Such is the scheduling of the tennis season that no sooner have the players brushed the clay of their kit are they required to get themselves ready for the freshly-cut grass being underneath their feet. The grass court season, defined by its faster surfaces and shorter rallies, creeps up upon them on an annual basis no matter how quickly they try to acclimatise. Each year the centre piece is the Wimbledon Championships, tennis’s most grand and historic tournament, and each year the same leading male and female players are deservingly predicted as the most likely to end up on Centre Court lifting either the famous men’s and women’s trophies. Yet, who are the less fancied talents this year that could turn this tournament upside down? Who are the players who could defy the odds to make Wimbledon 2015 the Championship of the underdog?
Things have not perhaps gone as many had first expected for the young Australian but Nick Kyrgios is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous young free hitters on the tour. He has everything in his arsenal to become a top player – he just needs to figure out how to use it all the right way at the right time. Until he starts to regularly overcome the top players and start winning titles, it will remain all talk. Yet surely not for long. The 20 year-old has already made his spectacular entrance at Wimbledon, showing last year his ability on grass by overwhelming two-time champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round. He is clearly a work in progress and will have to soon do more to allay fears that he may end up being merely unfulfilled potential. Nonetheless, you must be one talented player for John McEnroe to talk you up as a future world number 1. The grass suites Kyrgios’s explosive and hard-hitting game, the famous atmosphere his confident character. He is a potential superstar. His time at a Slam will surely come soon – perhaps Wimbledon 2015 is it.
For the women’s Nick Kyrgios, see Madison Keys. A player of the same age and the exact same level of hype and potential. The world number 16 won her first WTA Tour title last year on the grass at the Aegon International in Eastbourne and is coached by Lindsey Davenport, who knows all about success on the hallowed Wimbledon courts after winning there in 1999. Keys broke into the top 20 for the first time this year after making it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open, a sure sign that she can cut the mustard at tennis’s biggest events. It is well-documented that grass is Key’s favourite surface and she looks set to be the next American to dominate at Wimbledon once Serena Williams bids farewell. The powerful ground strokes and serves are akin to America’s greatest female player. She thrives from the baseline but is also strong volleying from the net. Keys is back fit and in form and could well go far in a Slam again.
Dimitrov, the world number 11, suffered a surprise 2nd round defeat at this year’s Queen’s Club Championship. Yet the fact that we viewed his meek defence of the title he won last year as a shock says everything about how the Bulgarian is now perceived. This man has talent in abundance and has both the shot-selection and the agility required for this testing surface. Just look at the way he dismissed Murray in last year’s Wimbledon Quarter-Final, his best performance yet at a Slam. At 24 Dimitrov now needs to step up to the plate and prove he is the real deal and worthy of the early comparisons to one Roger Federer. He is not in fine form but knows he can flourish at Wimbledon and with a favourable draw could reach the Semi-finals again or further. He won the Boy’s Singles title 7 years ago, could this be the year he wins the real thing?
Going into Grand Slams, momentum and form are vital. Few players in the WTA Tour have more of it right now than Lucie Safarova, the 28 year-old from the Czech Republic whose sudden rise in 2015 has been both notable and impressive. Not only has she won two consecutive Grand Slam doubles titles but has become a force to be reckoned with in the singles too, having reached her first Slam Final at the French Open where a defeat to an imperious Serena Williams was nothing to be ashamed of. She also won her first premier tour title at the Qatar Open in February, knocking out top 15 players Makarova, Petkovic and Navarro before beating former world number 1 Azarenka in the final. Her best effort at Wimbledon came last year when she reached the last 4 while her capacity to hit clean winners, her powerful ground strokes and a high topspin left-handed forehand will be respected and feared. She may be a late bloomer without a major grass track-record but stranger things have happened than Safarova going all the way at Wimbledon.
Down the years many big-servers have prospered at Wimbledon, think Sampras and Ivanisevic, but their dominance has rescinded during the Federer era of majestic baseline rallies and more limited serve and volleying. However, perhaps this year is the one when these powerful servers strike back with a vengeance. The man most likely to lead the charge is Canadian world number 8 Milos Raonic, the recently self-professed ‘best server in the world.’ Although he was knocked out at Queens at the Quarter-final stage, he hit 76 aces in the 3 games he played. Few will relish standing at the other end of the court if he gets that serve going at Wimbledon. He has been cited as one of the best of the emerging post ‘big four’ generation and reached the Semi-Finals last year. None of his 6 ATP titles have come on grass but do not under-estimate the threat he poses to the men’s draw. His emphasis on quick points and strong ground strokes, along with his ability to chip-and-charge and serve and volley, is ideal for grass court tennis.
The current world number 10 Angelique Kerber reached the semi-finals in 2012 and is arguably in the form of her life. She has won 3 titles this year already; including most recently her second grass title, secured at the Aegon Classic where she also finished as runner-up in 2014. It is her best ever season and we’re only half-way into it. She is renowned for her expert defensive play but Kerber is also a physically powerful player confident on either side whose desire to again taste the sweet nectar of victory will have been accentuated by her recent triumphs. Kerber will not want to become known as a consistent latter-stages Slam player who cannot quite make the leap required to reach the final hurdle. With the women’s draw seemingly becoming more open by each passing tournament she has the chance at Wimbledon to build upon her fantastic season to date and establish herself as one of the players to beat on the women’s tour. Kerber wants to emulate her idol Steffi Graf – winning the title Graf lifted 7 times will be the biggest step yet on that journey.
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