ESPN "Kiss of Death" Thread is Back! (Because you can't kill bad luck!)
Wednesday, June 18
Without Pete, there's no clear favorite
By MaliVai Washington
Special to ESPN.com
Wimbledon 2003 will most likely be as unpredictable as the first two majors of this year. It's very easy to pick the top players in the world and say they're going to move through the draw and win the tournament, but the top two players in the world, Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi, haven't necessarily shown their best tennis in the last two months. Combine that with the fact that there are at least 10 seeds who are arguably some of the best clay-court players in the world, playing on their worst surface, all of this leaves the field wide open for a repeat of what we saw last year with Sjeng Schalken reaching a semifinal and David Nalbandian reaching the final.
With all of that said, the top seed, Lleyton Hewitt, has got to be one of the favorites going into the championships as the defending champion. It's a good thing for Hewitt that Richard Krajicek had to withdraw from the tournament, which could have been a potential second-round matchup. So, Hewitt has two qualifiers to start out his title defense, which he's got to be pretty happy about.
Where he could run into problems is if he faces a huge server on a good day, for example Taylor Dent, Ivan Ljubicic or Max Mirnyi. When it comes down to it, Hewitt has been in tough situations his whole career. You don't become No. 1 in the world by folding your tent just because you're playing a big server. Hewitt will be very, very eager to defend his Wimbledon title.
One of the pleasant surprises coming into this Grand Slam tournament is the performance of Andy Roddick last week at Queen's Club. Obviously his new coach Brad Gilbert has got him started on the right foot in what is a very challenging surface for him. Andy Roddick is one of those players who thrives on confidence and can beat anyone when he is confident because he has such a big game. After a disappointing French Open, he seems to have completely put that behind him with his win at Queen's Club. I expect that he'll have his best Wimbledon ever. Don't be surprised if you see him taking on Hewitt in the quarterfinals.
A player equally as confident right now but with a better all-court game than Roddick is Roger Federer. He won his first grass-court tournament last week in Halle, Germany. Federer might have the ability to be as good on grass as Pete Sampras. I'm not going to say Federer's going to win seven Wimbledons like Sampras, but without question if he doesn't win it once in his career, I don't think he will have fulfilled his potential.
Unfortunately for Hyung-Taik Lee, he again faces a top seed in the opening round in Federer just as he faced Agassi in the opening round in Australia. With all the respect that I have for Lee's game, he'll be going home after his opening match.
You can't talk about Wimbledon without talking about Gentleman Tim. For Tim Henman's career and certainly for Great Britain, there would be nothing bigger than if he were to win Wimbledon. The only comparison in men's tennis might be when Sampras tied Roy Emerson's record of 12 majors or Sampras winning his 14th major at last year's U.S. Open. They are two very different scenarios and accomplishments, but for Henman to win his home country's major would be phenomenal. At 28 years old, Henman isn't getting any better. Unfortunately for him, he missed out on winning Wimbledon because of a guy named Pete. For Henman it's now or, in my opinion, never.
Henman actually has a very challenging opening-round match. On paper you would expect him to beat Alex Corretja, but you can't underestimate how good clay-courters can play on the grass. Remember, Corretja did beat Sampras on grass at Davis Cup a year ago. If Henman isn't on his game, especially with his serve, he could have a very difficult time.
Sebastien Grosjean is one of those players you might not expect to do that well on grass but don't want to meet early at Wimbledon. He showed last week that he could play on grass by reaching the final at Queen's Club.
Grosjean isn't going to win the title, but he's a player you have to play well to beat. He's coming into Wimbledon feeling good about his ability to play on the green stuff. Looking at his draw, he could find himself in the fourth round with his biggest challenge coming against Wayne Arthurs.
When James Blake plays on grass, he can get hot, roll through some players and find himself in the second week of a major. But Blake's biggest hurdle coming into Wimbledon will be the health of his shoulder. He had problems with it in Paris. He had it looked at by his doctor in New York, and he didn't play last week in an attempt to rest it. When you head into a major, you want to be as healthy as possible and a shoulder injury can be a major injury. So, expect him to do well if and only if his shoulder has recovered.
Andre Agassi has a knack for adjusting his game to any surface in a matter of days. If you put Agassi on ice and sprinkle snow on top with spikes sticking through it and he would probably need about two days to adjust to the surface. That ability is a nice luxury to have. It makes it very dangerous at a time when a lot of players are still trying to adjust to the grass. He was playing excellent tennis at Queen's Club until he ran into Roddick, whose serve was topping out at 149 mph. Agassi has a very good draw and could have an interesting matchup with Younes El Aynaoui in the third round. On his way to the semifinals, with the exception of Marat Safin (depending on his mind) and Mark Philippoussis (depending on his knee), I don't know if I see anyone who can just flat-out beat Agassi on grass. There's no one who stands out as a premier grass-courter he could lose to. So once again, expect to see him late into week No. 2.
The great thing about this year's draw is that you don't have a classic serve and volleyer you would pick as the favorite coming into the tournament. But you do have a ton of classic baseline clay-courters who are seeded and will have some pretty good draws throughout the first week. Players like Fernando Gonzalez, Gustavo Kuerten, Agustin Calleri, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Guillermo Coria and others. These are players you don't typically expect to see late into the second week of Wimbledon but after seeing David Nalbandian in last year's final, some of these players believe there's no reason why they can't duplicate what he did.
When Sampras was at the top of his game, you could almost pencil him in for the title of Wimbledon. There's no one in that position right now and all the clay-courters know it. So expect to see some inspired tennis from some players who've never won more than a round or two at Wimbledon.