LONDON - I don’t practice Santeria / I ain’t got no crystal ball. But I do have a window of free time now. So here’s some prognosticating before Wimbledon 2018.
Enough of the safe picks. We’re going out on a limb and—get this—tipping a player who is almost 37 years old!
1. Roger Federer (SUI): The defending champ might be almost 37, but he’s the player to beat. He’s well rested, having taken off the clay again. And he played well, if not supernaturally well, in his two tune-up grass events. And, besides, who else is beating him?
2. Rafael Nadal (ESP): Hasn’t done much at Wimbledon since 2011. But before that, he reached the final in five straight years he entered. The conditions and slow courts should help. And his campaign in Paris —full of the usual fixed determination—was remarkably free of physical duress.
3. Marin Cilic (CRO): A finalist last year (and in Australia), Cilic is, unquestionably, the world’s No. 3 player, as the seeding indicates. But he likely needs to figure out how to get through Federer, something he’s only done once in ten career matches.
4. Alexander Zverev (GER): Learned a difficult lesson in Paris about the importance of taking care of business efficiently in the early rounds. He toiled through multiple five-setters and had nothing left in the tank against Dominic Thiem. You might—and likely he might—worry about his leg, which was taped heavily at the Boodles exhibition.
5. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG): We sometimes forget that he’s still only 29. Has had success here, reaching a semifinal (and winning an Olympic medal) but has only won three Wimbledon matches since 2014.
6. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL): Has suddenly come down with a nasty case of the yips, especially on his service toss. Hard to lose control of the one thing you’re in control of. Yes, he’s a former semifinalist, having proven his bona fides on grass. But a straight-set drubbing in Queens to Djokovic douses optimism.
7. Dominic Thiem (AUT): Likable guy and likeable game, but needs more time to set up than grass permits. Also in a rough quarter.
8. Kevin Anderson (RSA): Love the serve; don’t love the movement. Yes, he once had Djokovic on the ropes here. But he's just 30-24 lifetime on grass. In the Federer quarter, it's hard to see him getting beyond quarters.
9. John Isner (USA): The Isner irony: he’s inextricably tied to Wimbledon, eight (gulp) years after the 70-68 match (that gives new dimension to the sports cliché “epic.”) But grass has never been his best surface—he's only 10-9. The low bounce is this giant's nemesis.
10. David Goffin (BEL): Absence of firepower is exposed on grass. Can always get sneaky, benefitting from his speed. 14-15 lifetime on the surface.
11. Sam Querrey (USA): Terrific Wimbledon in 2016 and 2017, beating both Djokovic and Murray. But wish he had more momentum coming in, as he’s only 13-12 on the year.
12. Novak Djokovic: We eagerly await the inevitable comeback. Could easily happen here. The draw gods did him no favors—putting him square in the worst quarter—but if he plays himself into the tournament, look for him in the latter rounds. Where he belongs.
13. Milos Raonic: Like Djokovic, another gentrifying neighborhood. Finalist in 2016 is back. Question, as always, is his health and durability.
14. Diego Schwartzman: Applaud the Argentine for reaching these heights (no pun intended); but not his 0-3 record at Wimbledon.
15. Nick Kyrgios: The great wild card, in more ways than one. He claims he’s ready and rested. The talent is undeniable; the mental fitness is another matter. Easy to see him making week two. Tough to see him winning his quarter.
16. Borna Coric: A player to watch, even if he weren’t coming off a win over Federer. Nice to see his results keeping pace with his potential.
18. Jack Sock (USA): It's July and it’s time he started his year.
21. Kyle Edmund (ENG): New pressure as the highest Brit.
25. Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER): If it’s German-made, it works on grass.
26. Denis Shapovalov (CAN): Not a great draw, but always a player to watch now.
31. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE): The Greek Freak is coming.
Dark Horse Pasture
• Damir Dzumhur: Your ATP Antalya Open winner just this past weekend.
• Feliciano Lopez (ESP): Mostly so we can applaud him playing the most consecutive Slams, 66 now.
• Karen Khachanov (RUS): Too good not be top 32.
• Mischa Zverev (GER): Ironically, might be the more successful Zverev this event.
First-round matches to watch
• Stanislas Wawrinka v. Grigor Dimitrov: Two top ten stalwarts meet immediately. A rough early test for Wawrinka’s health and durability.
• Roger Federer v. Dusan Lajovic: In his first match, Federer gets a solid veteran opponent. And fans get dueling one-handed backhands.
• Gael Monfils v. Richard Gasquet: Two French soldiers—with contrasting styles—getting on in years. Speaking of civil war….
• Stevie Johnson v. John Isner: A likely second rounder pitting two Americans.
• Frances Tiafoe v. Fernando Verdasco: the forehand hitch special.
• If Zverev’s leg is as bad as we’re led to believe keep an eye on his pocket of the draw.
• Doubles: Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herber. And if Mahut’s kid joins the celebration, so much the better.
