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Jul 2, 2018
Jul 2, 2018

Mats Wilander's Wimbledon preview

Why players need to be able to adapt on grass

Can anyone challenge the King of Wimbledon?

Three main contenders in the women's tournament

Mats Wilander's Wimbledon preview

The oldest and arguably most famous of the four tennis Grand Slam tournaments is now underway. Pinnacle’s brand ambassador Mats Wilander has provided some expert insight into which men and women could come out on top at Wimbledon 2018. Read on to find out more.

Even though I’m not playing anymore, I still get incredibly excited when Wimbledon comes around. While the other Grand Slam events are full of top quality tennis and edge of the seat drama, there’s still something special about the two weeks of grass court tennis at SW19.

A surface like no other

Although the French Open is played on a unique clay surface that has its nuances, most players (both past and present) will tell you that there is nothing like playing at Wimbledon. Grass is a difficult surface to master by itself but how it plays can change drastically during a tournament and even a single match.

So much effort is put into keeping the courts at Wimbledon as close to perfection as possible. Ahead of the tournament, and for the first few days at least, each one of the 18 courts looks pristine. However, as soon as play starts, not much can be done to stop the wear and tear. While the deterioration of the surface doesn’t look too pretty, it also has an impact on the matches being played.

Precision is more important than power when it comes to serving on grass. You don’t need to hit aces for an easy service game at Wimbledon, just placing the ball well means it’s unlikely to get returned

While the courts are green the ball will bounce true and stay fairly low but once the grass dries out and turns into dirt, the bounce becomes inconsistent. Players are effectively playing on two different surfaces over the course of the tournament, one for the first week and one for the second - only those who can adapt their style and tactics accordingly will prevail.

How the players move is just as important as how the ball moves on the grass court. It’s the players’ feet that wear the court out and that’s why we see more dirt patches around the baseline. These drier areas might be easier to move on but players will have to adapt to the slippery grassier areas from time to time as well (especially if they come into the net).

Why is Federer so good on grass?

There’s no doubt that Roger Federer has mastered how to play the Wimbledon surface better than anyone else. Take nothing away from his ability on the other surfaces (which is still incredibly impressive), he’s just on another level on grass.

There are plenty of reasons for why Federer has been so dominant at SW19. His patience with shot selection, ability to adapt to the bounce and his unbelievable precision with both his serve and groundstrokes are perhaps the most obvious.

Most players have a proactive approach to tennis, trying to pre-plan their shots and where to play the ball. While this works on most surfaces, on grass you have to be more reactive as you won’t know what is the best shot to play until the ball has bounced. With such good hands and feel for the ball, the eight-time Wimbledon champion can manoeuvre his wrists and play his shot right at the very last moment.

Precision is more important than power when it comes to serving on grass. You don’t need to hit aces for an easy service game at Wimbledon, just placing the ball well means it’s unlikely to get returned as it will skid off the surface and leave your opponent stretching to make their shot (this is something Federer does better than anyone else).

I spoke to Federer prior to the start of the tournament and while he seemed incredibly relaxed, he was also more determined than ever - his 21st Grand Slam will mean just as much as his first. Last year he took the clay court season off to spend some time relaxing with his family, give his body a rest and prepare for his favourite tournament. It worked last time around and it won’t come as a surprise if it does this time as well.

Can anyone challenge the King of Wimbledon?

I never thought I’d see a 36-year-old head into a Grand Slam as the favourite but you can’t really argue against why Federer is where he is. However, there is potential to pick a winner from some of the more unfenced players at this year’s tournament.

Novak Djokovic seems to be a popular pick but I’m struggling to see why. He’s definitely playing well, getting back to his physical best and I think he has it in him to win another Grand Slam or two but the fact that he’s not winning the crucial points in his matches this year has to be a concern.

Grass is a difficult surface to master by itself but how it plays can change drastically during a tournament and even a single match.

It’s hard to explain what the pressure is like on those big points in matches, the ones you know that could make it go either way, but Djokovic seems like he just can’t handle it at the moment. Whether it’s the wrong tactical choice or playing it too safe, the former World No. 1 just isn’t there at the moment. I don’t doubt that he’ll go deep in the tournament but if I was picking between the big two away from Federer (Djokovic and Nadal), the Spaniard would get my vote.

He’s a character that divides attention but Nick Kyrgios is a player with undeniable potential. The 23-year-old Australian is still playing some of those silly shots and has a poor track record with his mentality but his conviction at Queens and the Stuttgart Open showed him in a new light for me. Grass is definitely his best surface and there’s a solid run of Grand Slam performances in there waiting to come out.

Further down the list of contenders is a relative unknown (at least for those who don’t follow tennis away from the Grand Slams) in Denis Shapovalov. At only 19 years of age, Shapovalov is the youngest player to break into the ATP Top 30 since Rafael Nadal in 2005 (he’s currently ranked No. 25). The young Canadian has a good grass game, a fairly decent draw and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a quarter-final. 

Why the women’s title is up for grabs

There are three fairly close favourites in the women’s game for who will win Wimbledon this year and each of them have some big positives to look at, but there are also some negatives that should be considered.

Petra Kvitova has won Wimbledon twice before (2011 and 2014) and looks to be getting back to her best since that terrible stabbing incident at the very end of 2016 (she’s already won five singles titles this year). Kvitova has shown she can adapt to the grass and seems to thrive on Centre Court. She’s got her fitness back and the added motivation to win a Grand Slam after such a horrific injury shouldn’t be overlooked.

Another name who everyone is bound to be talking about at Wimbledon is of course Serena Williams. She returned to competitive tennis in some style in Paris but unfortunately injury prevented her from a fourth-round showdown with Maria Sharapova. Serena will have been training hard but it will be a tough two weeks if she’s to progress in the tournament and fitness will be a concern later down the line. 

Gabine Muguruza will also be a popular pick given that she’s currently the reigning champion having defeated Venus Williams in straight sets last year (becoming the first woman to beat both Williams sisters in a Grand Slam final). Still only 24, Muguruza is already a two-time Grand Slam winner who still has the potential to improve.

Ashleigh Barty is yet to announce herself on the Grand Slam stage but she’s definitely impressed those watching the WTA tour with a close eye. There’s a mix of styles in the women’s game at the moment with some real battlers and a few big hitters but the young Australian is unique. She’s got shades of Federer with how she tries to play the game and it won’t be long until she fulfils her potential.

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