What are the biggest takeaways from the Wimbledon men’s tournament? Which ATP Tour players are the ones to watch during the summer hard-court season? How much will Rafael Nadal play the rest of the season? A panel of tennis writers — Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand, Amy Fetherolf of The Changeover and Erik Gudris of Adjusting the Net — joined me to discuss these topics and more. Check back Friday for our look at the state of the WTA Tour.
Making sense of Wimbledon
Nguyen: Let’s start with a simple question about the men’s tournament at Wimbledon: What the heck was that???
Fetherolf: The men’s side was crazy during the first week. Rafael Nadal’s first-round loss was shocking, given his great form at Roland Garros. Roger Federer’s second-round loss was an even bigger shock. The second week brought a historic all-Polish quarterfinal between Jerzy Janowicz and Lukasz Kubot, too. But the fact that Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray met in the final was actually predictable in the end. The tournament started out really weird, but ended pretty much how you might have expected when the draw came out.
Gudris: I agree with Amy that once Nadal and Federer exited, the men’s event became more or less predictable. I still feel that Federer’s loss was more of a surprise. All credit to Sergiy Stakhovsky for sticking with his game plan and embracing the moment of playing Federer on Centre Court. But I think many kept waiting for the 17-time Grand Slam champion to “flip that switch” and show Stakhovsky, “This is Roger Federer you are playing.” But it never happened. It was like Federer was one of the spectators watching Stakhovsky come to net time after time. We had already seen Federer have these lulls in early-round matches this season. But to witness it at Wimbledon was almost disturbing. Wimbledon is, in many ways, Federer’s “house,” but he wasn’t home that day.
Dimon: Well, I certainly don’t think many expected Murray to win the tournament. Nadal is a terrible matchup for both Federer and Murray on anything other than a fast indoor hard court, so the trendy pick had to be Nadal beating Federer and then Nadal taking care of Murray before another Djokovic-Nadal showdown. Obviously, when Federer and Nadal lost, Murray became the favorite in the bottom half … but not before that. Also, nobody could have expected Djokovic vs. Juan Martin del Potro to result in the match of the tournament and one of the best matches of the year.
Fetherolf: Hey, I predicted that Murray would win the tournament, Ricky!
Nguyen: So which was the bigger story: Federer’s loss or Murray’s win?
Gudris: Murray’s win is the big story.
Nguyen: Federer hadn’t lost before the quarterfinals in 36 consecutive majors. Great Britain hadn’t won the men’s singles in — I don’t know if you’ve heard — 77 years. So, yeah, my vote goes to Sir Andrew Murray.
Dimon: It’s Murray’s win by several furlongs. In fact, it is already assured of being the biggest story of the entire tennis season, not just of Wimbledon. Federer’s loss was monumental, but its predecessor (Nadal’s stunner against Steve Darcis) made it less surprising in a way, and the ensuing events (Djokovic vs. del Potro and Murray’s triumph) made Federer’s exit a thing of the past.
Fetherolf: Yeah, jury’s still out on The Fed. I try to reserve judgment about players and recognize that things are never as good or as bad as they seem. Still, it’s been a worrisome year for Federer so far.
Gudris: So much of Murray’s career was defined by angst. Can Murray win a major? Can he fulfill his potential? Now that he’s won Olympic gold, the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in a 12-month span, is there no more angst for Murray? Does that make him a more or less compelling player to watch?
Nguyen: It’s a great question, Erik, and one that’s been on my mind since we saw him actually smile during his Centre Court celebration. The three-legged puppy who trailed the Big Three is now on the verge of being the Big Dog.
Fetherolf: “Can he get to No. 1?” will be the next piece of Murray angst. (I think he will, for the record.)
Dimon: The U.S. Open win made Murray less compelling to watch (aside from at Wimbledon), because it took away the aforementioned angst. But I don’t think the Wimbledon win or Olympic gold makes the rest of his career any less compelling. What it does do is take away a storyline (or should I say, the storyline) from all future Wimbledons. Unless Andy Roddick comes out of retirement (ha!), Wimbledon will no longer have a tragic hero like it did with Goran Ivanisevic (until 2001), Tim Henman and Murray.
Nguyen: I saw one headline in a British paper that read, “We can finally enjoy Wimbledon.” I mean …
Gudris: Ricky, David Ferrer is now playing the role of “tragic hero” with no understudies in sight.
Dimon: I’m pretty sure that less than 10 percent of Brits know who David Ferrer is.
Another Slam for Federer?
