Monday, July 2, 2012

Wimbledon 2012 Men's Round of 16 preview

Wimbledon 2012 has had one of the most intriguing first weeks at a grand slam for as long as one can remember. The metronomic domination of Messrs Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray in recent years has made the first week a mere formality at most grand slams. Enter Lukas Rosol, who played the best tennis of his life against Mallorca's finest, and is probably never going to play as well ever again.

Without doubt, a lot of the limelight has been hogged by Rafael Nadal's 2nd round upset. Nonetheless the other three in the big four have had their share of scares, and with plenty of big servers still left in the competition, week 2 of Wimbledon should be just as exciting as week 1.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Viktor Troicki
Hitting partners growing up and good friends, these two know each others games inside out. Djokovic leads the head-to-head 11-1. Their most memorable encounter was a first round epic at the 2010 US open, which many say was the beginning of Djokovic's relentless march to consistency and eventually the World No. 1 ranking. However, after that memorable five-setter, recent meetings have been fairly comfortable for Djokovic. It's not likely to be any different at Wimbledon.

Troiki usually brings out his best game against Djokovic, and the battle for local pride will have him pumped up to at least take a set to a tie-break, but ultimately Djokovic will prevail in straight sets.

Richard Gasquet (18) vs. Florian Mayer (31)
Grass is Gasquet's best surface, and after a long time the talented Frenchman is looking ominous at a grand slam. Gasquet has looked close to his best at Wimbledon, and his beautiful backhand has been on fire in all his matches so far. He was especially impressive in his victory against Nicolas Almagro, who should have been an extremely difficult opponent with his big serve. However, Gasquet ruthlessly dispatched him in straight sets.

It's been a while since Mayer has made it to the round of 16 at a Grand Slam. Mayer is one of many players on tour right now who have a big serve and forehand combination, which is exceptionally handy on grass. However, the rest of his game can be pretty limited, and Gasquet has too many weapons allied with canniness to take out Mayer on grass, and book a potentially great quarter-final against Djokovic.

Roger Federer (3) vs. Xavier Malisse
In 2002, the year before Roger Federer made Wimbledon his domain, Xavier Malisse made a remarkable run to the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Now, exactly ten years later, Malisse has made another fairytale run, albeit to the round of 16. Malisse used his experience and variety to great effect in upsetting Fernando Verdasco in a classic 5-setter in the third round.

Roger Federer was also engaged in a 5-setter in the third round, with only an unfortunate injury to his opponent Julien Benneteau depriving tennis fans of a potentially great fifth set. Federer was so imperious in the first two rounds, so one can assume he felt the pressure after Nadal's spectacular exit. Federer is not likely to be involved in too many second week's without Nadal in the future, and it was noticeable how tense Federer's body language was for most of the match against Benneteau.

Ultimately Federer won, and there is a feeling that Benneteau 2012 could be the equivalent of his comeback against Tommy Haas at Roland Garros in 2009, similarly a match that Federer played immediately after Nadal's shock exit. With that scare out of the way, Federer should be focused against Malisse, although there could be a tie-breaker or two if the wily Belgian plays to his potential.

Denis Istomin vs. Mikhail Youzhny (26)
Denis Istomin is yet another dangerous floater with an excellent serve and powerful forehand. The Uzbek can ruffle the feathers of the best in the business when the serve is on song. However, he is also capable of completely falling apart after spending more than an hour and a half on court.

There was a time in the not too distant past, that Mikhail Youzhny was a regular in the 4th round of grand slams, even managing to squeeze in a few quarter-final and semi-final appearances. However, the talented Russian has tailed off since 2011. Nonetheless Youzhny has played some smart grass-court tennis, and with his one-handed backhand purring after a long time, he should have the experience and know-how to beat Istomin in four.

David Ferrer (7) vs. Juan Martin Del Potro (9)
Growing up watching tennis in the 90's, the idea that two such exceptionally talented clay-court players would be contesting a round of 16 match at Wimbledon would be considered an upset in itself. However, the courts aren't that fast any more, and both players have displayed some grass court prowess this week.

David Ferrer is known as the best competitor on tour, and his performance against Andy Roddick in the previous round was just exceptional. Allied to his tireless running, Ferrer displayed some hitherto unseen delicacy at net, which completely bamboozled Roddick. Del Potro, after looking ill at ease on the surface in the early part of his career, finally seems to be realizing that his booming serve and hard-hitting baseline play is an asset on grass.

Del Potro is a superior opponent to Roddick, however Ferrer is exactly the kind of player that the Argentine hates playing against. Ferrer's ability to grind out long rallies makes him the slight favourite in this match. A 5 set battle is likely, whether Del Potro's dodgy knees can sustain him that long is another matter altogether.

Marin Cilic (16) vs. Andy Murray (4)
These two served up an entertaining Australian Open semi-final in 2010, and remarkably this is the deepest Cilic has been in a grand slam since then. The Croatian has disappointed immensely in the last 2 years, until finally finding some form by winning at Queens in the lead-up to Wimbledon.

That being said, he is bound to be extremely tired after taking 5 and a half hours to beat Sam Querrey in the last round. Murray on the other hand, has been his usual entertaining self at Wimbledon, with some jittery performances against some tricky opponents, yet his superior variety and mental fortitude have taken him through.

Whether he admits it or not, Murray knows this is his best chance of reaching a Wimbledon final with Nadal out. There seems to be a small increase in pressure as a result, however Murray has harnessed the energy and passion of the home support to his advantage in this tournament. He needed a trial by time in the last round against Marcos Baghdatis that just heightened the drama, however he should have too much for a tired Cilic and book his place in the quarter-finals with a straight-set victory.

Jo-Wilfired Tsonga (5) vs. Mardy Fish (10)
Tsonga loves playing at Wimbledon, and the mercurial Frenchman must be confident of reaching a second successive Wimbledon semi-final, another player to benefit from Nadal's exit.

Fish has been rejuvenated at Wimbledon after tailing off at the US Open last year after a loss to Tsonga. That match was a five-setter which displayed that Tsonga had too much variety and power against Fish. If Fish's excellent serve clicks, he could take a set, but don't expect more, as the Frenchman pumps himself up for a potential semi against Murray.

Brian Baker vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber (27)
Brian Baker's remarkable journey back into tennis is truly the feel-good story of this year's Wimbledon. He has displayed tremendous courage, and a fair bit of finesse on his way to the 4th round, which must already be the equivalent of winning the whole thing for him.

Kohlschreiber has moved along silently in the draw. The direct beneficiary of Rosol's stunning upset of Nadal, Kohlschreiber does have an excellent game for grass. His whip-like backhand is extremely effective on grass, and with victories over Nadal and Haas in this grass-court season, he should have the confidence and experience to win this match-up in 4 sets.