On the horizon (2015 Wimbledon Final Four preview)

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July 9, 2015 by Parveer Mann

Those who wax poetic about the majesty of the Championships salivate over the type of matchups we can expect heading into the final weekend this year. The resurgent Aga Radwanska returning to the site of her greatest triumph and biggest disappointment against the upstart Muguruza who looks to impress no matter the surface. A once teenage champion trying to recreate the magic that propelled her into the spotlight against the opponent who has owned her and everyone else for over 10 years seeking her own history. It will see the defending champion face another impressive one-handed backhand, just not the one many expected. Plus, the highly anticipated showdown between the two players hoping to return to the highs one can only get when they reach the ultimate Wimbledon goal waiting on the horizon.

Men’s Draw

[1] Novak Djokovic vs. [21] Richard Gasquet

As Manic Monday neared its end, Novak Djokovic was furiously trying to avoid being its biggest casualty and when play resumed on Tuesday, he completed just his fourth two set to none comeback and received the ultimate wake up call. Many still concerned over how Djokovic would respond after his emotional loss at Roland Garros hoped the scare would energize the defending champion and it certainly started to show in an unequivocal beat down of Marin Cilic. One marked improvement for Djokovic was how he read Cilic’s fairly big serve and kept the easy points to a minimum (9 aces against compared to 40 in the Anderson match). It’s a statistic that shouldn’t be important against the counter puncher Richard Gasquet but will be something to pay attention to in any possible finals matchup.

Let’s pause and applaud the very unlikely run, Richard Gasquet has made to reach his second Wimbledon semifinal. Placed in a stacked quarter of the draw, he has beaten the higher touted (warranted or unwarranted) Grigor Dimitrov, Nick Krygios, and Stan Wawrinka in succession with little more than a backhands chance. After a disappointing 2014/2015, Gasquet has singlehandedly turned around his season and elevated his play to the similar levels he reached in 2013 albeit without the late night heroics. I feel the key area for Gasquet has been his ability to create angles so far this tournament and it shows in his winners to errors differential. It will also be an area that will surely have to get even bigger if he wants to make a dent against the world number one.

Djokovic has a huge advantage in the H2H 11-1 but this will be their first Slam meeting on grass. I believe Gasquet will try to emulate the reckless abandon Stan Wawrinka used hitting massive winners against Djokovic over a month ago but I just don’t think Gasquet has that confidence to keep at it if he falls behind. Prediction: Djokovic in 3 sets.

[2] Roger Federer vs. [3] Andy Murray

At 33, Roger Federer has probably put together his most impressive run to the Wimbledon semis and that is saying something with the level of success he’s achieved here.  Through this fortnight, he didn’t  have to face a break point chance until his matchup with Gilles Simon (in the quarterfinals!) and he won an ungodly 90 per cent of his first serve points in two consecutive matches (against Sam Groth and Roberto Bautista Agut). It is that combination of dominant first strike tennis and his always superior movement that has sparked  the debate that this once again can be the opportunity Federer needs to win an 18th slam title. I’d argue that last year may have been that chance just based on the level of competition that final weekend because he’s about to go up against the one player who may be even better on grass courts this season, Andy Murray.

By reaching his sixth Wimbledon semifinal, Andy Murray is certainly familiar with the pomp and circumstance that surround any deep run he makes at Wimbledon. However, he comes into this final weekend with many expecting him to come out on top despite his two biggest rivals still in contention. The optimism has certainly been buoyed by the incredible run he’s gone on since his wedding in April (the Kim Sears bump?) and the level of assuredness he has displayed on big points. In his last match against the relatively inexperienced Vasek Pospisil, Murray was tested throughout but was the more composed and level-headed on several key rallies. Obviously, it is a temperament he’ll try to duplicate against the cerebral Federer when end of sets will surely hinge on the slimmest of margins.

Federer barely leads the H2H 12-11 with both players famously splitting their last matches at Wimbledon in 2012. Before the tournament began, I felt Murray’s level was simply higher than Federer’s but Roger has shown enough to raise some doubt in my mind. Honestly, I think this one can go either way. Prediction: Murray in 5 sets.

Women’s Draw

[1] Serena Williams vs. [4] Maria Sharapova

As Maria Sharapova again attempts to solve a problem like Serena (I’m sure that’s what she hears in that Sound of Music song), we should appreciate how she’s put herself back in contention at a place she’s struggled at recently. This is only the second time since 2006 that the former Wimbledon champion has even reached the last eight (she lost to Petra Kvitova in the 2011 finals) and most times she has quietly fallen in the first week. The reason for her struggles could easily take up an entire article (serve not a weapon after er surgery, poorer movement on grass, etc.) but those issues have not seemed to bog her down so far this fortnight. Despite the soft draw, her last match against American Coco Vandeweghe could prove to be a close facsimile to what she can expect in her match against Serena, a player with pace and big groundstrokes but obviously Serena is unlikely to serve at 49 per cent.

For Serena Williams, the path to further history continues undeterred after spotlight clashes against her sister and Victoria Azarenka in subsequent rounds. This after her spirited comeback in the third round against Heather Watson that showed once again that Serena might not be at her best these past six weeks but she seems focused as ever to fight to the last point.  The key especially against Azarenka was the return of that dominant serve that not only helps save critical points but also minimizes rallies that keep Serena fresh to apply pressure on the return game.

Serena leads the H2H 17-2 and the last time these two played on Centre court (at the 2012 Olympics) only saw Serena win 6-0, 6-1, so no big deal right, Maria?. Prediction: Williams in 2 sets.

[13] Agnieszka Radwanska vs. [20] Garbine Muguruza

It seems strange that Garbine Muguruza would reach her first slam semifinal at Wimbledon when in the past two years; we’ve seen her ascend to become an elite player on clay. But, it just demonstrates how complete a player that Muguruza has become in such a short time and how her big game on clay has transferred to the grass this year. It has included big victories over established top 10 talents in Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber that saw Muguruza hit a combine 86 winners and dictate the style of play against two of the better defenders on tour. Many will note that Garbine is the first Spanish woman to make the Wimbledon semis since Aranxta Sanchez Vicario in 1997 and even though she doesn’t play like the crafty Vicario, her opponent on Thursday certainly will try to emulate the legendary Spaniard.

After a terrible late 2014/early 2015 saw her fall out of the Top 10 , Agnieszka Radwanska has kick started her season on the grass courts with solid results in Nottingham, Eastbourne and now Wimbledon. It shouldn’t come as a surprise for the 2012 Wimbledon finalist who always seems to use her varied tactics to great effect on the less forgiving grass courts. However, her last semifinal appearance in 2013 will probably go down as the most difficult loss in her career when after all the chaos that year, she went down unconvincingly to Sabine Lisicki as the heavy favourite. I have a feeling that Aga and her coaching staff will try to put that disappointment behind her and try to seize another great opportunity to make her second ladies final.

The H2H is tied 2-2 but Garbine has won both matches in 2015 (Sydney and Dubai), however, Radwanska will have experience and Wimbledon success on her side when they step on to Centre court. I think the key will be Garbine’s poise in rallies and if she can force Radwanska off-balance to neutralize against drop shots and slices that Aga will try to use to shorten points. Prediction: Muguruza in 3 sets.

[Clockwise: Djokovic, Murray, WIlliams and Muguruza]

[Clockwise: Djokovic, Murray, WIlliams and Muguruza]

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