Novak and Serena set for an easy run at Wimbledon

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Updated Thursday, July 2, 2015

Wimbledon, the showcase event in tennis, has less glitter this year than usual.   There’s nothing wrong with the top seeds, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, but competition for them is lacking.

We’re accustomed to Rafael Nadal battling on fairly even terms with Djokovic, but the former was seeded No. 10 as the tournament opened Monday at the All-England Tennis Club.   Nadal, slowed by injuries, was an early out three weeks ago at the French Open, and he lost in Wimbledon’s second round, to the 102nd-ranked Dustin Brown.

Roger Federer, master of the grass surface and seven-time Wimbledon champ, is seeded No. 2 for this one.  But he’s 34.  Last year he took Novak to five sets in the final, but it seems unlikely he will be better at another year older.  He hasn’t won a major since Wimbledon in 2012.

John McEnroe cites Scotland’s Andy Murray, No. 3 seed, as having the best shot against Novak.  Murray won Wimbledon in 2013, and McEnroe sees a “10 to 15 percent improvement” in his game in recent months.

There is vulnerability in Djokovic on the lawn, where he sometimes loses traction for his ground strokes.  But the Serb’s rocketing serve is a critical advantage.  On the less than smooth grass surface, his serves are especially difficult to return, with the bounce not as predictable as on other surfaces.

His loss at Paris (he was so frustrated he smashed a racket) was due mostly to an unreliable second serve.  Chances are he’s corrected that problem.

Djokovic had a surprising loss to 30-year-old Stan Wawrinka in the French final.  But 4th seed Wawrinka’s powerful ground strokes do not have as much sting on grass.

As for the women, Williams is at the top of her game even at 33.  She’s won 20 majors and is halfway to a same-year Grand Slam, having bagged the Australian Open and the French.  No one has won the calendar Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988.  Williams is also in sight of Graf’s record of 22 career majors.

Williams insists the calendar Slam does not mean as much as her “Serena Slam” which she’s already done: holding all four majors at the same time, even if they’re not in the same year.

We will never hear a more ridiculous comment from such an intelligent athlete, especially one who’s not thought to be an egomaniac.

Seeded second among the women is reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic.  But she’s been hampered by health issues this year and is not in top form.  She withdrew from last week’s warm-up event at Eastbourne with illness.

Third-ranked Simona Halep has taken a step back this year and was upset by Jana Cepelova in the opening round on Tuesday.  The usually formidable Russian, Maria Sharapova, 4th seed, is also slumping.

“On paper Serena should breeze through every Wimbledon match,” said Chrissie Evert, who won 18 majors.

Lucie Safarova, who lost to Williams in the French final, could possibly threaten her here.  This Czech lefty is peaking at 28, was a Wimbledon semifinalist last year and is seeded 6th for this tournament.

But Serena’s main foe may be her own health.  She lost most of her strength at Wimbledon last year when she contracted a mysterious virus.  At the recent French Open she battled illness but still prevailed, though dropping a few F-bombs as she struggled.

Williams has countered the effects of age by sharpening her diet and workout regimen.  She’s not quite as strong as some of the younger players, but her mastery of technique and her tenacity make her all but unbeatable in events she most wants to win.

And nothing means more to her than a Wimbledon win and a shot at the true Grand Slam.  Whether she will admit it or not.


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