It is the eve of Wimbledon and, as I sit in a small Swiss apartment drinking strong Yorkshire tea sent to me from my beloved homeland, I am reflecting on the matches that have defined the Wimbledon build up. By which I mean: I have thought deeply about the French Open, and the two measly weeks on grass that follow in what barely constitutes a tennis “season”. Thank you, tennis gods, for granting us a third week next year, because this changeover is EXHAUSTING.
I would love to talk about Halep’s final run at Roland Garros, and Nadal’s continued dominance. I’d love to talk Claypova and Rise-Of-The-Youngsters. But, alas, the rules of this little game I’ve set myself insist upon focusing on grass, and so here are my picks of the two matches that were of most interest in the grass season.
(I may cheat slightly.)
WTA – Eastbourne, R1: Camila Giorgi def. Victoria Azarenka 4-6 6-3 7-5
It’s been a tough ride for Azarenka since Wimbledon 2013. Last year she crashed out with a horrific scream (I still hear it in nightmares) after twisting her knee badly whilst serving on slippery grass. Since then, she has been plagued with a series of injuries, including a foot injury that has seen her play only 11 matches this year. Although some question her decision to make her comeback on grass, which is notoriously dangerous if your movement isn’t working well, it was good to see her battling hard against the dangerous Italian in Eastbourne.
In a battle that lasted two hours and 47 minutes, Azarenka fell 4-6 6-3 7-5, but made it clear that she is almost ready for the rigors of the WTA tour again. The tour is looking deliciously strong; the women far out performed the men at Roland Garros for quality of play, particularly in the final rounds. That said, the absence of the Belorussian has been felt, and I do wonder if her healthy presence might have held off next-gen’s assault. It is fair to say that Azarenka is one of few, if not the only current player, who can genuinely challenge an on-form Serena. Which is to say: when she’s on form, she’s at least the world’s second best player.
This match was a loss for Azarenka, but it was very much a win for fans of women’s tennis. She lost, but she lost tough. Her draw at Wimbledon is soft enough that if she stays healthy, she could work her way nicely into the tournament. A fourth round appearance would be a refreshing result.
ATP – Queen’s Club, F: Grigor Dimitrov def. Feliciano Lopez 6-7 (8) 7-6 (1) 7-6 (6)
We all know that Grigor Dimitrov is pretty, but it’s time we started talking about how pretty his tennis is too. Although many refer to him as “baby Fed,” which I find a little patronizing, I think a fairer way of looking at him is as a hybrid – as all up-and-coming tennis players ought to be. Each generation should learn from–and build upon–the past. Dimitrov certainly has the grace of shots that Federer possesses, but he also has the foot speed and weirdo bendiness of Novak Djokovic.
That isn’t to say he’s a perfect specimen, and I’m not sure I’d bet on him to go on and dominate with the ferocity of the previous generation, but the guy has game. His hard fought 6-7(8), 7-6(1), 7-6(6) win over Feliciano Lopez, another player known as much for his looks as for his talent, to win at the Queen’s Club in London is perfect preparation for a Wimbledon campaign that will be surely heavily scrutinized.
2014 has felt like one long handing over of the torch from one generation to the next, but the young men have struggled to really light a fire in the way the young women have. It seems to me that the younger men, Gulbis excluded, have a little too much respect for their idols, whilst the young women are happy to make their predecessors burn. Amongst the young guns, Dimitrov is the most impressive so far.
Dimitrov respects his elders, but I think he’s beginning to respect his own abilities in a way that could see him really start to push. I don’t expect that push will take him to a Wimbledon final or even semi-final this year, but I think the foundation is being laid for a strong career.
What does it all mean?
Honestly, very little. The grass season is so short and so lacking in on-form top players that it barely has any bearing on Wimbledon itself.
Last year I correctly called the Wimblegeddon result…seriously. Okay, most of us called Murray because it just felt like his time. But I called it for Bartoli before Serena was even out. I tweeted that call, gave it a hashtag (#TheDreamIsReal), have evidence, and haven’t made a single correct call since. I will boast about that the rest of my life and forever use it as an excuse for getting everything else wrong.
So here’s my probably incorrect call:
Men – Federer.
Women – Chaos, I name thee Bouchard.