 20 year-old to watch for is Croatian Donna Vekic. She recently beat World No. 7 Briton Johanna Konta for her first WTA title in three years in a grass court event. Vekic, the girlfriend of Stan Wawrinka, has moved up the rankings to top 60. Konta has the power game to do well on grass and will seek to become the first British Ladies champion in 40 years since Virginia Wade won in 1977. No pressure.
Two-time Grand Slam winners Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova are back after the former took time off for motherhood, returning to the tour last month. Kvitova, who recently recovered from a career-threatening hand injury, is now happily back on the court playing competitive tennis again. She won Wimbledon twice and will be a strong contender if she gets her deep lefty groundstrokes in full flow. Venus Williams, always a contender, is playing in her 20th Wimbledon this year. French star Kristina Mladenovic and Swiss Timea Bacsinszky have been in impressive form, along with 2015 Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza and 2016 semi-finalist Elena Vesnina.
So keep calm and enjoy Wimbledon! This year’s tournament promises to be yet another intriguing Grand Slam where the record books could be rewritten again.