Wimbledon 2016 Preview Five Questions the Grass Court Slam Will Answer

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The Wimbledon 2016 draw is out, and the tennis world looks forward to a fortnight of intriguing stories headlined by the game’s biggest stars, and some potential future champions. The Tennis Review gives you the five most intriguing questions the 2016 Championships will answer about the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Nick Kyrgios.

1. How far will Roger Federer go?

Roger Federer’s quest for slam No.18 would have been the leading story heading into Wimbledon had it not been for his injury-hit season which sees him enter his most successful slam with a 15-5 season win-loss record and ranked 13th in the race to London.

But while the Swiss’ body has been failing him, the Wimbledon draw has not.

Federer has drawn Guido Pella in the first round, Ricardas Berankis or a qualifier in the second, Alexandr Dolgopolov (30) in the third round, and Gilles Simon (16) in the last sixteen, (Steve Johnson, a Nottingham finalist, and Grigor Dimitrov, the 2014 semi-finalist, are also potential last 16 opponents), avoiding Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev who defeated him in Stuttgart and Halle, and a host of other dangerous players such as Lukas Rosol, Dustin Brown, and Nick Kyrgios.

Matters get trickier from the last eight onward. Kei Nishikori (5) is Federer’s seeded opponent, but the Japanese’s recent injury could mean that Marin Cilic (9) could be waiting for the Swiss. Cilic has been in good form this grass season, and if he is in the quarters, his big serve and powerful ground-strokes will be in the kind of condition that could hit through an in-form Federer let alone a sub-par one.

If Federer manages to play himself into the tournament well enough and gets past Cilic then Novak Djokovic should await him in the semis. Last year facing Djokovic in the semis, and not the final, might have been a positive for a then healthy Federer coming off the back of a Halle win, but this year meeting Djokovic at any stage of the championships is going to be tough for the Swiss.

But what if Djokovic were to be knocked out? The Serb has a potentially tough draw and if he slips up then Federer would likely face Philipp Kohlschrieber, Kevin Anderson or Milos Raonic for a place in his third consecutive Wimbledon final. Players who can push him but against whom he generally matches up favorably.

The Swiss would certainly be inspired to make it third time lucky in his ambitions for a final Slam. A Djokovic free path, and Andy Murray in the final, who he has few issues with when on his game, and slam No.18 would be within Federer’s reach, and if the goodwill of the crowd alone were enough to push him over the finish line, there is no doubt the trophy would end up in his very fine hands.

2. Can Novak Djokovic complete the Channel double?

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Every week Djokovic seems to be on the verge of another slice of tennis history, and the next chuck is the Channel double.

Laver, Borg, Federer and Nadal have all completed it in the Open era, and the two-time defending champion, who has been matching, and surpassing, their historic achievements week in week out, is a favorite to join them.

The question is will Djokovic suffer a letdown after finally winning Roland Garros? He has suffered one before- after winning Wimbledon 2014, his first slam trophy win since the Australian Open ’13, Djokovic flunked out early in Canada and Cincinnati, and was beaten in the US Open semis.

This 2016 Djokovic is quite a different player though to the one who was struggling to win slam finals back then. The Serb has just won four in a row, and five of the last six.

With the prospect of a Calendar year slam ahead of him, it is hard to see Djokovic not having the heart to keep winning in a field of rivals who seem to be fighting among themselves for second place rather than challenging for first.

Djokovic has drawn James Ward in his opener, Kyle Edmund or Adrian Mannarino in the second round, Sam Querrey (28) or Lukas Rosol in the third round, David Ferrer (13) in the round of 16, though it will most likely be Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Milos Raonic (6) in the quarters, Federer in the semis, and Murray in the final.

There’s some threatening players on that road, but none more dangerous than a Djokovic with an appetite- Boris Becker recently said he was as hungry as ever- and a ravenous Djokovic is not in the habit of letting slices of tennis history slip from his lips.

3. Will the Lendl-Murray pairing produce another Wimbledon trophy?

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Murray is having the best first half to a year he has ever had, reaching the Australian Open and French Open finals, and winning the Rome title.

2016 could end up being his best ever season if Murray and his re-hired coach Ivan Lendl can repeat their slam winning ways of US Open ’12 and Wimbledon ’13.

Like those slam runs, Murray is most likely going to have to defeat Djokovic for the title.

The Scot will be the heavy favorite from his half to make the championship match. Murray has drawn Liam Broady in round 1, skilled grass courter Yen-Hsun Lu or a qualifier in round 2, Benoit Paire (26) in the last 32, Nick Kyrgios (15) in the fourth round, Richard Gasquet (7) in the quarter finals, and Stan Wawrinka (4) in the semis.

