Wimbledon Championships 2021: Analyzing the top contenders in Men's and Women's Singles
The Wimbledon Championships is back in 2021!!
Wimbledon, the only Grand Slam to give 2020 a miss is back. Fantastic to be back with the elegant purple and green, the famous grass, the hallowed courts. As the first round wraps up fully and the second has already begun, it is time for some musings.
A slippery affair, this one!
Let’s start with the Wimbledon courts. The only word is terrible. Players have been falling on the courts, lock, stock and barrel to borrow a British saying.
Djokovic took multiple tumbles, Kyrgios had a really painful fall in the 5th set, Bianca Andreescu had multiple falls including some which looked worse than her tumble in Miami which forced her to retire.
Serena Williams and Adrian Mannarino had to retire from their matches thanks to falls. If I were the All England Club’s management I would call the lawyers.
Looking at the press reaction, one has to say that had this happened in a tournament in China or in some part of the developing world, there would by now be an uproar about the “disgraceful” conditions that players are being subject to.
Reams would have been written about the wisdom (or lack of it) of holding tournaments where the facilities are not ready. Since this is SW19, most of the press are only talking about the falls, with no reference to the culpability of the Wimbledon courts.
The American press is squawking a bit since Serena Williams had to exit – but even then giving it a soft pass. They speak of the rain, that very few matches have been played in a long while on the courts etc., etc.
Today is the 3rd day of the Championships and the baselines are already starting to show patches where the grass has worn out. Still, players are falling with alarming regularity.
A feature of tennis remains the dichotomy between the men’s and women’s games that I spoke so much about in my last post.
Wimbledon mirrors this – this has to be one of the most open tournaments on the women’s side in terms of who might win. On the men’s side all the money is on the World #1, and his not winning will represent a stunning upset.
Women's Singles: All bets are on to crown the next queen at Wimbledon Championships!
Let’s speak of the women’s side first. The Wimbledon Championships 2021 began with 15 women in the draw who have won a Grand slam.
Considering that Naomi Osaka who has 4 of the last 10 Slams and Halep, the defending champion both had to withdraw, that is a massive number. This alone should be a reason to think there is a lot of depth in the draw.
The first round itself has seen eight of the 31 seeds fall. Serena being forced to retire with an injury seems all the more poignant. Her draw was fairly soft. Going by the seedings, she would have met Kerber in the 3rd round, Belinda Bencic in the 4th, Svitolina in the quarters.
Kerber has missed a lot of tournaments since the pandemic began and has a 6-5 record in the last two years in the Slams. She lost in the first round at both the Australian and the French this year and may no longer be the threat that she once was.
The others in the list I would wager Serena can handle anytime. The interesting first test would have come in the semis where the seeded player due to meet her was Barty. The World #1 is a canny player and her low slices which fizz cruelly can be particularly effective on grass.
Serena holds a 2-0 record against her but the last of those wins was in 2018 when Barty was not the player she is today. All said and done, on grass with no Osaka, no Halep, Andreescu and Kvitova falling in the first round, this was a great chance for her to get that elusive #24. But thanks to poorly prepared courts it was not to be.
So who in the field still remaining would be the front runners?
Top of the list has to be Ashleigh Barty – she is the World #1 and is an extremely smart player. She is a strong doubles player which gives her a lot of experience with volleys.
However, she has never gotten past the 4th round at the Wimbledon championships and has a pretty poor 5-4 record here. I think she has a great chance – her first real test will come in the 4th round where she could meet the new French Open champion Krejcikova or the dangerous 19-year-old Marta Kostyuk, who I believe has tremendous potential.
Potential Dark Horses in Women's Singles:
A potential dark horse at the Wimbledon Championships 2021 is Victoria Azarenka. She could be Barty’s quarter-final opponent. She has twice reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon and in both cases lost to the eventual winner, Kvitova and Serena Williams. However, that was 10 years ago!!
Given the savaging of seeds in the first round, and thinking of what just transpired at the French Open, it might be tempting fate to speak of seeded players, but I think the best chances lie with two seeds - #7 Iga Swiatek and #11 Garbine Muguruza.
Muguruza is a two-time slam champion who has won Wimbledon. She has the game, and when she plays well can look unbeatable.
However, her movement especially on to the forehand side often leaks errors and she is known to just overhit often and loses matches she really should not.
She lost to Kostyuk in the first round of the French Open leaking 40 unforced errors in two sets. This is a tournament she has won! Still, she can stand toe to toe with the best and if the right Muguruza shows up, she is a real contender.
Iga Swiatek, in my mind, along with Osaka and Andreescu are the most talented players on the women’s side.
She is still only 20 and has no track record on the grass to speak of. But as we see with the men as well, the difficulty in assessing some of the young players for ability on grass is that the last time grass was played, was two years ago.
For the really young, that can be a lifetime ago. Swiatek just from natural ability is always a contender, but like many of the other young brigade can flake out as suddenly as she can fire!
She lost to Maria Sakkari leaking 26 unforced errors in 20 games when she was the heavy favorite to retain her title and had gone 11 straight matches without even losing a set. Let’s see how deep she can go here. She has started well.
One more person with the ability to do damage is Sloan Stephens. With her ranking in a tailspin she is unseeded but very effectively took out Kvitova in the first round – she is an amazingly smart player, has won the US Open and has reached a French final. Someone to watch.
A player with a lot of talent but not the belief that she can win a big one is Karolina Muchova. She has a super game on grass. Elena Rybakina and her doubles partner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova recent runner up at the French are other players who are capable of good matches.
Men's Singles: Novak Djokovic vs Rest of the Tennis World?
