Wimbledon 2016 preview roundtable: Predictions, top storylines
As the players gear up for the start of Wimbledon 2016 on Monday, June 27, SI.com tennis experts and writers Jon Wertheim, Richard Deitsch, Elizabeth Newman, Stanley Kay and Jamie Lisanti discuss this year’s top storylines and predict the winners.
What are you most looking forward to in the draw?
Jon Wertheim: Five storylines?
1) Can anyone stop the immovable object/unstoppable force that is Novak Djokovic? If not, he’s a Slam away from the Grand.
2) What’s the state of Roger Federer’s game? Maybe you heard: the seven-time Wimbledon champ is almost 35.
3) Which—if any—members of Gen Next can justify the hype: Zverev, Thiem Kyrgios, even Taylor Fritz. Who will be around in Week Two?
4) Can Serena Williams win her first Slam in a year, reversing what is—by her standards— a troublesome slump?
5) Can Garbine Muguruza back up her first major with a second—or at least come close?
Richard Deitsch: The prospect of Novak Djokovic facing seven-time winner Roger Federer in the semis. There’s always an air of tension when these two meet—their styles make great fights—and it’s a historically closer rivalry than you might think: Novak leads, 23-22 lifetime. As you know, they played a fascinating first two sets in last year’s final including a 12-10 tiebreak in the second before Novak found his footing and won the final two sets. Given Wimbledon remains the best option for Federer to have one last major breakthrough—especially if he serves as he did last year—I give him a puncher’s chance to knock off Djokovic, who is obviously the favorite to win his fifth consecutive major title. A potential fourth round meeting between Andy Murray and Nick Kyrgios on Centre Court could be delicious. I’m also hoping for a quarterfinal between Garbine Muguruza and Venus Williams. Muguruza has not beaten Venus in three tries but the two have yet to play in 2016.
Stanley Kay: Taylor Fritz taking on Stan Wawrinka at a Slam event is going to be fun to watch. Fritz took a set off Roger Federer in Stuttgart, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how Fritz fares against a top–class player on this stage. It’s a tough draw for Fritz, but a big test against a player of Stan’s caliber will be invaluable experience.
Elsewhere, I’m already salivating over the prospect of Nick Kyrgios meeting Andy Murray in the fourth round of the men’s draw, though Kyrigos’s path to a meeting with Murray isn’t easy. In the first round, Kyrgios will meet Radek Stepanek—who took Murray to five sets at Roland Garros—and in the second round, he could meet the always-entertaining Dustin Brown. Then a possible matchup with Feliciano Lopez or Fabio Fognini looms before a showdown with Murray.
On the women’s side, I’m generally interested in seeing how Madison Keys fares. She made the quarterfinals last year, but she has exited her last three Slams in the fourth round. In the first round, she’ll take on Laura Siegemund, who beat Keys earlier this year in Charleston. Keys’s fourth–round opponent at this year’s edition of Wimbledon could be No. 5 Simona Halep.
Elizabeth Newman: Serena finally winning No. 22. We've been stood up at the alter with strawberries and cream on our faces long enough. On the men's side, I want to see if this kid Alexander Zverev is the real deal. His strokes and big serves are well suited to grass so he should be able to go deep into the draw.
Jamie Lisanti: Fortunately, it already feels like we’re on our way to a better Grand Slam tournament than the previous one, thanks to the assortment of first-round popcorners on the schedule. Fritz–Wawrinka? Kyrgios–Stepanak? Wozniacki–Kuznetsova? Lisicki–Rogers? Buyukacay–Garcia? Cibulkova–Lucic-Baroni? The list goes on and I’m excited to watch them all.
I’m also interested to see how Serena handles herself this year at the All England Club. It will be the third Slam in a row where she comes in as the defending champion. Already this year, she’s done a documentary. She’s done magazine covers. She’s danced with Beyonce in her music video. As always, there’s a lot going on in Williams World, but her losses in the finals of the previous two majors show that she’s not all there. Can she find that next level, zone in mentally and finish the job?