• Semis: Federer d. Cilic, Nadal d. Djokovic
• Final: Federer d. Nadal
• Winner: Federer
I wish we could watch Serena play one set before making a pronouncement. If she’s healthy, she’s a good bet to win. If her pectoral muscle is preventing her from serving, you’re inclined to pick any of the 24 players seeded higher
1. Simona Halep (ROU): Tennis karma did its part in Paris, as Halep finally won her first major. Well-deserved. And she rested, playing zero tuneups. Now—having proven to herself that she can win seven straight matches—let’s see if she can do it again.
2. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN): She’s already won one major this season on a fast court. Never been beyond the fourth round here in 11 tries but her Eastbourne title bodes well.
3. Garbine Muguruza (ESP): Becoming tennis’ great coin flip, a player as capable of winning Slams (as she’s done twice, including Wimbledon 2017) as she is losing early (as she did last week in Birmingham.) Feels the burden of expectation like few other players do.
4. Sloane Stephens (USA): A career reassessment is in order, now that she has demonstrable proof that she can play deep into majors. She won the U.S. Open. She came within a few games of winning the French. Now Wimbledon? No tuneups, but that might be a disguised blessing.
5. Elina Svitolina (UKR): Her career record at Wimbledon is 5-5. (Though three wins came last year.) Has the misfortune of residing in a Serena Williams-adjacent neighborhood in the draw.
6. Caroline Garcia (ESP): Love the athleticism and slowly building self belief. But only 7-5 for her career at Wimbledon and potentially tough first rounder against Belinda Bencic, a former junior champ here and also a former top-tenner.
7. Karolina Pliskova (CZE): Seems to have regressed since becoming No. 1. Rough year includes two strange losses on grass tuneups. Watch her likely second rounder against Azarenka.
8. Petra Kvitova (CZE): A Wimbledon winner (twice) in the past and a potential winner in the present. Her 38-7 record this year includes a title at the Birmingham tune-up. Hasn't been past a Grand Slam quarter since 2014, but—again with Serena’s health as the wild card—her potential quarterfinal against Halep could be a de facto final.
9. Venus Williams (USA): Lots of applause for achieving a top-10 seed at this age. A finalist last year, and she will always be a threat on grass. Both happily and frustratingly, it’s been her accuracy, not her body, that’s been letting her down lately.
10. Madison Keys (USA): The pure ballstriking remains fearsome. And she projects I-belong-here attitude. New coach (David Taylor) and a rough first rounder date with Ajla Tomljanovic. But if Keys plays herself into this event, look out.
11. Angelique Kerber (GER): In a very strong comeback season, she has already won 32 matches in 2018. Experienced veteran who knows how to win and has reached a final here.
12. Jelena Ostapenko: Tries to build points back after Roland Garros first round exit. Watch for a potential third-rounder against Sharapova.
13. Julia Goerges (GER): Cooled off since reaching the Charleston finals. Streaky—both macro and within a match—but not the worst sleeper pick.
14. Daria Kasatkina (RUS): Progressing nicely. A reliable winner who might not be ready to compete for Slams, but is building to that.
15. Elise Mertens (BEL): Fine player, now with a new coach. Now a physically imposing player, nor a dictating player, but plays crisp and efficient tennis.
16. Coco Vandewghe (USA): Been a bit quiet; but now comes to the surface on which she can do max damage.
17. Ashleigh Barty (AUS): Star the name. A real contender at 22, marrying power, athleticism and aggression.
21. Naomi Osaka (JPN): Cut and paste from Barty: Not her choice surface, but always dangerous.
22. Johanna Konta (GBR): A player in need of a strong showing—defending semifinal points—and should get it, provided she keeps her nerve.
23. Barbora Strycova (CZE): She’s 32 now but often plays her best on grass, where she can bring her net skills to bear.
24. Maria Sharapova (RUS): Former champion, albeit (gulp) 14 years ago. Picked up some momentum and confidence lately but can still she win big matches? Curious why she didn’t play any grass tuneups.
25. Serena Williams (USA): All about the pectoral muscle injury. If it’s a non-factor she could be champion.
29. Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROM): Not much of a grass record (and never played a Wimbledon main draw match) but her career is sure arrowing in the right direction.
• Aleksandra Krunic (SER): Your Hertogenbosch winner.
• Tatjana Maria (GER): Moms wins the Mallorca tuneup.
• Maria Sakkari (GRE): The Greek Freakette. Watch for her match against Sharapova in R2.
• Victoria Azarenka (BLR): Former No.1 deserved a nod.
• Qualifier Genie Bouchard (CAN): Former finalist. Just saying.
• Alison Riske: Simply a difference player on grass than she is on other surfaces.
First-round matches to watch
• Alize Cornet v. Dominika Cibulkova: Two vets who have had past success at AELTC
• Maria Sharapova v. Maria Sakkari: Round two special, Ave Maria.
• Angie Kerber v. Vera Zvonareva: Two former finalists meet in r1. (All credit to Zvonareva for reviving her career.)
• Carolina Garcia v. Belinda Bencic: No. 6 seeds gets an opponent who was ranked No. 7 not long ago.
• Julia Goerges v. Monica Puig:
• Azarenka d. Pliskova in round two.
• Doubles: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova
• Semis: Halep d. Muguruza, Stephens d. Vandeweghe
• Final: Halep d. Stephens