July 3, 2014 by Parveer Mann
The beauty of the tennis calendar is that when you fail at the French Open, you can immediately make up for it at The Championships later that same month. For Simona Halep, Eugenie Bouchard and Novak Djokovic, they each have put themselves in position for a chance at redemption as Wimbledon heads into the final weekend. However, they are not alone as two Fed Cup teammates, two first-time semifinalists and a Wimbledon legend each have an excellent chance to finish the fortnight in championship form.
At this point, we should not be surprised to see Simona Halep and Genie Bouchard still playing heading into the weekend. Both Halep and Bouchard have been stellar in Grand Slams all year. They lead the WTA in GS match wins (15) and have already shattered their previous best’s at all three events. Each has weathered the pressures of Grand Slam tennis beyond their years and seems keen to take the next steps to become a Grand Slam champion.
In her QF, Halep charged back to win the last 11 games against 2013 Wimbledon finalist, Sabine Lisicki despite only making 50% of her first serves. Instead, she displayed her true strengths in the return game by winning an incredible 57% of the points off Lisicki’s serve. She has effectively made her opponents’ service games hell and that has helped keep the pressure off her own serve. Conversely, Bouchard will try to emulate her strategy all week to be aggressive and dictate both sides of the game. It’s obviously worked as she is the only player not to drop a set yet this tournament.
I noted after the French Open, I felt that Halep was closer to a Slam than Bouchard was. However, this week has changed my mind after rediscovering Bouchard’s incredible approach to grass court play. Prediction: Genie Bouchard in 3 sets.
The bottom half of the women’s draw has been dominated by Czechs all week. The last two, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova, long-time Fed Cup teammates have taken similar paths to reach the final four. As the 2011 Wimbledon champion, Kvitova always comes to London with a lot of expectations and rarely seems to meet them. However this year, she set the tone early with her fantastic three set win over Venus Williams and then followed it up with clean victories in her next two matches. By far, she is the biggest hitter of any woman left in the draw and the only one with any significant Grand Slam history.
Her opponent, Lucie Safarova has exceeded all expectations at Wimbledon and will play in her first Grand Slam semifinal this Thursday. The 23rd ranked left hander quietly had one of the more impressive victories when she defeated Cibulkova in two easy sets in the third round. Even though this is her first time on the big stage, I think she will be encouraged that a friendly face is on the other side of the net.
Kvitova leads the all-time series 5-0 including a hard fought win in Eastbourne, just weeks before this year’s Wimbledon. I believe Safarova will have to play the match of her life to take down the 2011 champ. Prediction: Petra Kvitova in 2 sets.
It doesn’t matter if you prefer ‘Baby Fed’ or ‘Bulgarian Beckham’, Grigor Dimitrov has been impressive under any guise this fortnight. He enters his first Grand Slam semifinal with a ton of confidence after thoroughly dismantling Andy Murray in three sets. The talented Bulgarian just seemed fresher and more efficient throughout the match finishing with a plus 14 differential in Winners-Unforced Errors. Plus, he’s now had standout performances against two of the Big Four in Slams this year (l. to Nadal in Melbourne) and should not be intimidated by the world number two.
On the other hand, Novak Djokovic had all he could handle in his five set win over Marin Cilic. The encouraging portion of the match for Novak is how he seemed to rise to the occasion in the latter stages of the match, something that has escaped him in recent slams. However, the time on court and how his shoulder/wrist will react throughout the tournament remain areas of concern if Djokovic wants to win a second Wimbledon title.
The last time these two faced was at Roland Garros in 2013 and Dimitrov has obviously improved since then. I liked the certainty in Dimitrov’s game during his match with Murray and if he can do it again, he will put himself in a good position. Prediction: I’m leaning Novak Djokovic in 4 sets.
For a brief moment, it seemed like Nick Krygios would fill the final spot in the semifinals and become the torchbearer for all young, big-servers. It may still happen but for now; Canadian Milos Raonic demonstrated why he is the most consistent member of the ‘next’ generation. His serve was impenetrable and his ability to remain calm at critical points helped propel him to his first Grand Slam semifinal. It may come as a slight surprise that it happened at Wimbledon after his putrid results in the past but it is quite evident that he has had made the subtle changes needed to excel on the surface this time around.
Speaking of excellence, Roger Federer earned his ninth Wimbledon semifinal appearance after coming back to beat Stan Wawrinka in four sets. Federer has benefitted from a fairly stress-free draw but he has been up to the challenge playing flawless tennis. His serve has been as good as the likes of Raonic and Krygios and his feel at the net seems to have gotten sharper.
Federer owns a 4-0 mark against Raonic but Milos has taken some sets in those defeats. I think it will be important for Raonic to apply pressure on the Federer serve and that may require him to cede space at the baseline. Prediction: Roger Federer in 4 sets.