Monday, June 29, 2015

Players to watch at Wimbledon

   Wimbledon begins today (4 a.m.-1:30 p.m. PDT on ESPN) and continues through July 12. Seedings are in parentheses.
Novak Djokovic seeks his second straight Wimbledon title
and third overall. 2015 photo by Paul Bauman
 Novak Djokovic (1)
   Why he'll win -- Djokovic captured the title last year and in 2011, he's in his prime at 28, and he'll have extra motivation after his upset loss to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final. Plus, his three biggest traditional rivals -- Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray -- are in the other half of the draw.
   Why he won't -- After Wawrinka snapped Djokovic's winning streak at 28 matches in Paris, Djokovic played no grass-court tuneup tournaments to rest mentally. But it worked for him last year. Andy Murray, in particular, could dethrone Djokovic at Wimbledon.
   Northern California connection -- None.
Roger Federer (2)
   Why he'll win -- Federer shares the men's record of seven Wimbledon singles titles with Pete Sampras and Willie Renshaw (who played in the 1880s). Federer extended Djokovic to 6-4 in the fifth set in last year's Wimbledon final and won Halle, Germany, on grass for the eighth time two weeks ago.
   Why he won't -- Federer will be 34 in August and hasn't won a Grand Slam title since earning his record 17th at Wimbledon three years ago.
   NorCal connection -- None.
Andy Murray (3)
   Why he'll win -- Murray is returning to form after beating Djokovic in the Wimbledon final two years ago, ending Great Britain's men's title drought at 77 years, and undergoing minor back surgery that September. Murray won his fourth title at Queen's Club two weeks ago on grass in London.
   Why he won't -- He has lost to Djokovic late in the last three Grand Slam tournaments. Murray might have to beat two-time semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round, Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals, Federer in the semifinals and Djokovic in the final.
   NorCal connection -- Murray went 10-0 in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, winning the title in 2006 at 18 years old and in 2007. He also won the Aptos Challenger in 2005.
Stan Wawrinka (4)
   Why he'll win -- The 30-year-old Swiss is coming off his second Grand Slam singles title, having upset Djokovic in the French Open final. Wawrinka reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year after winning one match in his previous four appearances at the All England Club.
   Why he won't -- Wawrinka will suffer a letdown after winning the French Open, he lost to hard-serving Kevin Anderson in the second round at Queen's Club, and he has a tough draw. Wawrinka could face another big server, Milos Raonic, in the quarterfinals, Djokovic in the semifinals and Federer or Murray in the final.
   NorCal connection -- None.
Tomas Berdych (6)
   Why he'll win --The 29-year-old Czech was the runner-up to Nadal at Wimbledon in 2010, he's ready to take the next step, and all the attention is on the Big Five (which now includes Wawrinka).
   Why he won't -- Berdych is a headcase who has not reached a Grand Slam final since Wimbledon in 2010. He lost to 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Ivo Karlovic in the Halle quarterfinals, although there's no shame in that.
   NorCal connection -- Berdych made the quarterfinals of the 2009 SAP Open as the fifth seed in his only San Jose appearance. 
Milos Raonic (7)
   Why he'll win -- With a massive serve at 6-foot-5 (1.96 meters), the 24-year-old Canadian is widely considered a future Grand Slam champion. Raonic advanced to the Wimbledon semifinals last year after losing in the second round of his first three showings at the All England Club.
   Why he won't -- Raonic underwent surgery for a pinched nerve in his right foot on May 13 and missed the French Open. He lost to Gilles Simon in the quarterfinals at Queen's Club, and he has a brutal draw at Wimbledon. Raonic could play 26th-seeded Nick Kyrgios, who stunned Nadal in the fourth round last year, in the third round; 11th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, a semifinalist in 2014, in the fourth round; Wawrinka in the quarterfinals; Djokovic in the semifinals; and Federer or Murray in the final.
   NorCal connection -- Raonic never lost a set in 13 career matches in the SAP Open, winning the last three titles (2011-13).
Marin Cilic (9)
   Why he'll win -- The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Croatian's big serve and forehand carried him to last year's U.S. Open title. Also in 2014, he reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the first time, leading Djokovic two sets to one before falling. 
   Why he won't -- Cilic played only one tournament in the first three months of the year because of a right (serving) shoulder injury. In his two grass-court tuneup tournaments, he lost to Viktor Troicki of Serbia in the second round and semifinals. At Wimbledon, Cilic might have to get past 17th-seeded John Isner in the third round, fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori in the fourth round and Djokovic in the quarterfinals. 
   NorCal connection -- None.
Rafael Nadal (10)    
   Why he'll win -- Nadal reached the Wimbledon final in five consecutive appearances, winning in 2008 and 2010. Three weeks ago at Stuttgart, he won his first grass-court title since Wimbledon in 2010.
   Why he won't -- Since his hot streak at Wimbledon, Nadal has failed to make the quarterfinals in any of the past three years. After winning Stuttgart, he lost in the first round at Queen's Club to Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. Nadal's Wimbledon draw is no picnic, either, with potential matchups against Troicki (whom the Spaniard beat in the Stuttgart final) in the third round, Murray in the quarters, Federer in the semis and Djokovic in the final. Overall, Nadal has had a disappointing year and could be in decline.
