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By Chris Oddo | Thursday, June 19, 2014


Will Rafael Nadal make it through the first week at Wimbledon this year? We ponder this in more as we look at five Wimbledon storylines that are bound to excite.

Photo Source: PA

One the eve of the making of the 2014 Wimbledon singles draws, we take a look at five developing storylines for this year's Championships.

More Wimbledon: The Sharapova Effect?

Can Rafael Nadal Make it through the first week?

He’s a two-time Wimbledon champion that has painstakingly improved his serve and his volley over the course of his career and adapted his built-for-clay game for the grass so that he could take down Roger Federer and become a true all-court player. In short: Rafael Nadal can be an absolutely brilliant grass-court player. But since dropping the 2011 final to Novak Djokovic, Nadal has gone 2-5 on the surface, including shocking first-week losses at Wimbledon to Lukas Rosol and Steve Darcis in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

What gives?

The short turnaround between grass and clay seasons is certainly not helping Nadal, as the Spaniard is given virtually no time to decompress after the grueling clay-court season, a three-month sprawl in which Nadal lays every ounce of energy in his body and soul on the line in the name of winning Roland Garros. But nothing will change this season (next year, thankfully, the tours have inserted a third week of tournaments between the conclusion of Roland Garros and the beginning of Wimbledon), as Nadal will come in cold, with only one disconcerting blowout loss to Dustin Brown in Halle under his belt on grass this season.

For Nadal, the challenge is simple: Find a way to get through the first three matches, when the Wimbledon grass is slippery and dangerous and difficult to defend (and while his legs are heavy and he’s still emotionally spent from the clay season). It hasn’t been an easy task for him of late, but if he can do it, Nadal will instantly become a threat to win his fifteenth Grand Slam title by the end of the fortnight.

Does Serena Williams Have More Grand Slam Magic in Her?

Before the 2014 Grand Slam season got underway, you wouldn’t have had a difficult time finding people who believed that Williams was going to win multiple Grand Slams and maybe even claim the coveted calendar-year Grand Slam. But my, how things have changed for the world No. 1. After dropping a fourth-round tilt to Ana Ivanovic at the Australian Open, Williams suffered the worst Grand Slam loss of her career to Spain’s Garbine Muguruza in the second round of the French Open.

Did Muguruza’s beatdown of Williams signify the beginning of the end of Williams’ dominance in the Slams (she's rapidly approaching 33, an age known more for retirement than Grand Slam titles), or will the 17-time Grand Slam champion use the multiple setbacks as extra motivation to hit the grass running at Wimbledon? If there is one venue where Williams can use her lethal serve to tame the rest of the field it is the All England Club, so if Williams is dominating with her serve early in the tournament, watch out Wimbledon.

Will the slippery grass wreak havoc on the draw?

2013 will be forever known as the year of the “greasy” grass at SW 19 and, of course, it was the grass that played the villain at Wimblegeddon, that fateful Wednesday that saw seven former world No. 1’s fall figuratively and many others fall literally in one of the strangest, most macabre Grand Slam days ever.

Neil Stubley, the All England Club’s Head Groundsmen, insists that the courts were prepared in the same fashion as in year’s previous, and thus has vowed not to change anything about the courts for 2014. If that’s the case, then how are we to expect that the players will have any more success keeping their footing? This wasn’t a case of a few players falling in the early rounds. Nearly EVERYBODY fell. And some were injured. It’s a relatively normal occurrence on a grass surface, but last season it happened with abnormal frequency.

Fingers crossed, but unless players have decided to stop trying to change directions on a dime and taking big cuts on the run, how are we to expect any different outcome? The fact of the matter is that there is a disconnect between the players and their explosive games and the nuance of moving on the grass. There simply is not enough time for players who spend 90 percent of their tour-level days on hard and clay courts to adjust. In other words: 2014, like 2013, will have a survival of the fittest theme running through it.

It will be interesting to see which players are affected by the slickness of the grass once the first week gets underway. Who will fall this year? Which players will temper their movement and leave themselves vulnerable defensively in order to keep their footing? As always, the more experienced grass-courters who are more accustomed to making the transition from clay and who know their way around a grass court (tiny, light steps) will have a better chance in the first week.

How will Andy Murray and Amelie Mauresmo handle the pressure?

All eyes will be on defending champion Andy Murray and his new coach, Amelie Mauresmo this year at Wimbledon. Many believe the pressure on Murray will actually be less than it was last year. Murray has already broken the 77-year-old curse of Fred Perry, and expectations about his actual chances of repeating have been dampened by his lackluster performance in 2014, largely attributable to his season-ending back surgery in 2013.

But Murray put up some good results on clay, reaching the semis at Roland Garros, and this run of surprising success combined with his groundbreaking decision to hire two-time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo as his coach, has heightened the buzz if not the pressure surrounding Murray--and Mauresmo, too. Will they have time to click and truly put a plan into place after just two weeks of working together? Or will Murray, already one of the best on grass on the ATP tour, just switch on autopilot and let his talent take over?

Whatever the case, as much as Murray claims that there’s not as much pressure this year, he’ll still be feeling it. If not for himself, he’ll also want to put his best foot forward to protect Mauresmo from the critics that will circle like rabid dogs should the unthinkable happen and he lose early in the draw.

It’s never easy for Murray to deal with the fact that he is the great British hope at Wimbledon, and it’s always a fascinating watch to see how he finds his way through it all. As long as the beer is flowing on Henman Hill, it should make for a good time, whether he goes all the way or not…

Who will step up if the women’s draw implodes?

It may not happen, but if 2014 is anything like 2013, and the women’s draw ends up without its two consensus favorites (Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova) not in the quarterfinals, who is poised to step up and be this year’s Marion Bartoli? Two candidates would be the red-hot and rising Simona Halep and the always lethal on grass Petra Kvitova, but both were forced out of tune-up events on grass this week due to injury. Both should play at Wimbledon, but heading into a fortnight with an injury is not necessarily a recipe for a breakout Slam.

A cadre of younger faces could step up if the draw implodes, and while many of the names aren’t proven on grass, players like Eugenie Bouchard, Garbine Muguruza, Madison Keys could make waves.

The reality is that if Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova should stumble, it’s nearly impossible to predict a winner. Li Na is a three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist who is getting no love of late, but under the tutelage of coach Carlos Rodriguez she has made the type of improvements to her game (attacking the net and serving bigger) that should make her very dangerous on grass. Sabine Lisicki is another possible dark horse. While many only remember her deer-in-the-headlights flameout in the final last year, the fact that Lisicki has been to the quarterfinals or better in each of her last four appearances at SW 19 (including last year’s final and a semifinal in 2011) bodes well for her at Wimbledon.

And let’s not forget Agnieszka Radwanska, a formidable grass-courter who has been to the semis the last two years, including the final in 2012, where she pushed Serena Williams to a third set.

The women’s game, due to the mere fact that they play best-of-three sets and thus are under the gun from first ball in every match, has always been harder to predict. It will get even harder if Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova isn’t able to get through the first week. It seems an unlikely scenario, but when we consider that Serena has yet to make the second week of a major this season, and Sharapova fell in the round of 16 in Australia, is it really that outrageous of a scenario?


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