Most British tennis fans are only really aware of Wimbledon. As far as your average punter is concerned, it’s the biggest tournament in the world, grass is the only surface to play it on and Pete Sampras is the undisputed king of the game. This isn’t really the case, but I’m not going to blame punters. On terrestrial television in the UK, it’s about all you ever see – satellite and cable have all the other tournaments around the world. Luckily I love tennis. And even more luckily, I have satellite television.
I’ll not bore you with a description of the entire ATP tour. I won’t bang on about the fact that grass-court tennis only consists of about 2% of the annual tour and is therefore a specialist surface that many of the clay-court players don’t even bother to play on. I’ll not mention that Pete Sampras has never won or come close to winning the French Open (a clay court grand slam). And I definitely won’t get into the fact that tennis on grass is boring compared to the rest of the surfaces out there (I won’t go on to elaborate by saying that the average rally on grass is about 2-4 strokes compared with up to 40 during a match between Spaniards on clay). And finally, I won’t mention that clay is my favourite surface.
Anyway, I’ve written about my respect for Tim Henman before, and I stand by that. Considering that Henman is traditionally thought of as a serve-volleyer (the favoured tactic on a fast court like grass), he’s done brilliantly over the clay season. Clay doesn’t suit him at all because it really slows the ball down and gives baseline players time to play passing shots when a serve-volleyer comes into the net. And likewise, clay-court tactics don’t work on a fast surface as a halfway decent serve-volleyer will blast you off the court.
I have no doubt in my mind that Tim can win Wimbledon. He’s certainly good enough, he can play consistently enough, and he can win big matches. For him, they don’t get any bigger than Wimbledon (there’s a lot of expectation on his shoulders) and with his new coach (Larry Stefanki) he’s matured immensely as a player over the last year. He’ll have a few scares along the way, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t make the final and shocked if he doesn’t make the semis.
There’s no way Sampras will win. He’s injured which will affect his fitness, and he’s not getting any younger (sorry!). There are a few hot-shot young-guns that are in with a shout: Andy Roddick, Roger Federer, Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt (current world number one, and the in-form player). Oh, and never count out the old veteran Andre Agassi… Forget Greg Rusedski though, I reckon the injuries he’s had over the years mean he’s had his chance, sadly.
Fortunately the current balls that are used at Wimbledon are slower than they used to be, which makes for slightly longer rallies. And these days, the world’s top players tend to be pretty handy on all surfaces, so expect some surprises (I’d love to see clay court supremo Juan Carlos Ferrero win). Once I see how the tournament’s shaping up I’ll post another tennis rant…