Nguyen: Getting back to Federer: If you had to bet your paycheck on whether he’d win another Slam title, which way would you go?
Gudris: I would still bet on Federer As we’ve seen, anything can happen with these draws, and as long as he stays healthy and motivated, he just might have a Pete Sampras-like end to his career.
Fetherolf: I guess I’ll bet on him. That’s usually the way to go with Federer. If he plays for another three years and has good luck with health, I could see him possibly (though not definitely) winning another Slam. If he retires in a year, then no, because that would give him only another handful of chances.
Dimon: “Not winning” is closing the gap, but “winning at least one more” is still well ahead. Federer schedules too well, stays too healthy and has too many chances (at all three Slams other than the French Open) not to win another one. Furthermore, the pool of contenders is too small to deny Federer. It’s always all up to Djokovic, Nadal and Murray. Even del Potro is still on the fringe of Slam contention. There is not enough there to hold off Federer from now until his retirement.
Nguyen: I’d have to bet against Federer. It’s not like it’s his biggest rivals who are ending most of his Slams lately. He lost to Murray in the Australian Open semifinals this year, but in his three other majors since winning Wimbledon last year, he’s lost to Tomas Berdych at the U.S. Open, Tsonga at the French Open and Stakhovsky at Wimbledon. I’d be more inclined to back him if he were winning outside the Slams, but he’s not. His in-match inconsistency has worsened and, most important, I question whether his body can withstand seven best-of-five matches over two weeks.
Nguyen: Given what you’ve seen at Wimbledon and in the first six months of the season, who do you have your eye on as we turn to the North American hard courts?
Fetherolf: If he’s healthy, I’ll be expecting del Potro to do some damage. He’s always a dangerous player on hard courts, and his confidence is building against the top players. I remember what happened the last time that was the case.
Dimon: Juan Martin del Potro. Period. End of story. He was hitting 2009 U.S. Open-type forehands at Wimbledon and it got him to the semifinals of a major on his least favorite surface while not even being 100 percent. If del Potro gets healthy and stays that way through the Rogers Cup in Montreal and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, you may be looking at the U.S. Open champion. As for flops, Murray may have a Wimbledon hangover and Nadal is in danger of becoming a non-factor on fast hard courts. I also feel that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (his French Open scalp of Federer notwithstanding) is soon to be greatly surpassed by guys like del Potro and Berdych.
Nguyen: Do you really think del Potro is back, though? I thought so last year, when he beat Federer twice in a row at the end the season. But then, like the big bear that he is, he went back into hibernation (for the most part) until Indian Wells, where he beat Murray and Djokovic and pushed Nadal to three sets in the final. Then he disappeared again until he made the Wimbledon semifinals despite dealing with a knee injury. I just don’t know what to expect from him on hard courts.
Fetherolf: I think he’s been back for a while. I’m not sure he was ever the consistent player we want him to be. He’s a streaky player, and that was true in 2009, too.
Gudris: I feel the summer hard-court season is all about Nadal. Does he play a full schedule? If he does well in Montreal, then does he reconsider his plans for Cincinnati? If he holds up physically at both ATP 1000 events, then he is a serious threat in the U.S. Open. But an iffy or short lead-up would just spark more questions about his knee not only for the end of this season but also for 2014.
Fetherolf: How about Bernard Tomic? After a horrible clay season filled with drama with his dad, he made a good run at Wimbledon, beating Richard Gasquet on the way to the fourth round. I’m not sure if he’s really back on track or if it was just a fluke. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Dimon: Tomic? His run was entirely due to grass. And the fact that his nearest top seed was Gasquet. He will be an afterthought during the U.S. Open Series … at least on the tennis court.
Gudris: Amy, I think Tomic’s chances on the hard courts this summer are slight. I just don’t think his game is that great yet on U.S. outdoor hard courts.
Nguyen: For me, it’s Berdych. He’s had some good moments this year (the stunning comeback victory over Djokovic at the Italian Open comes to mind) after a very solid 2012, but overall he’s underwhelmed. If he can’t bounce back from his second-set collapse against Djokovic in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and make a move during the U.S. Open Series, I’ll have to be content focusing on his weird tweeting.
Dimon: What do we think about Gael Monfils? The obvious negatives are that he will be unseeded for every tournament he enters and that he is playing on a surface that is terrible for his knees. On the bright side, he was awesome at the French Open (where he beat Berdych and Ernests Gulbis — yes, beating Gulbis these days is actually a decent win) until too many best-of-five matches caught up with his injury-plagued body. If Monfils can somehow stay 100 percent both physically and mentally (that’s a big “if”), I see him as a threat to reach the quarterfinals and semifinals in Montreal, Cincinnati and the U.S. Open.