   NorCal connection -- None.
   Djokovic will bounce back from his loss to Wawrinka in the French Open final to claim his third Wimbledon title. A Djokovic-Murray final could be a classic.
For the first time in her illustrious career, Serena Williams is half-
way to a calendar-year Grand Slam. 2014 photo by Paul Bauman
Serena Williams (1)
   Why she'll win -- The 33-year-old American has won five Wimbledon singles championships (2002, 2003, 2009, 2010 and 2012) and the last three Grand Slams. She is motivated to pull within one title of a calendar-year Grand Slam and win her 21st major singles crown, one behind second-place Steffi Graf and three behind Margaret Court on the all-time list.
   Why she won't -- Williams has failed to reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in the past two years.
   NorCal connection -- Williams will seek her second straight Bank of the West Classic title and fourth overall Aug. 3-9 at Stanford.
Petra Kvitova (2)
   Why she'll win -- The powerful left-hander has advanced to the quarterfinals or better at Wimbledon in each of the past five years, including titles in 2011 and 2014.
   Why she won't -- Kvitova withdrew from last week's tournament in Eastbourne with an undisclosed illness, saying she needed "to be in bed and drink hot tea." She is 1-5 vs. Williams (not including a walkover victory), with the win coming on clay in the Madrid semifinals (6-2, 6-3) in early May.
   NorCal connection -- None.
  Simona Halep (3)
   Why she'll win -- Halep reached last year's French Open final and Wimbledon semifinals, dismissing 2013 runner-up Sabine Lisicki  6-4, 6-0 in the quarterfinals at the All England Club. Halep had failed to advance past the second round in her three previous Wimbledons.
   Why she won't -- At 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), the 23-year-old Romanian lacks the power of taller players. She lost to 5-foot-11 (1.81-meter) Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the second round of the French Open. Then again, Lisicki is 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters).
   NorCal connection -- Halep lost to Lisicki in the first round of the 2011 Bank of the West Classic in her only appearance at Stanford.
Maria Sharapova (4)
   Why she'll win -- Sharapova won the first of her five Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 2004, upsetting Williams in the final.
   Why she won't -- Since 2004, Sharapova has returned to the Wimbledon final only once, losing to Kvitova 6-3, 6-4 in 2011. Aside from that, Sharapova has failed to reach the quarterfinals since a semifinal showing in 2006. If she makes it to the semis this year, she could face Williams, against whom she's 2-17 with a 16-match losing streak dating to 2004.
   NorCal connection -- Sharapova was the runner-up to Victoria Azarenka in the 2010 Bank of the West Classic.
Lucie Safarova (6) 
   Why she'll win -- The 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter) left-hander reached her first Grand Slam singles semifinal last year at Wimbledon at 27 years old and was the runner-up to Williams in this year's French Open.
   Why she won't -- Safarova could face Sharapova in the quarters, Williams in the semis and Kvitova in the final. The trio have combined for eight Wimbledon singles crowns. In Safarova's only tuneup tournament, she lost her opening match in Eastbourne last week to Dominika Cibulkova.
   NorCal connection -- None.
  Angelique Kerber (10) 
   Why she'll win -- The 5-foot-8 left-hander reached the Wimbledon semifinals three years ago and won the title at Birmingham two weeks ago in her only grass-court tuneup tournament.
   Why she won't -- Kerber, 27, has yet to reach a Grand Slam final.
   NorCal connection -- Kerber was the runner-up to Williams in last year's Bank of the West Classic.
Sabine Lisicki (18) 
   Why she'll win -- Lisicki has used her booming serve to gain the quarterfinals or better in her last five Wimbledon appearances. She ousted Williams in the fourth round two years ago en route to the final, in which she lost to Marion Bartoli. Lisicki blasted a record 27 aces in her second-round victory over Belinda Bencic in Birmingham.
   Why she won't -- Lisicki, playing in her first and only Grand Slam singles final, choked in her 6-1, 6-4 loss to Bartoli. This month, Lisicki lost to Kerber 6-3, 6-3 in the Birmingham semifinals in her only tuneup tournament. Lisicki is 1-3 lifetime against Williams.
   NorCal connection -- Lisicki reached the semifinals of the Bank of the West Classic in 2011 and  slugged a record 131-mph (210.8-kph) serve in her first-round loss to Ana Ivanovic last year at Stanford.
Madison Keys (21) 
   Why she'll win -- Like Williams and Lisicki, the 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Keys has the power to excel at Wimbledon. And Keys is only 20. She reached her first Grand Slam semifinal in this year's Australian Open, saving eight match points in a 7-6 (5), 6-2 loss to Williams.
   Why she won't -- Keys has lost in the third round in each of her two Wimbledon showings, retiring with a thigh injury last year against Yaroslava Shvedova. In Keys' only grass-court tuneup tournament this year, she lost to Bencic, an 18-year-old rising star from Switzerland, 6-2, 6-2 in the second round at Eastbourne. 
   NorCal connection -- Keys is scheduled to make her second appearance in the Bank of the West Classic after falling in the second round two years ago.
   This is the first time in Williams' illustrious career that she has been halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam. She'll extend that to three-quarters.