Between The Lines
June 20, 2003
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Wimbledon 2003 Preview
Just about all the champions of the great grass-court events at Wimbledon,
Forest Hills, and Kooyong since 1945 have been relentless attackers of net,
skilled in coming forward behind serve. The serve-and-volley style prospered
because the very fast and often unpredictable bounce on grass made serve-returning
and ground-stroking difficult. The low, skidding bounce of the sliced volley
on grass also helped the net player.
Athletic American or Australian net-rushers dominated Wimbledon, from Jack
Kramer in 1947 to Pete Sampras in the 1990's. The magnificent serve-returner and
baseliner Bjorn Borg broke the pattern in winning five consecutive
championships 1976-1980, though at Wimbledon Borg uncharacteristically attacked net
regularly behind serve. Contemporaries of Sampras were net-game artists Krajicek,
who won Wimbledon in 1996, and Pat Rafter, runner-up in 2000 and 2001. There
was much beauty in the tennis of these wonderful players, but many
match-watchers professed boredom at the dominance of servers and the shortness of most
Last year, Wimbledon officials made known that a new mixture of grass had
been installed and that the turf would be firmer and drier than in the past. The
idea was to obtain higher, slower bounces, more like those on hard courts. The
changes followed years of gradual decline in net skills among the top pros as
grass-court events became few. The pros still worked to perfect strong
serves, but most of them followed up serve not by rushing net but rather by powerful
hitting off the ground. Goran Ivanisevic, Wimbledon champion in 2001,
exemplified this approach.
What happened last year, 2002, would once have been unimaginable. Two
baseliners successfully made their way to the Wimbledon final. There, Australian
Lleyton Hewitt defeated Argentina's David Nalbandian in a straight-setter played
largely from back court.
Was 2002 an anomaly, or has the net game lost its eminence even on grass, as
seems likely? Indeed, the greatest of the recent serve-and-volleyers have left
the scene--Sampras and Rafter are gone, and Krajicek announced his retirement
with recurrent elbow trouble just before the forthcoming Wimbledon.
Still, the remaining serve-and-volleyers are better off on grass than
elsewhere. One such star is Greg Rusedski, who for years has been intermittently
troubled by injuries but has played well lately. Another is Max Mirnyi, whose big
serve goes with his physical size. Aussie Wayne Arthurs backs his fine serve
with strong net play. Tim Henman, a fine net player, remains a perennial
threat at Wimbledon, having reached the semis four times in the last five years.
Inauspiciously, Henman, now 28, complained that his chances this year will be
hurt by the slower turf conditions. Also possessing the weaponry to play a
strong net game is Swiss player Roger Federer, though he can be tempted by the
comfort of back court. Federer won the grass tune-up this month at Halle.
Teen-aged Croatian Mario Ancic, at height 6-4, surprised Federer in the first round
last year. Sweden's Bjorkman, France's Escude, and America's Dent and, to a
lesser degree, Blake, can be expected to attack net persistently on grass. All
the above stars find their best chance on grass.
Five players appear to have foremost chances of winning Wimbledon this year.
Two of them--Henman and Federer--are among the net artists cited above. The
others are primarily baseliners, including the defending champion, Lleyton
Hewitt, now just 22, and Andre Agassi, Wimbledon champion in 1992, who reached the
semis three times in the last four years. The fifth prime candidate, Andy
Roddick, also is primarily a baseliner, having earned his recent triumph on the
grass at Queen's largely by superior serving and excellent back-court hitting. I
believe that the coming Wimbledon champion will be one of these five--whichever
one is able to produce his best tennis for the full fortnight.
I also like the strengths of big-servers Rusedski, Ljubicic, Verkerk, and
Mirnyi. (Dent withdrew with back trouble at Nottingham this week.) Impressive
recently were Grosjean at Queen's, Youzhny at Halle. In last year's Wimbledon,
Xavier Malisse at age 21 defeated Rusedski and Krajicek in five-setters, then
bowed to Nalbandian in a five-set semi. Tall Schalken won the final tune-up
tournament last year, then won four matches at Wimbledon before carrying Hewitt
to five sets. Not since 1966, and only twice in the history of the tournament,
has a player from Spain or South America won the men's singles at Wimbledon.
This year's top clay-court players entering Wimbledon include Coria, Kuerten,
Gonzalez, Nalbandian, and Ferrero, none of whom competed in the grass tune-ups.
Here are the odds to win the tournament, as I see them.
Agassi, Federer, each 8-1
Roddick, Henman, each 15-1
all others, 35-1 or longer
LOOKING AT THE BRACKETS
Listed here are the eight sections of the main draw, seeded players shown
first. Our task is to predict the eight quarter-finalists, choosing no more than
four players highest-seeded in their section:
I sense that the quarter-finalist winners will be Hewitt, Federer, Henman,
and Agassi. Then in the semis Federer should defeat Hewitt, Agassi should defeat
Henman. I believe the tournament winner, successfully blending net-rush and
back-court tactics, will be Roger Federer.
- Hewitt, Clement, Gonzalez, Spadea, Mirnyi, Dent, Ljubicic, Bjorkman. In
this section are many strong net-rushers. A foremost danger to the defending
champion is unseeded Taylor Dent, now age 22, who carried Hewitt to five sets in
Wimbledon 2001. Then last year, Dent won two matches before losing to Arthurs
in four sets, all settled in tiebreakers. Dent withdrew with back trouble this
week at Nottingham. The choice therefore remains Hewitt.
- Roddick, Srichaphan, Robredo, Ancic, Rusedski. Almost equal in their
chances are Roddick, Srichaphan, and Rusedski, while Robredo is not far behind.
