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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Wimbledon predictions: Will anyone stop Federer and Muguruza from retaining their titles?

Del Potro and Kvitova set to contend for the championship but it could be a disappointing week for Zverev and Kerber

Roger Federer heads to Wimbledon in pursuit of title No 9. Sascha Steinbach / EPA
Roger Federer heads to Wimbledon in pursuit of title No 9. Sascha Steinbach / EPA

As the ATP and WTA tours descend on the All England Club for the 2018 Wimbledon Championships, The National's sports desk offer their predictions ahead of the July 2-15 tournament.

Chitrabhanu Kadalayil, assistant sports editor

MEN'S DRAW

Winner: Marin Cilic

Marin Cilic heads to Wimbledon as Queen's champion. Tony O'Brien / Reuters
Marin Cilic heads to Wimbledon as Queen's champion. Tony O'Brien / Reuters

When Cilic was asked if he had a mental edge over Roger Federer ahead of the Wimbledon Championships this year, he said: "Absolutely."

The Croat meant it as a joke. But who knows, deep down he will fancy winning the men's singles title. For this to happen, he may have to upstage the reigning champion in the final, which he failed to do last year after being severely restricted by a foot injury.

He faced Federer at this year's Australian Open final, too, and he did a commendable job taking the Swiss to a fifth set. Cilic has won a grand slam title before - at the US Open in 2014 - and on form he is the third-best best player in the world after Federer and Rafael Nadal.

If he can keep it together and learn from his recent experiences, he will win. His game is built for grass, as he serves and moves around the court better than most, but he needs to keep himself injury-free.

Surprise: Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic showed a return to form by reaching the Queen's final. Patrik Lundin / Getty Images
Novak Djokovic showed a return to form by reaching the Queen's final. Patrik Lundin / Getty Images

It is an odd choice for someone who has lifted the trophy three times at SW19. But Djokovic has struggled with form and a dodgy elbow since the second half of last year. He has shown signs of recovery since the start of the clay-court season.

He was rightly disappointed after losing to little-known Marco Cecchinato in the quarter-finals of the French Open, but at this stage of his career, getting to the second week of a major tournament is an improvement. He may have a tougher draw at Wimbledon, but expect him to reach the quarter-finals, maybe even the semis.

Disappointment: Grigor Dimitrov

Grigor Dimitrov is a natural on grass but suffered an early exit at Queen's. Matthew Stockman / Getty Images
Grigor Dimitrov is a natural on grass but suffered an early exit at Queen's. Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

The Bulgarian is always expected to do well on grass as he is such a natural on this surface, but he has on so many occasions come across as moody and flaky.

His defeat at Queen's to Novak Djokovic, who is still feeling his way back, suggests he does not have the head to beat the top players. Now that he is planning on starting a family, it looks like his priorities may be shifting a little. He will probably do well in the first couple of rounds and raise expectations before disappointing in the face of adversity.

WOMEN'S DRAW

Winner: Simona Halep

Simona Halep is aiming to win back-to-back grand slam titles following her success at the French Open. Pascal Rossignol / Reuters
Simona Halep is aiming to win back-to-back grand slam titles following her success at the French Open. Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

There is little doubt Halep is the best women's tennis player in the world. She certainly is the most consistent of them all, which explains why she is No 1.

But even she will admit grass is not her most comfortable surface. With the spotlight on the likes of defending champion Garbine Muguruza and two-time winner Petra Kvitova, Halep will be even more determined to continue her good form to go deep into the draw in London.

Never mind her best there is reaching the last four three years ago, or that she is beatable against a player with more power. This is a different Halep; one who has worked hard on her mindset and plays like she has little to lose.

And now that she has finally won her first grand slam title - at the French Open a few weeks ago - she will be less burdened to have to prove herself.

Surprise: Sloane Stephens

Sloane Stephens will be aiming to add the Wimbledon title to the US Open she won last season. Erik S Lesser / EPA
Sloane Stephens will be aiming to add the Wimbledon title to the US Open she won last season. Erik S Lesser / EPA

She has for the past five years been one of the most promising players in women's tennis. She justified it by winning the US Open title last year. She confounded expectations when she reached the final of the French Open this year, but she was up against a determined Simona Halep.

Stephens has not gone beyond the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, and that was five years ago. Her recent form and aggression on court make her an attractive proposition for the title, but she is flying under the radar with much of the attention on the bigger names. If the American plays into the second week of the tournament, she may land one or two upsets.

Disappointment: Angelique Kerber

Angelique Kerber was a finalist at Wimbledon in 2016. Glyn Kirk / AFP
Angelique Kerber was a finalist at Wimbledon in 2016. Glyn Kirk / AFP

The German had one hot season - in 2016 - when she reached three grand slam finals and won two. The one she lost was at Wimbledon - to a history-chasing Serena Williams, perhaps the greatest women's player ever.

She has struggled to match that sort of form in the season-and-a-half since. Yet there was hope of a revival this year judging by the way she played at the Australian Open. Her run at the French Open was less promising, and she has done nothing noteworthy in the grass-court season yet.

