By Mike McIntyre
To me, the start of summer has always been christened by the opening day of play on the prestigious lawns of the All-England Club. As a child, school had just finished and my family and I would take that first week off and head to the East Coast for some beach time in Kennebunkport, Maine. Regardless of how sunny it was, I would usually find myself sitting in front of the television watching the opening rounds of Wimbledon, while my parents and siblings instead made their way to the ocean shaking their heads at my stubborn dedication to the sport I loved.
Growing up with the great Boris Becker/Stefan Edberg rivalry during the summers of 1988, 89 and 90 would forever ingrain a love for tennis within me that has endured to this day. Later, players like Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic and Tim Henman would further my affection for the magic that could happen during this famous fortnight. Today, as the tournament is preparing to begin, I find myself once more looking forward to the start of summer and the two best week's of tennis I could ever imagine.
Here then is our Wimbledon preview for 2011. We'll have a look quarter by quarter and amuse ourselves with analysis, historical data and all the potential marquee matchups that tennis fans look forward to watching as the draw unfolds.
Reigning champion Rafael Nadal has not lost a match at Wimbledon since the finals in 2007. He has won the last two times he has played the event in 2008 and 2010, while injuries kept him away in 2009. Nadal has just captured his sixth French Open title and will attempt to marvel the sporting world with the possibility of another back-to-back Roland Garros/Wimbledon accomplishment.
Nadal will have his hands full with the draw he has received although his first match against veteran American journeyman Michael Russell provides a nice opening act, followed by the winner of Pablo Andujar/Ryan Sweeting. Then things get tricky for the (current) world number one.
Canadian wonder-boy Milos Raonic is set to play Wimbledon for the first time and, with his serve and volley game tailor-made for grass court tennis, could cause some serious damage. In many other sections of the draw, Raonic would have been a favorite to advance to the quarter-finals based on his impressive arsenal of fast-court weapons. While he could still give Nadal a heck of a ride, you'd have to imagine that Nadal's experience will stave off this potential upset.
Juan Martin Del Potro, seeded 24th, has shown great results in his comeback from wrist surgery and is starting to make his way back towards the top ten. He should be around to face Nadal in the fourth round in another match that will push Nadal to his limits. The Argentine has never had much success on grass, failing to ever advance past the second round of Wimbledon, yet he has many of the tools to be successful on the surface. Regardless of past accomplishments, he is not someone Nadal will look forward to facing this early in the tournament.
A rematch of last year's final with Tomas Berdych could occur in the quarter-finals if both he and Nadal hold true to their seedings. Berdych had a fantastic tournament a year ago in making his first ever Grand Slam final and in dispatching Roger Federer in the quarters, but has since failed to make much forward momentum with his career progress. A first round loss at the U.S. Open last year was followed by the quarter-finals in Australia this year and then another first round loss at the French a few weeks ago. Even at full-tilt, Berdych has not troubled Nadal in years and I don't expect that to change if they meet again here next week.
Flying under the radar is local favorite and whipping-boy Andy Murray. Murray had a breakthrough season in 2009 where he won six titles but a year ago took a step backwards as he only captured two titles and failed to claim his first major title as many expected he might do. This season started slowly for Murray but he seems to be rounding into form after a semi-final appearance on his least favorite surface of clay at Roland Garros and then in winning the Queen's Club title over Tsonga after dismantling Andy Roddick by an emphatic score of 6-3, 6-1 in the semi-finals. With all eyes on Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, Murray has the perfect opportunity to steal their thunder this year at home.
Murray opens against clay court specialist Daniel Gimeno-Traver in what should be a quick and ruthless result for the world number four and he will have to wait until the third round before a real test against either Croatian Marin Cilic or Ivan Ljubicic. In the round of sixteen he could come up against Richard Gasquet who has made the semis of Wimbledon before and the quarters would likely bring him Andy Roddick who no longer seems capable of competing with the big guns. With low expectations this year, Murray might be able to deflect the scrutiny of the UK media machine and actually come up with the moment we have all been waiting for. A semi-final with Nadal could be epic.
The six-time champion must be ecstatic with his draw that has a birth in the semi-finals all-but assured. Unless Roger has his "George Bastl moment", he should be sailing through just as he did in Paris last month. A meeting with David Nalbandian in the third round will not hold the same luster it once did, as Nalbandian has been oft-injured and needs more time to return to form. John Isner could meet up with Fed in the quarters, or perhaps Mikhail Youzhny, but neither one will trump one of the greatest grass-court players of all-time. Truly it will have to be a semi-final against Novak Djokovic to put Roger to the test in this year's edition, but even then I think we're going to see the Swiss maestro back in the finals where he so often has found himself.
Up until his semi-final loss to Federer at the French Open, the tennis world was completely fascinated by the incomparable play of Novak Djokovic who began the 2011 season with a 41-0 record and came within one victory of tying John McEnroe's record where he began the 1984 season 42-0.
With that loss, fans and media pundits alike (yours truly included) have suddenly tapered their expectations for Djokovic and have realigned themselves for the usual Federer/Nadal final prediction at Wimbledon.
The pressure to continue his streak is over, so Djokovic has a bit of reprieve form the spotlight, however he is less than 100 points behind Nadal for the number one ranking, which would be a first for him in his career. It will be considered a disappointment if Djokovic fails to make the finals but I don't think he can beat Federer if Roger is at his grass-court best and playing the same brand of aggressive and near-flawless tennis he played against him in Paris.
Djokovic should be able to navigate through the first few rounds with opponents like Jeremy Chardy, Marcos Baghdatis and Viktor Troicki on deck. A quarter-final against Robin Soderling could offer a great tilt in what would be their first grass-court meeting.
Overall it seems likely to me that the top four players in the world will advance to the semi-finals. If so, we would be treated to a second consecutive Slam where this has happened and that in itself is a great thing for tennis fans of the ATP World Tour.
Enjoy the opening rounds. Matches like Marcos Baghdatis against James Blake, Lleyton Hewitt versus Kei Nishikori and most importantly a rematch of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut should offer a great start to the tournament and to another summer of fantastic tennis.
Stay tuned to ProTennisFan for coverage throughout the event and feel free to follow us on Twitter as well for regular updates.
Here is the order of play for tomorrow: