The fast and irregular bounce on Wimbledon grass means that a
groundstroke-based game will be less effective there than elsewhere, while
extra rewards will go to net artistry, serve-returning,
and--especially--serving ability. But most of today's pros, both men and
women, are most comfortable in baseline play. Thus we will still see many
matches where one or even both players try to win primarily from back court.
The mixing of styles and the premium on attacking play will create
fascinating tennis for the watcher, at least through the early rounds. But at
the end, it will be the big servers who survive.
In preparing to write this column, I calculated how well various preceding
tournaments predicted the results of the last two Wimbledons. (Such
calculations have been described in previous Slam-preview columns here.) The
weightings thus reached are used here to identify the players most likely to
do well in the men's singles at Wimbledon 2002, as follows:
--Wimbledon 2000 - 19.1%
--Wimbledon 2001 - 19.1%
--Queen's and Halle 2001 - 4.8%
--Nottingham and Hertogenbosch 2001 - 4.8%
--Newport 2001 - 4.8%
--Queen's and Halle 2002 - 6.5%
--U.S. Open 2001 - 7.6%
--Australian Open 2002 - 15.2%
--Key Biscayne 2002 - 14.7%
--Garros 2002 - 3.4%
Ideally, five years of historical data should be used to determine the above
weightings. An alternative, used here, is to dampen contrary-to-logic
variations by grouping similar events together.
Here then are the players shown by the calculations most likely to succeed at
forthcoming Wimbledon. Sadly, two familiar stars who earned places near the
top are not shown, as neither Pat Rafter nor defending champion Goran
Ivanisevic will be competing this year. Both are victims of long-standing
#1 - Andre Agassi
The veteran American's top ranking in our study comes from his strong
performances in the last two Wimbledons and in U.S. Open 2001, along with his
triumph this year at Key Biscayne, an event surprisingly strong as a
predictor of Wimbledon.
Agassi won his only Wimbledon championship in 1992, the first of his seven
Slam triumphs. His lifetime record at Wimbledon is a remarkable 40-10. Still,
grass-court tennis seems not a good match for Andre's strengths--his heavy
groundstroke artillery, his quickness and timing in shotmaking, his physical
power and stamina. In his great rivalry with Sampras, for example, Agassi has
lost both meetings at Wimbledon. On the other hand, Agassi delivers a firm
serve which gains in effectiveness on grass, while his excellent skills in
serve-returning, perhaps the most difficult aspect of the grass-court game,
probably count inordinately in his favor.
#2 - Pete Sampras
Pete won seven Wimbledon championships in the eight years 1993-2000, relying
on a superior first and second serve, strong volleying and overhead skills,
and erstwhile net-rushing tactics. Wimbledon's grass seemed tailored for him,
and many observers deemed him history's greatest champion, recalling that
three of the four Slams were once played on that surface.
Sampras's amazing Wimbledon run ended last year in the round of 16, when Pete
lost in five close sets to rising star Roger Federer. There had been an
unexpectedly close escape earlier in the tournament, in the second round,
when Britisher Barry Cowan carried Sampras to five sets. Then in early 2002,
Pete was upset on grass by Corretja in Davis Cup play. Last week, Sampras
lost to German player Kiefer on grass at Halle, Germany.
But if the great champion is no longer invulnerable on his favorite surface,
as long as he can call on his magnificent serving and net game he remains
capable of defeating the strongest opponent on grass.
#3 - Thomas Johansson
The Swedish star at 27 was the surprise winner of this year's Australian
Open. His won-lost record at Wimbledon over the years has been very good,
though he has never passed the fourth round there. Last year, he won the
grass-court tune-up events at Halle and Nottingham, showing wins over
Arthurs, Rusedski, Kafelnikov, Escude, and Bjorkman. Johansson is a hard
hitter both in serving and off the ground, with fine net skills and
temperament, strongly supporting his #3 ranking here.
Last week Johansson won two matches at Halle before losing to net-rushing
Carlsen. He then returned to Sweden to seek treatment for back trouble,
withdrawing from the tune-up event this week. His physical readiness to play
his best remains uncertain.
#4 - Lleyton Hewitt
Our #4 star, now age 21, has won the tournament on the historic grass at
Queen's the last three years. Last year, then 20, he also won at
Hertogenbosch, then reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, where he lost a
five-setter to French star Escude. At Queen's last week he won four
consecutive matches in straight sets, then defeated Henman in their three-set
Hewitt's strengths are his court mobility, counter-punching ability, and
fierce will to win every point. His slightness of stature and physique are
probably minimized as weaknesses by the short points on grass, while the
Hewitt serve--normally a neutral weapon on other surfaces--takes on added
#5 - Tim Henman
Wimbledon has been by far Henman's best Slam, where his excellent
serve-and-volley skills are most effective. He has been a center of attention
there since his teen-aged years, and indeed reached the semis three times in
the last four years. Last year he lost to Hewitt in the final at Queen's in
two tiebreak sets, then carried eventual champion Ivanisevic to five sets at
Wimbledon. This year Henman, now 27, again reached the final at Queen's,
again closely losing to Hewitt. No Britisher has won the men's singles crown
at Wimbledon since Perry in 1936.
#6 - Marat Safin
The tall Russian star won U.S. Open in 2000 and finished that year second in
the ATP point standings. He struggled with injuries last year but reached the
final eight at Wimbledon, losing in four sets to Ivanisevic. Year 2002 has
gone better--Safin was runner-up at Australia and now leads in the ATP points
race for the year to date. His huge serve--measured second-fastest to
Roddick's at last month's Garros--assuredly will be effective on Wimbledon
grass. Though he has the size and agility for strong net play, his natural
inclinations are for the baseline, not forecourt.
#7 - Roger Federer
The rising Swiss superstar, now just 20, earned his place in our ranking by
consistent solid performances in many of the predictor events. He scored a
nice 5-2 W-L record at the grass warm-ups last year, then defeated Sampras at
Wimbledon. He played well at Australia this year, reached the final at Key
Biscayne, won the German Open on clay (this event is not one of our
predictors), then lost in the first round at Garros. He again performed well
in the grass prelims this year, winning three matches at Halle before losing
in three to Kiefer, then defeating comeback star Richard Krajicek in the
first round this week at Hertogenbosch.
For several years Federer has been seen as a future Wimbledon champion. His
serving ability is outstanding, he moves well both in back court and at net,
and unquestionably belongs among the favorites.
#8 - Jonas Bjorkman
Back in 1997, the Swedish doubles superstar was the world's #4 singles
player, finishing the year strongly. Since then, he has been best known as
partner for Rafter and now Todd Woodbridge, but he earned a place in our Top
Eight here primarily by a 5-2 record in the last two Wimbledons and by
reaching the quarters at Australia 2002, where he lost to eventual winner
Johansson in four sets. At age 30, never before a Slam contender, and lacking
an overpowering serve, he seems an unlikely Wimbledon champion. Last week he
lost in the first round at Halle, falling to eventual champion Kafelnikov.
But he defeated top-seeded Andy Roddick in the first round this week at
The margins dividing the members within our Second Eight are small. Among the
group are recognized strong grass-court players Escude, Rusedski, and Todd
Martin. Last November Escude repeated his Wimbledon win over Hewitt,
defeating the mercurial Australian in critical Davis Cup play on grass, again
in five sets. All three are plausible candidates to reach the late rounds.
The other Second Eighters are solid all-surface performers--Europeans
Kafelnikov, Enqvist, Novak, Pavel, and American Gambill. All usually prefer
hitting from back court, and each of them will have to choose how
aggressively to seek the opportunities offered at net, weighing them against
his own limitations in forecourt. Kafelnikov won the tune-up at Halle last
Other interesting candidates include Max Mirnyi, 6-5 in height, who showed
awesome serve-and-volley skills at Garros last month, and heavy-hitting
Philippoussis, who has been sidelined intermittently for two years with knee
trouble. Also likely to command notice are serve-and-volley artist Wayne
Arthurs, who defeated Sampras at Garros, net-rushers Prinosil and Popp,
hard-working H.T. Lee, Voltchkov, and Youzhny, and rising American star James
Blake. Andy Roddick has the game's consistently biggest serve and wonderful
ground strokes, but is not yet superior in his serve-returning or net play.
Also just outside our Second Eight is tall Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands,
who showed excellent results at Queen's last week. With Rios having
withdrawn, the player from South America or Spain highest in our listing at
#18 is Argentinian Canas.
THE OFFICIAL SEEDINGS
Tournament officials made this year's seedings in the men's singles using
the standard 12-month "entry" points system except that grass-court events
were counted double and a player's best grass event in the 12 months before
that was added in at 75%. The result is that the highest eight seeded players
are the same as our computer's Top Eight, albeit in much different sequence,
except that Kafelnikov is included instead of Bjorkman. The Second Eights are
quite different, however, as the official list brings in Ferrero, Canas, El
Aynaoui, and Roddick, all of whom show strong clay-court results.
My above calculations in all cases pointed to the highest seeded player in
each section, but I also imposed my usual restrictions against choosing too
many top seeds. Within each section of the draw shown here, players are
listed in seeded order.
--Hewitt (1), Escude, Nieminen, Gaudio, Bjorkman, Youzhny, Rosset. Escude is
a tempting alternative to the top seed, but our numbers say the Swedish star
has a better chance. Bjorkman
--Federer (7), Ferrero, Schalken, Santoro, Pless, Golmard. Although Schalken
or Santoro could be troublesome, the choice is Federer
--Henman (4), El Aynaoui, Robredo, Ljubicic, Sluiter, Ferreira. Henman
--Johansson (8), Canas, Schluetter, Koubek, Arazi, Dupuis. Johansson
--Kafelnikov (5), Roddick, Rusedski, Malisse, Larsson, Hrbaty. A vote for the
serving and volleying skills seen in times past. Rusedski
--Agassi (3), Enqvist, Chela, Blake, Philippoussis, Krajicek. Although Blake
is a tempting alternative and Philippoussis an unpredictable hurdle, I choose
--Sampras (6), Novak, Nalbandian, Mirnyi, Dent, Gambill, Massu. Mirnyi has
the tougher road to the fourth round but has the big game to outplay Pete.
--Safin (2), Pavel, Lapentti, T.Martin, Clement, Carlsen, Pioline. I like the
more-experienced and 10-year-older player here, whose physical weapons are
not far behind Safin's. Martin
Relying heavily on messages from our computer, I pick Federer, Johansson,
Agassi, and Martin to reach the semis, Johansson and Agassi to reach the
final, and Agassi to win his eighth Slam.
THE WOMEN'S SINGLES
More clearly than in the past, the Williams sisters seem the dominant
superstars of women's tennis and the prime contenders to win a forthcoming
Slam. Venus and Serena possess the game's most powerful serves, both are
excellent serve-returners--quick in their reaction and shot preparation,
attacking in their instincts--and both have superior agility and quickness at
net along with crushing overheads. The sisters are the Top Two both in the
running 12-month and in the 2002 rankings--Venus leads in the 12-month, Serena
in the 2002. For either to meet defeat prior to reaching the final at
Wimbledon 2002 seems very improbable barring physical injury or an extended
breakdown of control in shotmaking. The tournament could become a grand
triumph for the sisters, as they have also entered the doubles as partners.
But nothing is certain in sport, and there are several other stars worthy of
serious notice. Closest to the sisters in power, consistency, and athleticism
is Jennifer Capriati, winner of this year's Australian Open, who last year
defeated Serena in three close sets at Wimbledon. Capriati has, however, lost
to Serena four times in 2002 including in the semis at Garros last month.
Past champions Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis will not compete this
year because of surgeries, while Monica Seles--a serious threat on slower
surfaces--cannot challenge strongly on grass. The Belgian superstar Henin
earned world attention in reaching the final last year and in carrying Venus
to a third set. But Justine has slipped backwards in the rankings of late,
having disappeared early at Garros with flu-like symptoms. Her countrywoman
Clijsters has also shown disappointing results this year. Jelena Dokic, now
in the Top Eight for 2002, showed grass-court success in triumphing last week
at Birmingham. Meanwhile strong serving should lift Mauresmo, Stevenson,
Molik, and Daniilidou to the middle rounds and perhaps beyond. Veterans
Tauziat and Raymond bring volleying tactics reminiscent of an earlier era.
Meanwhile in the doubles, the wonderful Raymond-Stubbs pair have the talent
to counter the Williams power.
Given the chasm that has recently marked women's tennis at about the #8
position, there are few plausible alternatives to the top eight seeds. We
offer four here, mainly from guesswork.
--V. Williams (1), Raymond, Schnyder, Suarez. Venus
--Clijsters (5), Farina Elia, Coetzer, Maleeva. Clijsters
--Seles (4), Smashnova, Tanasugarn, Sugiyama. With a nice win at Vienna last
--Henin (6), Dementieva, Majoli, Schett, Nagyova. Henin
--Testud (8), Mauresmo, Myskina, Pratt, Pierce, Molik. Mauresmo
--Capriati (3), Shaughnessy, Stevenson, Bedanova. Having shown a pattern of
improving results lately, Stevenson
--Dokic (7), Hantuchova, Kremer, Dechy. Hantuchova
--S. Williams (2), Tulyaganova, Panova, C. Fernandez. Serena
For the semis I choose Venus, Henin, Stevenson, and Serena. To reach the
final, I choose the sisters.
But which sister will it be? Venus is the tournament's two-time defending
champion, while Serena seemed the stronger this spring, though for a time
during their final-round meeting at Garros last month the two seemed about
equal. The first serves of both will be more difficult to return at
Wimbledon, the second serves less attackable, though both players should
benefit equally from this circumstance. If Venus is the more patient striker
of the ball and probably the better defensive player, these assets will pale
somewhat on the fast grass. To win, Venus must choose to attack net
regularly. Probably Serena is the more vulnerable to upset in the early
rounds, but once both reach the final, once again in my opinion only Serena
can defeat Serena. For Serena it will be easier on the fast grass than at