Her game is suited to the surface and she is a class player, but the ruthlessness with which Kerber won her matches two years ago is missing lately.

Jon Turner, assistant sports editor

MEN'S DRAW

Champion: Roger Federer

Roger Federer is favourite to win his ninth Wimbledon title. Carmen Jaspersen / AFP
Roger Federer is favourite to win his ninth Wimbledon title. Carmen Jaspersen / AFP

Sometimes it's best not to over complicate these things: the favourites are favourites for a reason, and when it comes to Wimbledon and Roger Federer, that tag has been justified far more often than not.

Don't expect that to change this year as Federer secures title No 9. The Swiss world No 2 is more prepared than any of his rivals, both in terms of freshness and grass court familiarity, having once again opted to miss the entire clay court swing.

It worked well enough last year when Federer bulldozed Marin Cilic in the final for his eighth Wimbledon title - and it will have a similarly positive effect this time around.

Defeat in the Halle Open final was less than ideal, but from two warm-up tournaments played, Federer has a title (in Stuttgart) and a final to his name. Not exactly crisis territory.

His pedigree, history and all-round aura at Wimbledon immediately give him the advantage against pretty much everyone, while the handful of players who would not be intimidated are nowhere near his level yet.

Two-time champion Rafael Nadal has not been a serious contender at Wimbledon since 2011, three-time winner Novak Djokovic is still short of championship-level fitness, while local hero and two-time champion Andy Murray has only just stepped back on court.

It all points to another record-extending title for Federer.

Surprise: Frances Tiafoe

Frances Tiafoe gas made improvements to his game in 2018. AP Photo
Frances Tiafoe gas made improvements to his game in 2018. AP Photo

This year is threatening to be a bit of a breakout season for Frances Tiafoe. The 20-year-old American won his first ATP Tour title in February at Delray Beach, beating the likes of Juan Martin Del Potro, Hyeon Chung, and Denis Shapovalov en route.

Tiafoe has picked off other big names this season, too, including Tomas Berdych, Kyle Edmund, and Pablo Carreno Busta. His only foray onto grass went quite well - reaching the quarter-finals at Queen's, resulting in a climb of 10 places in the world rankings to No 52.

As is so often the case with dark horse picks, much could depend on the draw. But with a powerful game, a dangerous, whipping forehand, strong serve, and athletic movement, Tiafoe might just have a successful tournament.

Disappointment: Alexander Zverev

Alexander Zverev lost his only match on grass this season, a first round defeat to Borna Coric at Halle. Friso Gentsch / AFP
Alexander Zverev lost his only match on grass this season, a first round defeat to Borna Coric at Halle. Friso Gentsch / AFP

A future world No 1 and multi-grand slam champion in the making, but Alexander Zverev won't be pulling up any trees at Wimbledon this year.

The 21-year-old German had a sensational clay court swing, with titles in Madrid and Munich and a final in Rome, but he was spent during the French Open and after three successive five-setters, limped out at the quarter-finals to eventual finalist Dominic Thiem.

Of course, he's had plenty of time to rejuvenate since Roland Garros, but his only appearance on a grass court was a first round defeat in Halle to eventual winner Borna Coric.

For a player of such remarkable talent, and as the world No 3, Zverev could be in store for a disappointing Wimbledon campaign.

WOMEN'S DRAW

Champion: Petra Kvitova

Petra Kvitova is a two-time Wimbledon champion. Ed Sykes / Reuters
Petra Kvitova is a two-time Wimbledon champion. Ed Sykes / Reuters

Similar to opting for Federer as the men's champion, this is hardly a left field pick, but the same logic about favourites still applies.

Petra Kvitova, the world No 8 from Czech Republic, is the currently the best female tennis player on grass. She kicked off her grass court season with the Birmingham title, dropping just one set - and that was in the final before recovering to win the next two sets for the loss of just three games.

As a two-time Wimbledon champion, Kvitova has the necessary experience at SW19 to win the title, and her booming game is perfectly suited to grass. When Kvitova is dialled in, she is near unplayable.

With Serena Williams still well short of where she needs to be to contend, Kvitova enters Wimbledon as the player to beat - except this year no one will.

Surprise: Donna Vekic

Donna Vekic's best results have come on grass. Ed Sykes / Reuters
Donna Vekic's best results have come on grass. Ed Sykes / Reuters

A glance at some of the players Donna Vekic has beaten over the past two seasons, it's somewhat surprising to see the Croatian ranked a lowly No 54.

Jelena Ostapenko, Carla Suarez Navarro, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Elena Vesnina have all been defeated by 21-year-old Vekic, so we know she has game.

The consistency needed for Vekic to climb, and then remain, higher up the rankings has so far been harder to come by in her short career, but she can make an impact at Wimbledon.

A player with good power and variation, Vekic is comfortable on grass and her best results have been on the surface, including a semi-final in Nottingham last week, which followed her final appearance at the same tournament last year.

With so many players struggling to adapt to grass, Vekic's know-how should serve her well at Wimbledon.

Disappointment: Karolina Pliskova

Karolina Pliskova has fallen in the second round of Wimbledon for each of the past five years. Paul Childs / Reuters
Karolina Pliskova has fallen in the second round of Wimbledon for each of the past five years. Paul Childs / Reuters

Speaking of players with games well suited to grass, few should be more natural on the surface than world No 7 Karolina Pliskova: a huge serve and pounding groundstrokes, the 26-year-old Czech should be a monster at Wimbledon.

Instead, her best effort at the All England Club is the second round, achieved in each of the past five years. It's a curious record and one that will not be improving this year. Pliskova's first appearance on a grass court ended in a first round defeat in Birmingham, and something just feels a bit off about her game at present.

Another early Wimbledon exit beckons for the former world No 1.

Graham Caygill, sports editor

MEN'S DRAW

Champion: Juan Martin del Potro

Juan Martin Del Potro has the game to go all the way at Wimbledon. Yoan Valat / EPA
Juan Martin Del Potro has the game to go all the way at Wimbledon. Yoan Valat / EPA

Here me out on this: picking a guy who has not played on grass this year as winner seems a bit random, right?

Del Potro has not played a competitive match since losing to Rafael Nadal in the French Open semi-finals.

But he has established himself over the past 12 months as one of the most consistent players on the tour, and a man who is very hard to beat when he finds his range.

Del Potro can play well on grass. He reached the last four in 2013 where he took Novak Djokovic to five sets. The Argentine is one of those players who gets better the further he goes in a tournament.

In a year when the draw looks fairly open, and if Del Potro can find his range, there is no reason why he can't finally win that second major to add to his 2009 US Open crown.

Surprise: Nick Kyrgios

Nick Kyrgios has the talent but it is his temperament that has so far let him down at the grand slams. Marc Atkins / Getty Images
Nick Kyrgios has the talent but it is his temperament that has so far let him down at the grand slams. Marc Atkins / Getty Images

We have been here before. Kyrgios puts in a couple of good performances pre-major and then sinks without a trace in a wave of his own tantrums and bad behaviour.

The Australian world No 19 is strong on grass. He pushed both Roger Federer and Marin Cilic hard in Stuttgart and Queen's respectively, and when he keeps his focus he is a force to be reckoned with.

If, and this is a big if, Kyrgios can stay composed and keep his mind on the job of winning tennis matches, the 16th seed has the talent to go very deep into the tournament and really trouble the top seeds.

Disappointment: Roger Federer

Roger Federer has not been playing at the same level as when he lifted his eighth Wimbledon title last year. Leon Kuegeler / Reuters
Roger Federer has not been playing at the same level as when he lifted his eighth Wimbledon title last year. Leon Kuegeler / Reuters

This feels somewhat harsh, but if Federer does not win his 21st major at Wimbledon it will be a letdown for him. And I do not think he will win it so hence the disappointment tag seems fair.

Federer was unconvincing in winning the Stuttgart title, and he looked to be jaded and below his best at Halle where he could have lost earlier in that tournament before Borna Coric finally did for him in the final.

Federer has been written off before and bounced back, and this is not discounting him overall. But he looks to have lost a step from the majestic 2017 form and he is definitely beatable this time.

Whether anyone can take three sets off him is the question, but he looks fallible and on recent form the task of beating him is not as challenging as it was 12 months ago.

WOMEN'S DRAW

Winner: Garbine Muguruza

Garbine Muguruza saw her Wimbledon title defence ended in the second round. Reuters
Garbine Muguruza saw her Wimbledon title defence ended in the second round. Reuters

The defending champion often frustrates with her consistency, but Wimbledon has been the scene of some of her best performances.

The Spanish world No 3 pushed Serena Williams to play her best tennis in the 2015 final that she lost, and then she absolutely trounced Venus Williams last year in the final, losing just five games.

If Muguruza can continue from where she left off with her run to the last four at the French Open then a third grand slam title, and a second at Wimbledon, is on the horizon.

Surprise: Daria Kasatkina

Daria Kasatkina has proved her ability by defeating a host of top players this season. Paul Childs / Reuters
Daria Kasatkina has proved her ability by defeating a host of top players this season. Paul Childs / Reuters

The Russian is building a reputation for herself on the WTA Tour as a gritty player, capable of causing the established stars problems with her consistency from the back of the court.

She has wins over Muguruza, Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens, Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams and Johanna Konta this year so the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and Indian Wells finalist is not concerned about reputations.

The No 14 seed has not been beyond the third round at Wimbledon but she can have a good run this time around.

Disappointment: Johanna Konta

Johanna Konta has struggled to match the form that saw her reach the Wimbledon semi-finals last season. Paul Childs / Reuters
Johanna Konta has struggled to match the form that saw her reach the Wimbledon semi-finals last season. Paul Childs / Reuters

Britain's hope of home glory in the women's draw, Konta reached the semi-finals last year.

A repeat of that seems unlikely this time around. She has only won one match at any major since that semi-final run at Wimbledon and she appears to have lost confidence and focus of late.

The world No 22 will not be lacking in support, but she will do well to make the second week of the tournament this year.