Of course, I’m curious to see how Djokovic rebounds after finally winning the one Slam that eluded him for so long. (We’re not done with that phrase just yet!) Will he refocus and, like Serena was able to in 2015, handle the pressure—and the whispers of possibly completing calendar Slam and Golden Slam—and win his third major of the year? Or will he still be in French Open honeymoon mode and falter against an opponent playing his best-ever tennis?
Name your Wimbledon 2016 dark horses.
Kay: I really like Madison Keys’s chances to make a deep run. She’s coming off a title in Birmingham, where she notched two nice comeback wins over Jelena Ostapenko and Carla Suarez Navarro before beating Barbora Strycova in the final. Keys is in the Top 10 for the first time in her career, and I think she’s ready to take the leap at Wimbledon.
Dominic Thiem hardly counts as a dark horse considering his remarkable form in recent months, but I think he has a great shot to reach the semifinals. One true dark horse that could stand in his way: No. 24 Alexander Zverev, who could meet Thiem in the fourth round. Zverev, 19, is so fresh that Brad Gilbert only gave him a nickname last month, but “A2Z” had a decent run at the French Open (losing a four–setter to Thiem in the third round) and made the final at Halle earlier this month, beating Roger Federer in the semis. The young German is the real deal, and we could look back on Wimbledon 2016 as the tournament in which he became a genuine star.
Wertheim: Princess and Destiny.
Seriously for me, I like me some Gilles Muller, the hard-serving Luxembourgian. (But, really, which Luxembourgians aren’t hard-serving?) Other names: Nicolas Mahut, Feliciano Lopez. Can Nick Kyrgios be a dark horse at No. 15? If so, add him to the cart. And it will be interesting to see how Taylor Fritz performs.
On the women’s side keep an eye on Kristina Mladenovic, the athletic French femme who could play Serena in round three, a rematch of their French Open clash. And Caroline Wozniacki, who is about 30 spots better than her current, unsightly ranking of No. 27.
Lisanti: If she can get by a tough opener against Svetlana Kuznetsova, Caroline Wozniacki has a good chance of making a solid run, one she desperately needs after a year filled with injury issues and a ranking plummet. But my true dark horse that I’d bet you a Pimm’s Cup on is CoCo Vandeweghe. Last year, the big-serving Californian roweled up the crowd—and her opponent, Maria Sharapova—in the quarterfinals, but wasn’t able to close out the match, losing in three sets. This year, seeded No. 27 and in a tournament sans-Sharapova, I see Vandeweghe powering through to the quarters once again, this time getting the win to make her second career Slam semifinal, first at Wimbledon.
Deitsch: He’s not a traditionally dark horse given he’s currently ranked No. 7 in the world but I have my eye on Milos Raonic, who was runner-up to Murray on the grass courts of Queen's and now adds John McEnroe as part of his coaching team. Traditionally, when one of these iconic figures (Becker, Connors, Edberg, Lendl, etc…) joins a coaching staff, there’s usually an immediate impact in the subsequent tournament (long-term success is something very different). I think Raonic, given his serve, is a very dangerous player at Wimbledon, and one of the few people I could see upsetting Djokovic.
Newman: On the women’s side, Eugenie Bouchard. Where, oh where is the Genie of yesteryear? The 2014 Wimbledon finalist fell off the map in 2015. (Quite literally—Google U.S. Open locker room fall.) In 2016, however, she appears to have started the road to recovery with her game, making the final of the Hobart International in January and at the Malaysian Open the following month. Wimbledon is her favorite tournament, so a little confidence and grit on the grass could see her a long way.
On the men’s side, Dominic Thiem. The Djoker may be the heavyweight champ, but Dominic Thiem is looking more and more like the No. 1 contender for the title. He's won four tournaments on three different surfaces and has played an ATP-high 45 matches so far this season. Last week he beat Roger Federer in Stuttgart, the second time he has taken down the seven-time Wimbledon champion this season.
Name one off-beat or off-court story you will be following.
Kay: Wimbledon is the essence of British elitism at a time of tremendous anti–elite sentiment in Britain. In a Thursday referendum, Britain voted to leave the European Union, raising questions about the U.K.’s future and sending markets into chaos. Wimbledon ostensibly has nothing to do with the Brexit campaign, but I’m interested in observing the juxtaposition between British populist anger and the refined atmosphere of the All England Club, particularly as the U.K. economy enters a period of volatility.