Murray may be a better grass court player than Djokovic, (he leads 2-0 on the surface), but the Serb is an excellent grass court player himself, and, more importantly, since 2014 he has grown into a far superior big match player than the injury-hit Scot, which is one of the reasons why Djokovic has three Wimbledon titles, and Murray has one.

Now that Lendl is back in the Murray camp, we will find out if the Czech can make a difference to Murray’s big match mentality against a maturer and more complete Djokovic than the one Murray beat in the 2013 final, or if the gap between the world No.1 and 2, even on a surface which should favor Murray, really is as big as it has looked in the past two Australian Open finals and their recent Roland Garros contests.

4. Will Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios lead the #NextGen into the second week?

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The #NextGen have been generating some real interest this season, winning titles, making finals, and getting involved in some of the season’s best matches.

That interest could peak this Wimbledon with two of the #NextGen front-runners equipped with the weapons needed to go deep at SW19.

Alexander Zverev‘s big serve, backhand down the line and great defense make him a potential future Wimbledon Champion while Nick Kyrgios’s huge serve, explosive shot making and fiery temperament put him up there, too.

Zverev has a very nice opportunity to make his first ever slam fourth round with an out-of-sorts Tomas Berdych (10) his scheduled seed in the third round.

First, though, Zverev has to get past Paul-Henri Mathieu and then possibly Mikhail Youzhny, but his skills, youth and fine form displayed on his recent run to the Halle final should see him through to his second slam round of 32 in a row.

If Zverev does get the Berdych upset, he could face Dominic Thiem (8) in the last sixteen. Thiem is not quite #NextGen-  he belongs in the Tomic-Sock-Vesely generation– but he is still an up and comer, now ranked in the top ten, and he and Zverev are beginning to get something of a rivalry going. Thiem leads 3-0, but their two three set matches went the distance, and their Roland Garros Zebra clash went to four.

Zverev is arguably a better grass courter than Thiem, and he could end his losing streak to Thiem in SW19. However there is one dangerous dark horse in that section to consider- Florian Mayer, who defeated both Thiem and Zverev for the Halle title recently.

Zvervev could face Wawrinka in the quarters if he makes it past Thiem or Mayer, and the draw could not have been kinder to Zverev at this stage of the tournament. The two-time slam winner, who has a long swing to rip his strokes, is not made for Grass which favors shorter swings, and has a tough potential second round match with 2013 semi-finalist Juan-Martin del Potro, too.

There is also the question of Bernard Tomic in the Wawrinka section- the world No.19 recently made the AEGON championships semi-finals, and made the Wimbledon quarters in 2011.

Wawrinka, Tomic or del Potro all have very exploitable weaknesses on grass and all would be a winnable match for a fit Zverev who seems to be learning quickly from his mistakes- his win over Federer in Halle some redemption for his failure to close out Nadal in Indian Wells, for example, and with some experience now of closing out a big win, and with his serve more effective on grass than any other surface, Zverev may find himself closing out a few big wins in a row.

If Zverev makes it all the way to the semis, there is a chance, a long-shot maybe, that we could get a #NextGen semi between Zverev and Kyrgios.

Kyrgios has a tougher task from the get-go- his draw is Radek Stepanek in the opening round, Dustin Brown, potentially, in the second, Feliciano Lopez (22) in the third, and Andy Murray in the last sixteen.

The world No.2 is a terrible match up for Kyrgios, his strengths canceling out Kyrgios’ and his greater experience giving him the edge.

The Australian would need to blow the Scot of court if he is to reach his third slam quarter-final with the kind of explosive tennis which has him touted as a future Wimbledon champion.

The kind of tennis that could propel him from being one of the #NextGen leaders to one of the game’s top players right now.

5. Can Raonic’s health hold up?

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Raonic has all the makings of a Wimbledon champ with a big serve, a solid back court game with a forehand that is becoming a real weapon, and an admirable commitment to the game.

Those factors really came together for Raonic on the grass this season. The SW19 sixth seed led Murray by a set and 3-0 in the AEGON championships final before Murray fought back for the win.

The question is can he close out such a lead if he gets one against a higher ranked player in SW19, and if his mind lets him do so, will his body back him up or break down as it did in his Australian Open semi-final against the Scot?

With McEnroe in his camp, Raonic has a great chance of overcoming his self-doubts in big matches, but the three time Wimbledon champ can do little to heal the Canadian’s body which gave up on him in the Indian Wells final.

However if both body and mind are in good shape and Raonic makes his last eight match with Djokovic, the world No.1 will have to be sharp to avoid an upset or the kind of five set match that could leave him vulnerable later in the event.

If Raonic can out serve Djokovic, and edge the tiebreaks, we could see him finally break out in a slam with his first run to a final, a run those who admire hard work, perseverance, and a quiet passion for the game will be only too happy to cheer at the finish line.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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