Despite the virtuoso performances from Djokovic, Sharapova, and Federer, a welcome surprise from Gulbis, and the accommodating weather, the first day of Wimbledon started the tournament in a somewhat somber manner with the first-round defeat of Venus Williams. Although she no longer poses a credible threat at majors, the five-time champion at the All England Club deserved a better final chapter on the lawns that she loves so deeply—and that have returned her affections. Against another former champion, the 2012 debut of a 2011 semifinalist should enliven the proceedings early on Day 2. We open with Tsonga’s opener against Hewitt.
Tsonga vs. Hewitt: Careening across the retinas of the demure and dumbfounded Centre Court spectators, the Frenchman opened the most productive span of his career by stunning Federer here to reach the 2011 semifinals. Like many of his compatriots, Tsonga ironically flourishes much more on grass than on the clay of his native major, preferring a surface where he can win points outright with his serve or just a forehand or two later. Combining raw power on his point-starting shots with deft touch at the net, his game sometimes looks futuristic and sometimes almost vintage. Definitely a vintage figure in the latter stages of his career, the 2002 Wimbledon champion has survived much longer than his grinding style would have foretold. His victory over Raonic at the Australian Open, among others, illustrated how much Hewitt still relishes digging into the trenches for a fierce battle. Usually a little less eager for battle, Tsonga summoned an impressive degree of determination in his near-upset over Djokovic at Roland Garros. But one wonders whether that match whetted or doused his appetite for competition, a question that Hewitt’s relentlessness might ask. Reaching the quarterfinal here in 2009, well past his prime, the former champion cannot match Tsonga bomb for bomb but still owns the crisp reflexes and instincts that can mitigate a power disparity on grass.
Anderson vs. Dimitrov: A junior champion at Wimbledon four years ago, the stylish Bulgarian meets the thoroughly functional game of a towering South African. At the All England Club in 2011, Dimitrov collaborated with Tsonga on an entertaining four-setter that showcased the shot-making abilities of both men—as well as their sometimes dubious shot selection. In a Queens Club quarterfinal, he played smarter tennis to overcome Anderson in their second three-setter of 2012. Despite a height seemingly designed to rain unreturnable serves on grass, the South African has only one victory in four Wimbledon appearances, perhaps a testimony to his awkwardness at the net and difficulty in reaching low balls. Modeling his strokes upon Federer, Dimitrov can gain confidence from knowing that the Swiss star has unfolded the same repertoire to devastating effect on these lawns. Somehow, though, the facsimile continues to produce results far less inspiring than the original at most tournaments, as DImitrov continues to labor under a career losing record and never has passed the second round at a major.
Tomic vs. Goffin: Probably for the first time in his career, the enigmatic, polarizing, and always entertaining teenager must defend a significant accomplishment from the previous year. Should Tomic exit early, his ranking could plunge to the fringes of the top 50, a costly setback in terms of gaining entry to marquee tournaments. But more important is his ability to show that, despite his natural volatility, he can maintain an adequate level of consistency to continue his progress. Two years older and forty rankings positions lower, Goffin had awakened the interest of barely anyone outside Belgium before his appearance in the second week of Roland Garros. As a lucky loser, no less, Goffin defeated two seeded opponents, won a five-setter, and came within two points of burying Federer in a two-set deficit. Those who saw him there admired his ability to strike the ball early and redirect it down the lines, a talent that relies on extremely precise timing. Even more suited than clay to that style is grass, so Goffin could ambush a Tomic still unwary of unfamiliar opponents too often. The difference in their respective serves could prove decisive, however, earning the lanky Aussie more free points than the latest sensation from a country rich in tennis excellence.
Kohlschreiber vs. Haas: Like Anderson vs. Dimitrov, this match features a pair of players who just met in a tightly contested encounter a fortnight ago. On the soil of their native Germany, the elder German defeated the younger in a mild surprise en route to the much greater shock that he delivered by overcoming Federer for the Halle title. A day before that defeat, meanwhile, Kohlschreiber had ambushed Nadal for the first time in eight attempts, so he arrives at Wimbledon on a momentum surge as well. Looming on the horizon are the Olympics, so both Germans will want to deliver impressive efforts on grass as they attempt to satisfy their nation’s characteristically high standards for qualification. Away from German soil, Haas has generated few headlines this year, suggesting that the support of home audiences has played a key role in his late-career heroics. Nevertheless, he did reach the semifinals at Wimbledon just three years ago, a much more outstanding result than any that Kohlschreiber has earned here. Sharing his compatriot’s one-handed backhand and unsteady temper, the younger German may fancy his chances more in their first meeting away from Halle and especially in the best-of-five format that ultimately sapped the older man’s energy at Roland Garros.