Fetherolf: I think Monfils will play well enough to cause some early upsets, but then fizzle out because he’s Monfils.
Dimon: This is a very good reason for fizzling out. The best reason, in fact.
Gudris: How about Janowicz? Is he a short-term buy for the hard courts or more of a long-term wait and see? I say the latter.
Nguyen: I thought he was a wait-and-see player all year, but he impressed me at Wimbledon. He had a nice draw to make the semifinals, for sure, but at 22 there’s so much potential there. That said, I think the U.S. hard courts are just too slow for him. Plus, I’m very curious to see how he handles the pressure now that he’s kind of expected to be a thing now.
Fetherolf: I think Janowicz’s game will work on all surfaces. I was skeptical going into this year, but I’m not anymore. The guy moves incredibly well, and that serve will win him a lot of matches.
Dimon: Janowicz is one spot away from an all-important top-16 ranking. With few points to defend, he should have it in time for the U.S. Open and maybe even for Montreal and Cincinnati next month. A top-16 seed will give him every chance of advancing to the quarterfinals at those events.
Lean times for U.S. men
Nguyen: How about some quick thoughts on the American men? Obviously, that stat about no American men making the third round of Wimbledon for the first time since dinosaurs roamed the earth was not exactly great. But if we’re allowed to use asterisks, I would argue that Isner, who had a favorable draw, would have saved the U.S. contingent if not for a bum knee that led to his second-round retirement. This year will be the 10-year anniversary of Roddick’s U.S. Open title. Should we be preparing ourselves for a 77-year drought?
Fetherolf: Well, Isner’s not the answer. Nor is Sam Querrey.
Dimon: There is no doubt in my mind Isner would have reached the quarterfinals had he not been injured against Adrian Mannarino (whom he just beat in straight sets in the second round of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships). In fact, he would have had a good chance of making the semifinals. That being said, he has a ton of points to defend starting right now and he may not even have a top-24 seed for the U.S. Open. Isner will rack up some points at the Newports, Atlantas and Winston-Salems of the world, but to say the jury is still out on him at Grand Slams would be putting it nicely. No American man currently on tour projects as a future Grand Slam winner.
Gudris: I don’t know if we should be storing water and bringing an old VHS copy of Roddick’s win with us into the bunker for a 77-year wait. But I would be surprised if a U.S. man wins New York in the next five years. This is still a transition period and it’s going to take awhile for that next player with all the tools needed to win to emerge.
Fetherolf: Luckily for Isner, he has about zero points to defend after Winston-Salem for many, many months. Almost literally.
Dimon: But that won’t help him until the Australian Open. And he also has basically no chance of gaining ground outside of the United States. In fact, Isner is the only person I can think of who is a country specialist as opposed to a court specialist. No matter what surface he is on, he wins in the United States. And no matter what surface he is on, he loses overseas.
Gudris: Are there any current U.S. men who really like playing overseas aside from Bob and Mike Bryan? That does seem to be a factor in why we aren’t seeing better results from American guys throughout the season.
Nguyen: Brian Baker …
Dimon: Not unless you consider Tommy Haas and Kevin Anderson American, no. But nobody is a country specialist to the extent that Isner is.
Issue No. 1
Nguyen: The race for year-end No. 1 looks like it’s between Djokovic, Murray and Nadal. Who you got?
Gudris: Djokovic. Unless he falls apart physically.
Nguyen: Yeah. Murray did not help himself (well … actually he did) by losing early at the Italian Open (via a retirement) and pulling out of the French Open. Not sure he can catch Djokovic.
Dimon: Djokovic. Nadal won’t be getting too many points from now until the end of the year.
Nguyen: How many tournaments do you think Nadal will play the rest of the season?
Gudris: Five — Montreal, Cincinnati, U.S. Open, China Open and ATP World Tour Finals in London. If Nadal reaches the Montreal final, then I think his chances of appearing in Cincy would be very slim.
Dimon: Five — Montreal, U.S. Open, the two fall Masters events (Shanghai and Paris) and the World Tour Finals. Nadal will lose in the Montreal semifinals and withdraw from Cincinnati. Take it to the nearest bank.
Fetherolf: I’ll say four. I think he plays it safe with the knees for the rest of the year.