The picks at Wimbledon: Thursday, July 6

Sloane Stephens
Ron Cioffi/TR

These picks were written before play started. Due to a technical error, these picks were not posted on Wednesday, July 5.

Andy Murray over Stefanos Tsitsipas
The Greek finally grabbed it right at the end, when he beat Dominic Thiem 7-6(8) in the fifth set. He almost lost,  but he hung in there, so on Thursday, his legs will be tired, but he really wants to win. He has been struggling, but his strokes can be consistent, so against Murray, he must be super patient.

When Murray won Wimbledon, twice, his return was very deep, his first serve was banging it, and his backhand was fantastic. However, he is not that fast now, as not only that he us aging, but he almost retired due to his broken legs. He knows that, and he is trying to bring home again, but he may not as he was not won an event since 2019.  As  he said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt sort of physically this good coming into Wimbledon. The last few years have been very challenging. I’m hoping I’m fit and ready for a good run.”

Tsitsipas can play amazing on the hardcourt, but on the grass, he is still wheezing on the slippy grass. There will some long rallies, yet Murray will rise once again at Wimbledon, and he will win it in five, dramatic sets.
Sloane Stephens over Donna Vekic
The once great American  player now has become slightly better, trying to powder the ball. Stephens  looked pretty good at Roland Garros, which was somewhat surprising, as she lost a number with some sole  matches. However, she has gone deep at a variety of events, so when she is feeling good, she can be highly consistent.

Vekic has had a somewhat solid year, when she reached into the final at Berlin, but also, on clay, she was so-so. She can be aggressive, and she can mix it up, but not often enough. Vekic  does think that eventually, she can actually win a Slam for the first time, but she will have to prove it. Stephens has been before, so she will do it again, and win it in three tremendous sets.

Belinda Bencic over Danielle Collins

The Swiss can look that she is going into the sky, touch it, and then go backdown and nail with a damn fast winner. Bencic can really hustle, and she can also grind it until she has a chance to  hit the lines. However, when she backs up, she can throw in some strange errors.  Collins had a good year in 2022, but over the past nine months, she has lost pretty quickly. Maybe she is confused, or it is possible that she doesn’t know where to go. Bencic will find it, and she will win it in two big sets.

Frances Tiafoe  over Dominic Stricker
All of a sudden, Tiafoe actually knows how to play on the grass. Over the years at Wimbledon, he looked cluttered, and he wasn’t going to go the right way. But he just won Stuttgart,  so apparently, he could see how he can play, with his strokes.  He might be 22- years-old, but he does think that he is a little more sold.  Stricker is also very young, as he is 20-years-old, and he his rising, slowly. He is briskly fast, and the Swiss can bash his forehand. However,  Tiafoe will be more patient and he will win it in three long sets.

Matt’s picks this week

Correct: Belinda Bencic over Danielle Collins
Correct: Frances Tiafoe  over Dominic Stricker
Sloane Stephens over Donna Vekic

Matt’s picks from Wimbledon

3 out of 4, 75% correct

The picks at Wimbledon: Wednesday, July 5

Sebastian Korda
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Barbora Krejcikova over Heather Watson

Over the past 13 years, the Britain has put together some nice wins. Watson can really hustle, and she can also play hour after hour, but the reason why is she has yet to reach the top 35. Maybe  because her heavy strokes isn’t hard enough.

Krejcikova looks pretty darn good, and while she can play up and down, when she is concerning, she can pulp the ball. She is awesome at the net, and she can also return, pretty deep. However, from the backcourt, she can hit it too short. In a sense, though, she is pretty confident, when she won 2021 Roland Garros.

Yes, that is on clay, but on the grass, Krejcikova will be slightly confident, and she will win it in two secure sets.

Donna Vekic over Shuai Zhang
The Chinese Zhang has lost eight matches in a row, which is surprising, given that last year, she beat some very good players, but she is slipping, big time.