What then about the men? Frankly, at this moment it does look a bit like the draw is only to decide which player will be beaten by Djokovic in the final. He looks totally insurmountable.
'Djoko' is now going for the calendar slam and on the surface where he has four titles – three of which came beating the King of Grass, Roger Federer, in the final – he has to be the odds-on favorite.
After pulling out the French Open from two sets to love down, he has the psychological edge over most other would-be contenders.
If there were going to be challenges in the men’s draw which started with only four players who have won a Grand Slam ever, we have seen even more carnage than the women with 11 seeds falling in the first round!!
The biggest being the French Open finalist, the Australian Open Semi-Finalist, and world #4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who let slip a 2-0 sets lead in the French Open final and was seeded to meet Djokovic in the semis.
For years now, I have been trying to look for the next generation who can take on the Big Three (for a brief while the Big 4 and now becoming the BIG ONE??). Every year that has proved a disappointing search. But with the new crop getting better and age taking its toll on the previous Gen, one has hope. I think Wimbledon 2021 is too early yet, for that torch passing ceremony.
Is the Next-Gen ready to take on the Big 3 of Tennis?
Let’s talk of some of these exciting rising stars. Many of them went out in the first round – Jannik Sinner 19 years old and seeded 19, has already reached a Masters 1000 final and is an absolutely smashing talent.
The enigmatic Alejandro Davidovich Fokina seeded 30th and the junior Wimbledon winner in 2017. A player who I believe can beat anybody but equally can lose to anybody. Loves to play drop shots, often overdoing it in the process, underarm serves – the gamut of the non-conventional.
Lorenzo Musetti, another Italian like Sinner and aged only 18, also had two sets to love over Djokovic at the French – he too went out in the first round – again an amazing talent but not just yet. The Halle winner, Ugo Humbert lost to Nick Kyrgios in five sets. He did really well though and it took some genius from Kyrgios to beat him.
The key youngsters in the bottom half all started well. Alexander Zverev the 4th seed has not been able to quash his grand slam demons, even though he reached the US Open final last year.
However, he is hugely talented and knows how to win big. He has a year-end Masters title which he won beating Federer and Djokovic. He has 4 Masters 1000s.
The only other active player other than the Gang of Four, to have more than one Masters 1000 is Jo Wilfred Tsonga with 2. Sascha has the pedigree to stand with the best. If he plays well he will not be afraid of Djokovic in the final.
To get to the final he will need to get past the #2 seed Medvedev. Daniil has two grand slam finals but no title to show for it. He was thoroughly beaten by Djokovic in the Australian Open final and has never made it past the 3rd round at SW19.
But he knows how to beat anyone, has beaten Djokovic three times in eight meetings including at the Year-End Masters.
He is the first #2 outside the aforementioned Gang of Four in 16 years!! If he gets going I always believe he has a chance – his strengths are his ability to think and construct a point. Known to be a keen chess player he brings those thought skills to the court and is a formidable opponent.
The Canadians Felix Auger Aliassime and my personal favorite Denis Shapovalov are in the draw and can go deep.
Felix is having a bit of a sophomore year moment right now but has the complete game to become one of the world’s best.
Shapo is more of the exciting player who can go down really quickly in flames, he took 5 sets to beat the 37-year-old Kohlschreiber – but then can produce brilliant tennis when he wants to. His lefty single hand backhand is a thing of beauty!! If he settles down mentally, again a player who can do damage.
How far can the old guard of tennis go at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships?
Finally some of the older guys. The grand old man of Tennis Roger Federer! Almost 40 I think this is now a bridge too far for him.
After falling at the final hurdle in 2019 – I can still see that volley going the wrong way towards Nole instead of into the open court at match point in the 5th – he really was going to find it tough to win this year unless Djokovic fell before meeting him.
This year though Federer has been beaten by Basilashvili, Andujar and Felix (who at exactly 19 years zero days younger was the biggest age gap Federer has faced in his 1500 plus matches on the tour). He has looked a step slow and may have lost in the first round here but for Mannarino taking a fall and having to retire.
Let’s see how far he goes but for both him and Andy Murray this may be out of bounds. Murray has reached the 3rd round raising British hysteria. There he will run into Shapo which should be an extremely interesting match.
Nick Kyrgios, 26 years old – not quite young anymore. Has not played in a long time but pulled out a five set win over the talented Ugo Humbert. Kyrgios has the talent to beat anyone.
On grass he has the game. He has the attitude and will love to go up against Nole. The only problem is he has to get to a final – whereas he has never even reached a semi! His last Quarter Final in a Slam was in 2015 when he was still 19.
This just gives a sense of the wasted talent here. Unlike players like Tomic, Kyrgios can occasionally keep himself together mentally. But he lacks match fitness. He last played a competitive match in the third round of the Australian. I doubt his body will last.
There is in any case the question mark about whether he can mentally keep it together for 7 rounds. However, guys like Felix and Zverev who may see him across the net will not be taking it easy.
Andrey Rublev, another Russian, is also a contender and can go deep. Some question marks about whether he believes hard enough on grass. Rublev is one of the other young guns whose talent is very deep and again with a very sharp tennis mind.
So a lot of contenders but no one really who can aim for the title. With all this do I see anyone beating Djokovic? The answer has to be, not at all – no real chance. He even has a soft draw till the quarters.
This tournament likely will end crowning a new champion in the Women’s (I think only Muguruza and Kerber is left of previous Wimby winners) and the same old champion on the Men’s. Men’s tennis will have the unprecedented spectacle of having three players with 20 Slams tied at the top!!