Wimbledon 2016: The Last Frontier Of The Big4

IMG_20150829_145434Since that memorable first sunday in July, 2003 – when Roger Federer hoisted the Wimbledon trophy for the first time, the Big 4 have had a strangle hold on the most coveted tennis trophy all. Led by the Swiss Maestro, the Big 4 have shared the spoils for the last 13 years. Comparing this with other Grandslams :

Australian Open: 2006-2013 (8 years)

French Open: 2005-2014 (10 years)

US Open: 2005-2008 (5years)

The dominance extends to the finals as well. With only 3 players other than the Big4 being allowed a spot in the finals. That is the enormity of the task that faces Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych today.

Roger Federer vs Milos Raonic

In a repeat of the 2014 Wimbledon semifinal, Milos Raonic will try to show his new coach John McEnroe and the rest of the world, the new tricks he has learnt from one of the greatest Wimbledon Champions of all time. Federer for his part, will be trying his best to ensure the match follows the same pattern as their previous encounter here, 2 years ago. While the history and experience is firmly in the corner of the Basel dazzler, the Canadian has urgency of youth and momentum of form on his side.

In a similar path to the final four, both have endured a rough second week after a calm and sedentary first week. Raonic performed an Houdini league escape in the fourth round, after being on the wrong end of a 2 set to 0 deficit against one of the most professional players on the tour – David Goffin. The escape seems all the more impressive given that Raonic had never even won a set when down 2 sets to 0 in 10 similar instances.

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Having averted a major disaster, Raonic played some of his most impressive tennis – strategically speaking, to take out the American Sam Querrey who had shown Djokovic the way out of the Championships. He clamped down on Querrey on the big points and made a relatively comfortable foray through the quarter-finals and into the semifinals.

Federer avoided the madness that generally accompanies manic monday – the 2nd Monday of the Championships, but found himself in a humongous 2-0 hole against the big hitting 2014 US Open Champion, Marin Cilic. At 3-3 in the third set and down 0-40, Federer’s hopes of another title in his home away from home, were all but annihilated. Call it the prayers of the millions of fans that worship and deify the Swiss magician, but Federer was able to summon his best tennis in nearly 6 months to produce some breath-taking tennis and make his way to the final weekend for a record 11th time.

The biggest x-factor in this match will be how effectively Federer will recover from his marathon escape. Last time he played a 5 setter in a slam, he was, in his own words “brushed off the court, like he was a nobody” ironically, by Cilic himself. At his very best Federer has been possibly the very best at neutralizing the big servers on fast courts. Raonic, with his new – more strategic and aggressive game is going to be a formidable challenge and Federer will have to be at his very best physically to continue his fairy tale run.

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While Federer has history on his side, Raonic has had the more impressive year thus far and he comes into the semifinal with momentum on his side. He will have to be rock solid with his serve and must exhibit close to zero tolerance for any protracted rally. He must be wary of the Federer backhand slice – a very underrated shot in his arsenal that has given yips to a lot of players with questionable skill on the backhand flank.

Prediction: I expect Federer and his team to control all the controllable factors on their end to make him physically ready for this match and while he may not be able to capture his peak form, from a decade ago, the 7 time Wimbledon Champion should be able to handle Raonic v. 2.0 and get through to a record 11th Wimbledon final. Federer in 4 sets.

Andy Murray vs Tomas Berdych

In an interesting similarity to the semifinalists in the top half, Murray – like the other Grandslam and former Wimbledon Champ in the draw – Federer, had a peaceful start to the 2nd week before things got murky in the quarter-final. While Berdych had a drama filled Manic Monday against fellow Czec Jiri Vesely and then had some smooth sailing in the quarter-final against Lucas Pouille.

Unlike the other semifinal, however, the top dog in this encounter has the momentum as well as history backing him, while the underdog is the one whose season has been, relatively speaking, unpredictable. Berdych – got double bagelled by Goffin in Rome and on the positive side of the ledger – he is the only other player apart from Murray to make the quarterfinals or beyond in the first 3 majors of the year.

I firmly believe that this unpredictability is something Berdych will have to use to his advantage in this big match against Murray. Far too often, Berdych has become very predictable with his serve patterns against the big guys and in big points. While coaching is a very good thing, the Czech no.1 will need to do the proverbial “burning of the coaching manual” to give himself a good shot against Murray.

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Jiri Vesely has, one hopes, shown Berdych how dangerous an opponent can be when they let their instincts take over every now and then in critical moments. He has had these reminders sent to him, the hard way one must say, when Wawrinka and Cilic captured their maiden Grandslams – beating Berdych on the way. To Berdych’s credit, he did acquit himself fairly well, the last time he was in the semifinal at Wimbledon – taking down Djokovic in 4 sets. (albeit, a Djokovic who was yet to start his dominance)

Murray will be out to do some major course correction, after the Lendl-Murray partnership hit some rough waters after cruising through 14 sets into the tournament. The good news is that Tsonga’s dazzling shot-making serves as a wake-up call to alert the legendary coach-pupil combo to iron out any minor wrinkles before the business end of the tournament. It is the kind of  stuff that separates the Champions  from the also-rans.

Prediction: Murray leads the H2H 8-6 and has also won their recent GS meeting in the 2015 Australian Open semifinal. Berdych will have to play his best tennis in more than a year – the kind that he played in the match before the above mentioned Australian Open semifinal. Berdych will have to hit the ground running and need to avoid a mistake the Tsonga committed – not taking his opportunities in the first set. In the end, I will go with Murray in 3 sets – history and form are a formidable opponent to go against, when they are together!

Prakash Potukuchi [ Prakash is the co-founder of Sportz Cosmos. He tweets here.]

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