Vekic plays a lot, week after week, and this year, she moved forward. She can miss some odd-shots, but she can also roar with her backhand. She looked very good in Berlin, so perhaps at the Slams, she will continue to rise. At least in the first round, she will win it in two easy sets.

Sebastian Korda over Jiri Vesely

It seems like Korda is playing much better than he did it three months ago, as he was hurt, so he had to stop. However, at Queen’s, he finally looked very good, reaching the semis. He can be strong, and nail his forehand and his backhand. He is not perfect, yet, but he is getting better, year after year. The older Czech Vesely has had some terrific matches, but he is aging, and while the 6-foot-6 player has hit a number of aces, but in the backcourt, he can fall down. Korda will win it in four hard sets.

Matt’s yesterday picks

Correct: Andy Murray over Ryan Peniston

Matt’s picks from Wimbledon

1 out of 1, 100% correct

The weekend winners: Auger-Aliassime, Rublev, Świątek

Felix Auger-Aliassime
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

It has taken Felix Auger-Aliassime a while to be more consistent when playing finals. But this year, his experience and mental game has gained ground. The Canadian won the event in in Florence, beating American, J. J. Wolf, 6-4 6-4. A couple years ago watching Auger-Aliassime, he looked very decent, but there were times when he made to many mistakes and then he would lose. However, week after week, he began to understand what he would do. Not only could he have many long rallies, but then, when he was feeling good, he would push himself and slam the ball. He is back in the top 10 now and he really wants to play in November in the ATP Finals. That is a gigantic challenge, but he will make a galactic effort.

Wolf went to Ohio State University and starred there for three years. He won a lot of matches, and then he was ready to play on the ATP Tour. It has taken him a solid two years before he was more comfortable to do for it on court. He decided he is ready and now he is ranked No. 56, which is pretty good because he is only 23 years old. He swings super hard although he can be upset when he misses. Whether he can get into the top 32 next year and have a seed at a Grand Slam, that is possible, but you never know about anyone.

Rublev wins in Spain
Speaking of Andrey Rublev, who won Gijon, beating the other American Sebastian Korda 6-2, 6-3. Rublev was super solid, and he hit a lot of winners from the backcourt. He can be ticked off and upset, but when he was on the court, he was locked in early. When he is reading the ball, the Russian can spin it around and move it all over the place. He can also return well, here and there, getting it deep. The No. 8 is very good, but he has yet to win a huge event. If he isn’t injured, then he has to prove it. He can beat anyone either at the ATP 1000 [he has reached two finals before] or a Grand Slam. He has won 12 titles, but he has to shine on a bigger stage.

American Korda can look terrific on court but he can also be a little bit wild. He is still pretty young, and he plays a lot at the tournaments, but perhaps he should go home and practice a lot. The No. 36 can be fun to watch, but he can also look pretty spaced out.

The last American man to win a Slam has now been 19 years ago when Andy Roddick won the 2003 US Open. In 2023, that will be 20 years with no guys in the final? Perhaps Taylor Fritz can pull it off, given that he won the 2022 Indian Wells, a 1000 ATP tournament. But again, he has to improve every month, just like Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic have done.

No. 1 Świątek takes San Diego
In San Diego, Iga Świątek won another title again, beating Donna Vekic 6-3, 3-6, 6-0. In the third set, the Pole turned it on, stringing together so many spectacular winners. She is just so firm and intense on the court. Last year, she looked pretty good, but she could be erratic. Then, in February, after Ash Barty retired, she rose up with her massive forehand and backhand. She can really hustle, and she can go way down on the ground and slap it back.

Świątek has matured a lot and there is no doubt that she will continue as No. 1 until someone else trips her.

Vekic had a terrific week, hitting super hard and finally being more consistent. She has been around for a while, and yes, she has beaten some good players, but she has seldom upset the top 10 competitors. At least she did this week, when she upset the other American Danielle Collins 7-6(2) in the semifinal third set. It finally rained in Southern California (very, very rare) at night. So, they had to wait to play again until it was dry on Saturday night.