Rusedski can approach greatness when both he and the conditions are right.
- Federer, Youzhny, Calleri, Gaudio, Davydenko, Fish, Gambill. The rising
Swiss star is better than all the others here on any surface, and his advantage
should be greatest on grass. Fish had a fine run at Nottingham. Federer.
- Schalken, Schuettler, Kuerten, Chela, Santoro, Kratochvil, Todd Martin,
Lapentti. Netherlander Schalken will be playing in his ninth Wimbledon though he
is only 26. Last year he reached the quarters, where he carried Hewitt to five
sets. Tall, but without a dominating serve or net game, Sjeng prefers back
court. He lost to Dent at Queen's last week but started well at Hertogenbosch.
- Nalbandian, Henman, Verkerk, Wayne Ferreira, Kucera, Sa. Garros runner-up
Verkerk would be an interesting candidate except that he stumbled in his first
match at Hertogenbosch this week. Home favorite Henman remains the clear
- Ferrero, Grosjean, Blake, Mantilla, Arthurs, Rosset, Escude. Grosjean's
mobility and shot-making skills are suggestive of Hewitt's. He has done well in
past Wimbledons, he reached the final in the recent Queen's, but he slipped
this week at Hertogenbosch. Escude has a 2-1 career edge over him in head-to-head
play, however, including a four-set win at Wimbledon 2001. Blake's attacking,
balanced game should prevail. Blake.
- Coria, Novak, Kafelnikov, Nieminen, Arazi, Dupuis, Popp, Boutter. Coria has
the speed of Grosjean or Hewitt but shows little past grass-court play.
Novak's grass record is undistinguished but is a nice ball hitter. Dupuis, 20, had
a good run at Queen's. Popp is an interesting grass artist but has been almost
inactive for a year. Net-rusher Popp will probably miss the faster grass of
two years ago. Arazi beat Mirnyi and Arthurs at Nottingham but lost to
Rusedski. The going is easier here. Arazi.
- Agassi, Malisse, El Aynaoui, Coretja, Philippoussis, Mathieu. Malisse would
be a plausible alternative to Andre but lost in straight sets to the American
at Queen's last week. Agassi.
The men's doubles at Wimbledon should be especially interesting, as all
matches are best-of-five sets. In contrast to the singles, we can expect to see
all-out serve-and-volley tennis throughout, especially in the late rounds. There
are many plausible champion pairs, including the winners and runners-up of the
four preceding Slams--eight entirely different pairs. I pick the defending
champions, Bjorkman-Woodbridge, to win the tournament and the current Garros
champions, the Bryans, to reach the final round.
Which tennis nation will win the most singles and doubles matches during the
tournament? The strong depth of the American contingent almost assures that
the U.S. men will again prevail in this unofficial competition. Last year,
Australia was a close runner-up, led by Hewitt in singles and Woodbridge in
doubles. The U.S. scored very well in the doubles, placing two pairs (the Bryans and
Johnson-Palmer) in the final four. Czech Republic was third in matches won.
Four players stand clearly at the top of women's tennis currently--two
sisters and two Belgians--and it is conceivable that all four will make the
Wimbledon semis. The Williams sisters dominated the tournament last year, both of them
advancing to the singles final, won by Serena, and then together capturing
the women's doubles. Venus won the singles in 2000 and 2001. But at Garros
recently, the Belgian stars Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters announced that they have
caught up. Henin defeated Serena in the semis and then Clijsters in the final
after Venus lost earlier. Henin was Wimbledon finalist two years ago at age 19.
Here are the odds as I see them for winning this year's Wimbledon:
S. Williams, 2.5-1
V. Williams, 12-1
Davenport, Hantuchova, Rubin, each 50-1
all others, 100-1 or longer
Here are the eight sections of the draw and my picks:
Serena, Hantuchova, and the Belgians should then safely reach the semis,
whereupon Serena and Clijsters should advance to the final. I choose Serena to
repeat as Wimbledon champion, starting a new run of triumph for the American
- S. Williams, Dementieva, Shaughnessy, Granville, Rittner. Serena.
- Capriati, Myskina, C. Martinez, Tanasugarn, Schett, Sprem. Martinez is amid
a late-career surge. Capriati.
- Henin-Hardenne, Daniilidou, Raymond, Likhovsteva, Pierce. Raymond is strong
at net and could be a spoiler. Henin-Hardenne.
- Dokic, Stevenson, Bovina, Kuznetsova. Grass should be the American's best
- Davenport, Hantuchova, Coetzer, Chladkova. With Lindsay physically below
her best, the choice is Hantuchova.
- V. Williams, Zvonareva, Schnyder, Petrova, Tulyaganova, Srebotnik. The
Russian teen has been steadily rising in the rankings. She defeated Venus at
- Rubin, Maleeva, Ruano Pascual, Farina Elia, Serna, Suarez, Majoli. Rubin
did well at Eastbourne. Maleeva was a recent grass-court winner (Birmingham) and
has shown consistent success against Chanda. Maleeva.
- Clijsters, Sugiyama, Dechy, Pistolesi, Bedanova, Zuluaga. Dechy beat
Sugiyama at Eastbourne but then lost to Capriati. Clijsters.
The women's doubles winners will be Serena and Venus over final-round
Final note: I can hardly wait for late July, which will bring Fed Cup to
Washington along with the Legg Mason and its usual array of ATP stars.
Between The Lines Archives:
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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.
Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular
competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75
singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four
years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where
the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington
Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history
of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A
tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award
from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.
Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ray by using this form.