Vandeweghe vs. Errani: One win short of sweeping the singles and doubles crowns at Roland Garros, Errani has played no fewer than 93 total matches this year. This exhausting total probably contributed to her first-round loss at the Dutch Open, as did a justifiable emotional lull after a spectacular clay campaign. Having won three titles on her favorite surface, the Italian now moves to a much less productive milieu on the grass that exposes her meager serve. Much more formidable in that department is the burly American across the net, who follows the example set by many of her compatriots in constructing a limited game around a single shot. Imprecise in footwork and unimaginative in shot selection, Vandeweghe represents a hedgehog to Errani’s fox: adapted from Isaiah Berlin, a player who does one important thing very well against a player who does many less important things very well. Wimbledon long has rewarded hedgehogs more than foxes, but the overall talent gap between these two looms large and should depart from the usual pattern if Errani has regained her focus.
Robson vs. Schiavone: Among the few fond British memories of Wimbledon in recent years is the sight of local girl Laura Robson lifting the junior trophy here in 2008. Living just down the road from the All England Club, Robson has practiced there regularly and never looks intimidated by her surroundings. Within two points of winning a first set from Sharapova last year, she defeated Kerber in a first-round victory that looked far more significant a few months later. In general, this feisty lefty has progressed more slowly than one would have envisioned, struggling to control her temper in a symptom of her immaturity and not always swinging through her shots with full confidence. No doubt lacking in confidence herself, Schiavone plummeted out of the top 20 after failing to survive the first week of Roland Garros. The dreaded “R” word lurks on the horizon for a player with a 17-17 record this year and no deep runs at any tournament of consequence. Never her best at Wimbledon, Schiavone now offers a tantalizing target for an ambitious youngster like Robson to secure a victory less impressive than their relative resumes would imply.
Wozniacki vs. Paszek: Gone from Eastbourne in the first round, the dizzy Dane now faces the woman who unexpectedly marched all the way to the title there. On the shores of the English Channel, Paszek defeated defending champion Bartoli and new top-10 resident Kerber, saving five match points in a surprisingly stern show of resilience. Seemingly destined to become a counterpuncher when she first emerged, she has recorded some of her best results on the surface least favorable to counterpunchers, most notably a Wimbledon quarterfinal last year after she defeated Schiavone in a 20-game final set. One of the highest-ranked women not to earn a seed, Paszek started the season in horrific fashion by losing 13 of her first 15 matches before Eastbourne. Although Wozniacki has compiled a handful of solid results, such as a Miami semifinal and Australian Open quarterfinal, this year clearly has disappointed for a player who had grown accustomed to winning titles in bunches. Her post-Roland Garros boast that she could win Wimbledon this year rang hollow when she fell immediately to McHale last week, and in fact the former #1 never has reached a semifinal at the All England Club. At the root of her current decline may lie a squandered lead against Cibulkova last year, but her commitment to the defensive mentality that comes so naturally to her leaves Wozniacki in a similar position to Murray: too talented to discount entirely but not aggressive enough to seriously contend.
Ivanovic vs. Martinez Sanchez: Drawn to meet a Serbian former #1 in the first round here for the second straight year, the quirky Spanish lefty will hope to repeat her success against Jankovic last year. MJMS also toppled a heavily favored Ivanovic in Rome two years ago en route to by far the greatest accomplishment of her career. At her best on clay, she has compiled a meager record at Wimbledon, where her lack of a powerful serve or forehand hampers her effectiveness. Armed with mighty weapons on both of those strokes, Ivanovic has not played on grass this year and recovered only recently from yet another leg injury. If any rust lingers, she may struggle to establish a rhythm against the whimsical drop shots and unpredictable shot selection of Martinez Sanchez, who will aim to keep her opponent off balance and tactically disoriented. But the smiling Serb has improved her movement significantly this year, and she handles the low bounces of grass better than many women of her height.