However, in the third set against Świątek on Sunday, Vekic disappeared. Maybe she was exhausted. But next time, she has to be more confident. They all do.

Top 20 in 2019: Women, 20-16

No. 20: Angelique Kerber
This was not a great year for the German. She has won two Grand Slams, and she became to No. 1. But, this year she was darn frustrated. She didn’t win an event, and, after she reached the final in Eastbourne in late June, she did nothing the rest of the year. On court, that is. Kerber is so steady and fast moving to the left and to the right. When she is on, her strokes were deep and true. But she can get upset for many matches. If she can become confident again, then she will go deep at the big events. Really, Angie has to, because she is aging.

No. 19: Donna Vekic
The Croatian had a pretty decent year, gaining ground. Over the past couple years, she has improved, month after month, hitting very hard and snapping it. She can over-hit, and she can be disheartened, but usually, she fights to the end. If Vekic improves her serves and net play, she can crack the top 15 in 2020. But will she leap into the top 10? Right now, I would say no.

No. 18: Alison Riske
A few years ago, the American did very little on the hardcourts and on the clay. But she loved to play on the grass, crashing the ball. However, she had to change, gradually, or else. Very few people knew how good she was. In 2019, Riske started going pretty deep at the tournaments, hitting super hard. She has been around at the WTA for 10 years, and finally, she understood how she should play. In 2020, when she will be a 30-years-old, she will win a big event. A huge one.

No. 17: Elise Mertens
The 24-year-old played a lot of three-setters this year, battling to the end, which is good. Still, she lost a number of them, against the very fine competitors. Yes, she is very consistent, and she thinks out there for two sets. But, deep into the third set, she can rattle and push back. She did win Doha in February, beating Kerber and Simona Halep, which was tremendous. Then, over the next eight months, she couldn’t beat any of the top 10-ers. In 2020, Mertens has to add more to her game.

No. 16: Marketa Vondrousova
The 20-year-old has been coming up very fast. She reached the final at Roland Garros, on clay — which she loves — and in looked like she was going to be around at the critical moments in big matches. In late June she hurt her left wrist and she stopped for the rest of the year. Vondrousova will return in January, to start again. She is very young and keeps her calm during matches. After her injury, it will take her awhile to reset. If she does, she will punch herself into the top 10.

Monday magic in the rounds of 16


John Isner vs Stefanos Tsisipas
We are talking about John Isner, still here at Wimbledon. As he has said, he has lost many so long, very close matches over the years, all in the fifth sets, going down against Marin Cilic, Jo Tsonga, Alejandro Falla and Dudi Sela. But finally, this week, he pushed himself, he served huge, and for him — which is very unusual — he actually returned very well.
The 19-year-old Tsisipas is very young, and apparently, he is pretty good. He is 6 foot 4, and he has already cracked the top 30. He can get frustrated, but he is a big, healthy hitter. Isner has to get on top of him early. The American will in four sets.

Karolina Pliskova vs Kiki Bertens
This should be a doozy. Pliskova has finally reached in the second week at Wimbledon. She has done deep at the US Open, Roland Garros and the Aussie Open. But, on the grass, she checked out. Not anymore. Bertens is also knocking on the door. She is strong and agile. They played in Stuttgart, and in the first round, Kvitova crushed her. However, Bertens kept chucking along. She won Charleston, on the hard courts, and reached the final in Madrid on clay. Now, on grass, the Dutch player has a more positive attitude. While Bertens can push the Czech, Pliskova will out serve her in two long sets.

Roger Federer vs Adrian Mannarino
Federer is just moving along, side to side, front and back, so casually. Mannarino has been smart at times; he can chop it, and whack the ball. Once again, Federer has all the tools, especially when he is playing extremely well. He likes to be creative, and he is very happy when he is bombing serves. Federer will win in three sets.

Serena Williams vs Evgeniya Rodina
During the first week, even though she was struggling, Serena was totally in control. That is why she has moved into the second week — many, many times. Serena might be a little off, but her first serve is gigantic, she can hustle, and she can blast her forehand. 