Newman: Brexit at Wimbledon. How will the U.K.'s secession from the union affect play at the All England Club? Does David Cameron still get royal box seats even though he is stepping down? Will the grass still be as green? Will the strawberries and cream still be as fresh? Inquiring minds…
Deitsch: I’m very interested to see how the news of Britain voting to leave the European Union plays at Wimbledon. Players will be asked about it, especially those from countries part of the European Union. Surely, Murray—famously Scot—is going to get Qs.
Wertheim: The Maria Sharapova saga and her CAS appeal will be a sub-theme of this event. We’re due for an eruption from Mt. Kyrgios. We usually have at least one good apparel story—someone’s camisole doesn’t meet the exacting standard of the All England Club. Also, the cast heads to Brazil a few weeks after the conclusion for the Rio Games.
Lisanti: Coaching changes always interest me and the additions of Lendl to Murray’s team and McEnroe to the Raonic camp could have a big affect on the tennis—and the off-court headlines. It will also be interesting to see how British pride has an affect on the tournament and the players, especially with a good crop of hometown players and the Brexit news.
Make at least one bold prediction for the tournament.
Deitsch: I’m going big and predicting Alison Riske, the 25-year-old from Nashville and ranked No. 80 in the world, will upset U.S. Open winner Roberta Vinci in the opening round. This is the first meeting between the two players.
Wertheim: Milos Raonic is your men’s winner, the first male champion in 14 years to come from outside the top four seeds.
Kay: We’re going to see a mass Brexit on the men’s side. By the end of the second round, Andy Murray will be the last remaining Brit in the draw.
Newman: There will be no American males left after the fourth round. Oh wait, that's not so bold is it?
Lisanti: Laura Robson will beat No. 4-seed Angelique Kerber in the first round. Simona Halep will not make it past Middle Sunday. Monica Puig will make a deep run, beginning with a win over Johanna Konta. Dustin Brown knocks out a ranting-and-raving Nick Kyrgios in round two. Juan Martin del Potro makes the second week. How’s that for bold?
Who will win the women’s title?
Deitsch: Reports of the decline of Serena Williams are premature. I see her motivated on a surface she likes after losing in Melbourne and Paris.
Kay: Despite Serena Williams losing her last two Slam finals, I’m still bullish on her chances. She was outplayed in the finals at Melbourne and Roland Garros, but I think she’ll come through and win No. 22 at Wimbledon.
Newman: Serena Williams. Duh.
Wertheim: Her shortcomings at the previous three majors notwithstanding, I think you have to stick with Serena Williams. She’s won Wimbledon four times since 2009 alone; that slobberknocker of a serve is aided by the grass. And as is so often the case in the women’s game, if you’re not picking Serena you need to justify an alternative. Garbine Muguruza? Sure, maybe. Though it's always tough to win two straight majors. Petra Kvitova? She’s been as mysterious as ever. Simona Halep? Her career record at the AELTC is 7-5. Venus? Madison Keys, now residing in the posh neighborhood of the Top 10? We'll take the top seed and defending champ.
Lisanti: This will be the fourth time in a row I pick Serena with No. 22 on the line. Here’s to hoping this is the one.
Who will win the men’s title?
Deitsch: The heart says Federer, the head says Novak. He’s the clear-cut No. 1, he’s playing at level arguably no one has ever reached, and I think he’s going to capture the calendar Grand Slam this year.
Kay: Contrarianism is overrated. Novak Djokovic.
Newman: Novak Djokovic. Duh again.
Wertheim: Milos Raonic. Obviously Djokovic is your favorite—he is Google to everyone else’s Bing right now. But he has to lose eventually. Right? Maybe? If the stakes were higher, we’d back Djokovic. But for a fun exercise, like this, let’s go Contrarian Ontarian, and back a former semifinalist with a monstrous serve, improvement, the temperament to play through the inevitable rough patches. John McEnroe knew what he was doing when he signed on to work for this enterprising start-up.
Lisanti: I’d really like to keep the calendar Grand Slam and Golden Slam talks alive. Novak Djokovic, for the tic-tac-toe three-in-a-row.