With Wimbledon 2017 set to kick off on Monday in London, SI's tennis experts and writers Jon Wertheim, Richard Deitsch, Stanley Kay and Jamie Lisanti discuss this year’s top storylines and predict the winners.
What qualifier or other player do you see being a dark horse this year?
Jon Wertheim: Jelena Ostapenko. Only half-kidding. She’s a former Wimbledon junior champion and is, of course, undefeated in her last seven Grand Slam matches. One way or the other, it will be interesting to see how she handles what’s next. Other names: CiCi Bellis has become a deeply intriguing player. Alison Riske is an American who won’t be seeded but thrives on grass. Ash Barty was playing cricket a year ago; now she gets better bounces and is on the verge of cracking the top 50.
As for the men-folk….Gilles Muller is my dark horse; Gilles Muller is everyone’s dark horse. Kevin Anderson will not be seeded, but if he’s not among the 32 best grass court players, my name is Derek Carr. Dustin Brown is No. 94 but will make life hell for opponents and make life entertaining for fans.
Richard Deitsch: She’s not a qualifier and maybe not even a true dark horse but I’m fascinated to see how Jelena Ostapenko does here following her stunning French Open win. She won the 2014 Wimbledon girls’ title but exited quickly last year in an opening round loss to Kiki Bertens. The attention is going to be different now that she’s won a major and I'm curious to see how she handles the trappings (good and bad) of being a major winner. She faced Johanna Konta in Eastbourne on Thursday—she lost in three sets, but it was a solid test for the 20-year-old.
Jamie Lisanti: Marcus Willis? Last year's Cinderella story of the tournament is playing in qualifying this week and has won his first two matches, as he tries to replicate his dream run to the second round at Wimbledon last year.
World No. 11 Grigor Dimitrov has a chance to make a run this year—he put up a strong showing at Queen's Club, losing to eventual champ Feliciano Lopez, and has been improving all season. Is he eyeing that top 10 ranking spot?
Young American CiCi Bellis is playing with nothing to lose—she didn't play at Wimbledon last year and has no points to defend—and she's coming off a confidence-boosting run to the third round at the French Open, and to the semifinals in a grass lead-up tournament in Calvia.
Stanley Kay: Watch out for Karen Khachanov. He’s only 21, but his ranking is up to No. 34. He reached the semis in Halle before managing a fairly tight two-set defeat to eventual champion Roger Federer. Khachanov is only playing his fourth Slam of his career, but he put in a quality performance at Roland Garros, beating Nicolas Jarry, Tomas Berdych and John Isner before losing to Andy Murray in the fourth round. With the right draw, Khachanov could make a nice run in his first appearance at Wimbledon.
I’m also looking forward to watching CoCo Vandeweghe. After splitting with coach Craig Kardon following the French Open—when she lost in the first round—she teamed up with Pat Cash, who won Wimbledon in 1987. I’m intrigued by the new pairing, and I think she could fare well this year after making the quarters in 2016. One concern to note: Vandeweghe rolled her right ankle in Birmingham.
Make one bold prediction for the tournament.
RD: Milos Raonic will crash out in the first week. This is obviously a great surface for the Canadian but his trend isn’t good. His last win over a top-10 came in January and injuries have really disrupted him over the past 12 months. Plus, Raonic recently parted ways with his coach, Richard Krajicek. It all spells early exit.
JW: Barely six months after suffering a stab wound to her playing hand in a home invasion, Petra Kvitova wins Wimbledon for the third time.
JL: Jelena Ostapenko will not fizzle out in the first round, but rather, make a run deep into the second week, silencing the doubters and the haters and the naysayers.
SK: The highlight of diehard Celtics fan Nick Kyrgios’s tournament—no matter how far he goes—will be Boston acquiring some combination of Paul George, Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin.
Name one offbeat and/or off-court story you will be following during Wimbledon this year.
JW: Boris Becker’s bankruptcy is not merely an alliterative tongue twister; it’s precisely the kind of story that the London tabloids—even in their neutered state—might be inclined to pursue. As last year’s female champion nears her pregnancy due date, she’s also due for a run in the news cycle. And if Conor McGregor shows up in the Royal Box—as has been rumored—it’s a news event.
RD: I will be following to see how many media people re-litigate the age-old stupid debate of seeing where a women’s tennis player would rank on the ATP Tour.
JL: I wrote about IBM's AI-powered highlights here, but I'm actually interested to see what the system chooses and how it will work, especially in the hectic first days of the tournament. Dress code violations? Those are always fun. And the security at the All England Club is also of interest—authorities are supposed turn it into a fortress for the two-weeks of the tournament, as part of a massive anti-terror security operation, and I suppose some players will be asked about the increased safety measures.
SK: How long will we be discussing John McEnroe’s comments about Serena Williams? I’m guessing the controversy will run its course by the middle of the tournament’s first week, but then again it’s 2017.
Who will win the men's title?
JW: Federer is the trendy pick, but I also think it’s the wise one. First, let’s tout his virtues: he won the previous major he entered (Australia) and the previous tournament he entered (Halle). He comes in with very little mileage on his 2017 odometer. By aggressively driving his backhand, he’s beaten his career-long nemesis three times this year, both a pragmatic and confidence boost. And, oh yes, he’s won Wimbledon once or twice (or seven times) before.
Also, there’s the context. The incumbent, Andy Murray, hasn’t been at his best over the last six months. Novak Djokovic hasn't been near his best over the last 12 months. Rafael Nadal hasn’t been beyond the fourth round since 2011. Stan Wawrinka hasn’t been beyond the quarters. Who’s going to beat Federer, especially over five sets? The names are slow in coming.
RD: I can’t see anyone breaking through other than the big four of Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic. I’d love to see Roger win because it would solidly his candidacy for SI’s Sportsperson of the Year in 2017, but I think Murray finds his best form on the grass and hits the finish line first.
JL: Can you bet against Roger Federer? Of course you can, but I'm not taking my chances. Federer on July 16th: A record eighth Wimbledon title, Grand Slam No. 19 and another line added to his GOAT resume.
SK: Roger Federer’s gamble to skip the clay court season pays off and he wins his eighth Wimbledon title.
Who will win the women's title?
JW: Seriously, Kvitova. Yes, because karma loves tennis as much as tennis loves karma. But also because Kvitova—fresh off her Birmingham title—is back in business, back on her choice surface, and back with the rust off.
RD: Brad Gilbert said on ESPN conference call that 40 women could win the title. I don’t see that as hyperbole. I’ll take a flyer on Garbiñe Muguruza simply because I’m tired of picking Simona Halep to break through at a major, though I do think that’s coming in 2017.
JL: Karolina Pliskova will win her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon 2017.
SK: Venus Williams has been knocking on the door of winning her first Grand Slam event since 2008—she made the semis here last year and the final of the Australian Open in January. The field is wide open, and it feels like almost anyone could take home the title. If she serves well and stays healthy, why not Venus?