Rodina has been around a long time. She is almost 30 years old. While the Russian has never been great, this week, she kept fighting and battling. She stunned Madison Keys. But that’s different, because as Keys said, she was looking ahead, which was a bad move. Rodina will push her again, but Serena is substantially better than she is, so the American will win in an easy contest.

Julia Goerges vs Donna Vekic
German Goerges has become so much more dependable than she used to be. The Croatian is more consistent, she really loves the grass, and she can hit it very hard from both sides. Goerges has finally reached the top 10, and she really thinks — finally — that she belongs there. While Vekic is hungry, but so is Goerges, who wants to move up. She will win in two sets.

Kevin Anderson vs Gael Monfils
This should be a terrific contest between the two vets. Anderson is quicker, his backhand has improved, and he is thoughtful. When Monfils is healthy, he is so much fun to watch him. His backhand has gotten been a little bit stronger, and at the net, he loves to dive and put it away.

I am somewhat surprised that Anderson finally understands how to play at Wimbledon. It took him awhile but now he is right there. There will be few rallies, but Anderson will survive in four sets.

Milos Raonic vs Mackenzie McDonald
I have see Raonic many, many times, but I haven’t seen McDonald much. He has now cracked the top 100, which is better than nothing, but after he left UCLA when they won the 2016 NCAA Championships, it was time to move up. He has worked and worked, and now, he is hitting harder with depth.

However, Raonic is much older, he knows grass, and he is very smart when he is serving, as well whacking his forehand. The Canadian is pretty calm against the younger players, so he will win in straight sets.

Camila Giorgi vs Ekaterina Makarova
Is this a tossup? Possibly. The Italian scrambles and then she leaps in the air and puts it away. The Russian is a natural strong person, and while last year she was out of it mentally, now she is much more composed.

While Giorgi likes to run, she cannot crush the serves like Makarova can. This will go three. The Russian will raise her game and win it, but it will be very close. Super close.

After Slam final, Stephens falls again

FROM WIMBLEDON — Wimbledon has finally started, and on day one there were some fantastic wins, and some sad defeats.

Let’s start with the No. 4 Sloane Stephens went down to Donna Vecic 6-1, 6-3. The Croat jumped on the ball quickly, and she moved around nimbly and precisely, while the American could not find her feet. She made too many errors, she lost the rhythm. She did try at the end, but she could not work enough points to make a competitive match. It was pretty surprising.

Stephens won the 2017 US Open, and she reached the 2018 Roland Garros final, so the No. 4 has played some fine contests. But not this time. She was a little upset. Maybe a lot.

Her performance here was reminiscent of her tumble after her US Open victory when she failed to win a match in the fall tournaments.

“I wish I could have played better. I would have made some more balls. I could have pushed her a little bit more,” Stephens said. “It just wasn’t working. … It’s unfortunate. The same thing I said to my coach: ‘Man, that was unfortunate.’ She played well. It was not too much you can do. I’m not going to go cry, bang my racquet.”

So she will work even harder, back to the United States. Whatever she says, there will be pressure, a lot of pressure. She is the defending champion of the US Open. Now, when she rose up during the last year, a huge amount of fans took notice. During the rest of this summer, they will pay attention. And perhaps, so will Sloane.  

It was going to be, sooner or later. That is Stan Wawrinka, the three-time Slam champion, who chopped down Grigor Dimitrov 1-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. After the first set, it looked like the Swiss was going nowhere. But in the second set, he clammed down, his head was in the right place, he mixed it up, and when he had an opportunity, he hit it in the corners. Finally, the recently injured player was back. At least on Monday. 

“Was tough. But to lose that 6-1, I still think at that moment that I wasn’t playing that bad. I was missing few things,” Wawrinka said. “The set went quick. I’ve been practicing so hard last few weeks on grass to get my level there, to be ready for big match, to know that I can count on my game. I had to put myself together again, to try to fight, try to find solution. I also knew before the match that it’s tough for Grigor to play against me in the first round, he didn’t win so many big matches recently. I was trying to stay with him, try to find my rhythm, try to make it tougher for him, try to make him think a bit more.”

