Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Updated: June 22, 11:12 AM ET
Rafa's withdrawal is someone's gain -- but whose?
You gotta love tradition.
The all-white stuff, no play on the first Sunday and labeling women's pros "Miss" or "Mrs." make Wimbledon a unique sporting event -- and one of the most loved worldwide. Oh, the pristine grass of the first few days is a sight to behold, too.
Wouldn't it have been nice, however, for the tournament, just this once, to infuse a little oomph in announcing the absence of defending men's champion and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal? Forget about slighting other pros for a sec.
Instead of declaring, "Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from Wimbledon due to a knee injury," how about, "The All England Club regretfully announces the withdrawal of defending champion Rafael Nadal due to a knee injury"?
Somehow the former seems formulaic, unable to convey the scope of the situation.
There's no repeat of arguably the greatest match of all time, and Roger Federer's gargantuan obstacle departs. A moderate tennis fan in London muttered upon Nadal's withdrawal, "What's the point of watching Wimbledon now?"
"Federer can win his 15th Grand Slam, which would be a record," came the reply.
"Yeah, but Wimbledon is so predictable now, at least for the guys," she rebutted.
Nadal's absence does give someone in the top half a golden chance to face the Swiss on July 5. (The dangerous likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Feliciano Lopez, Ivo Karlovic and Robin Soderling feature in Federer's quarter, but come on, this is Federer on grass.)
The two Andys are the top candidates.
All of Britain expects Andy Murray to turn up that weekend, given Nadal's exit and the Scot's recent grass-court title at the AEGON Championships in southwest London. Murray became the first Brit to win at venerable Queen's since Henry "Bunny" Austin in 1938.
Hold the phone.
Murray is still learning how to play on grass, where the bounces are unpredictable and the ball stays low. The 22-year-old didn't exactly encounter tough opposition at Queen's, meeting a solitary top-20 foe while downing the clay-proficient trio of Andreas Seppi, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Juan Carlos Ferrero. A second-round tilt with the slumping, yet unpredictable, Ernests Gulbis, would entice.
If Murray fails to reach the final, more than a few in these parts are sure to suggest he crumbled under the immense pressure. Nah. Murray is mentally tough and the hype is no bother.
The previous three Wimbledons frustrated longtime U.S. No. 1 Andy Roddick, runner-up in 2004 and 2005. A third-round loss to Murray was followed by a devastating quarterfinal defeat to Richard Gasquet and an ugly second-round loss to Janko Tipsarevic, with a shoulder injury substantially hampering Roddick in the latter.
If Roddick is healthy after sustaining an ankle injury at Queen's, a spot in the semis looks highly likely.
This season under the guidance of newish coach Larry Stefanki, Roddick matched a personal best by venturing to the semis at the Australian Open and earned an inaugural berth in the fourth round at the French Open. Sure Frenchman Jeremy Chardy won't be easy in the first round and German Benjamin Becker, possibly a third-round opponent, has a fair bit of momentum, but the sixth seed can't stutter, can he?
Potent on hard courts and so impressive in Paris, fifth seed Juan Martin Del Potro didn't play a grass-court tune-up and might battle fading 2002 Wimbledon champ Lleyton Hewitt in Round 2.
There will be excitement. Let the fortnight begin.