That he did. Dimitrov has had a terrific 2017, winning the ATP Finals, and he rose up to No. 3. But this year, the Bulgarian has struggled, especially at the Slams. Unfortunately, he was unable to go to go very deep, which can be brutal. At the Aussie Open, he actually reached the quarters, but he lost in four sets against the improved Kyle Edmund. At Roland Garros, he won an amazing match against the young American Jared Donaldson, 10-8 in the fifth, but two days later, he was tired and he lost pretty easily to Fernando Verdasco. Now, at Wimbledon in the first round, he was confused. But he won’t give in. 
“You kind of have to stay positive, simple as that. You can’t just go down on yourself. Yeah, it’s been a rough road so far,” Dimitrov said. 

On Monday, both Wawrinka and Vecic scored a huge victories. Mr. Stan and Donna have been dating for a while. They watch each other playing whenever they can. They did it in the bright sun. 

“I think it was a good day for us at the office, that’s for sure. Was great match from [Donna]. I watched it from home before coming back for my match,” Wawrinka said. “It was a big win for her. She’s playing well on grass. It’s been good for us today.”

Big 4 batten down the hatches

vesnina iw_08_fh_400

Elena Vesnina took down Ana Ivanovic at Eastbourne

Perhaps there will come a time this summer when a big tournament is about to kick off and a player outside of the top 5 will be mentioned a having a serious chance of winning the title. After Roger Federer won Halle and Andy Murray took Queens on Sunday, all was standard in the ATP tennis universe again.

Rafael Nadal stormed through the clay court season, managed to tip his top rival in the Roland Garros semis in Novak Djokovic and then thumped his fellow Spaniard, now No. 4 David Ferrer, in the final. But No. 2 Murray didn’t play RG due to a back injury and Federer was out hit by Jo Wilfried Tsonga.

So if Federer didn’t respond on grass in Halle and if Murray did not play well in Queens, then perhaps the 2012 Wimbledon finalists could be taken down a notch when it comes predicting final four candidates at the 2013 version of the Big W.

But not now, as Federer took care of two fine veterans in Tommy Haas and Mikhail Youzhny, and Murray stopped a terrifying twosome Tsonga and Marin Cilic. So now the Big 4 are once again the favorites to reach the Wimbledon semis. Ferrer isn’t good enough on grass to get there, so the dark horses would be Tsonga – even though he was vacuous in his loss to Ferrer at RG—Tomas Berdych and possibly Juan Martin Del Potro if his health improves. Other potential semifinalists would be Cilic, Haas, Richard Gasquet, Milos Raonic, Jerzy Janowicz and Grigor Dimitrov and much of their hopes depend on their draw,

Boring? Not so much if you like great rivalries and the Big 4 has plenty of that, but if you are tired of watching the same men play for big titles over and over again, consider this: the depth of the ATP World Tour in 2013 is over rated. It’s been that way for a good three years now.

Queens and Halle are more significant tournaments than the WTA had last week, but was nice to see veteran Daniela Hantuchova come through and win Birmingham because she’s a super committed player who almost never gives up on herself, even when many others have. She took down 16-year-old Donna Vekic in the final, which made for an attractive match-up given that by reaching the final that the tall and powerful Vekic showed that she clearly has top-20 stuff. Beyond that, I’m not sure of her upside at this point, but given how rare it is to see baby teens make an impact at WTA events, Vekic’s results point way upward.

Hantuchova has seriously struggled with injuries over the past year, even falling out of the top 75. For a former top 5 player who really did believe she could reach No.1, that is very uncomfortable spot to be in. Throughout her career, the Slovak was more of a top- 20 player than a top 5 competitor, reaching only one Slam semifinal at the 2008 Aussie Open. She’s fine ball striker, a dogged competitor (she’s the queen of 3 setters), but she is pretty slow, especially moving horizontally and that has largely proved to be the reason why she has been unable to raise a big trophy. But can she reach another Slam quarter of even a semi? Sure she could with the right draw.

Simona Halep has had some good results over the past few months and on Saturday won Nuremberg on Clay over Andre Petkovic. The 21-year-old Romanian is a big hitter who can go in and out of matches, but if she can stay injury free and more calm on court, the top 20 isn’t out of the questions. Petkovic got a well-deserved WC into Wimbledon.

The WTA’s biggest pre Wimbledon warm-up tournament takes place in Eastbourne and once again it has an excellent field. While none of the WTA ‘s Big 3 are playing there – Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka – six of the top 10 are, including top seed Aga Radwanska, 2011 Wimby champ Petra Kvitova and new No. 10 Maria Kirilenko, who bested the talented Bojana Jovanovski 7-6(5) 6-1.

But there was another Russian who had a bigger win, Elena Vesnina, who rather quietly has become a solid singles player and a standout doubles player, as she and Ekaterina Makarova won their first Slam together in doubles at Roland Garros a little more than week ago, stunning top seeds Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani. That was a very special win on clay, not just because of the size of the occasion, but because it serves notice to the Italians that should the Fed Cup final go down to the doubles that it’s no Slam dunk.

In Eastbourne, Vesnina took down Ana Ivanovic 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. Recall that last year at Wimbledon, she upended Venus Williams (who turned 33 today) in the first round. It was a big win for the 36th-ranked Vesnina, as she had a rough stretch on clay in singles. But she’s a better fast court player than she is on the slow stuff and with her firepower and ability to volley, she’s capable of threatening a number of seeded players on grass. However, the 26 year old  can be extremely erratic, so it’s very hard to gage whether her very good or very bad side will show up on particular day. She’ll face Britain’s Heather Watson in round two.

The Pliskova twins faced of again, with the lower ranked Karolina besting he higher-ranked Kristyna  7-6(5) 3-6 6-3 in the final round of qualifying. Kristyna is the lefthander and Karolina the right-hander. The Czech twins don’t yet appears to be another version of the successful Bryan twins as they have yet to win a doubles title together, but they should improve with time. The twins  are now 4-4 in their career head-to-heads. Jaime Hampton also qualified. Other main draw winners were 
Marion Bartoli  and Yanina Wickmayer.

Given that  the Eastbourne’s women’s field is far stronger than the men’s, it’s surprising that three ATP matches are scheduled on Centre Court on Tuesday and only two WTA contests.

I get starting with Britain’s James Ward vs. Bernie Tomic
 and ending with local hero doubles with Jaime Delgado/Ward vs. Colin Fleming/Johnny Marray, but how does one put what should be a good but not great match between Kevin Anderson and Julien Benneteau ahead of say Tamira Paszek vs. Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber vs. Sorana Cirstea or top seed Aga Radwanska vs. Jamie Hampton (all will be played on Court 1)? And really, while it’s appropriate to  put Laura Robson’s match against Yulia Beygelzimer on Centre, I’m not sure I would go with  Alize Cornet vs. second seed Li Na as the other WTA match there.  In fact, I would take any of the other  aforementioned Court1 matches over that because Cornet may really struggle transitioning from clay to grass.  I’d also might put the match of Court 2 between Samantha Stosur and Nadia Petrova
 on Centre over the guys’ match. That is very quirky scheduling.

BTW the top male seed in Eastbourne is No. 15 Milos Raonic. Ryan Harrison scored a big win over Paul Henri-Mathieu on Monday, but James Blake fell to Albert Ramos. In the Netherlands, John Isner fell to Evgeny Donskoy 6-7(3) 6-3 6-4, while Carlos Berlocq bested Marcos Baghdatis  6-2 6-4, who is in a slump.

The new issue of Tennis-Journal will be out this week with plenty to chew on.