Juan Martin Del Potro One to Watch; Returns for Mardy Fish and Venus Williams — The Friday Five
By Maud Watson
Who to Watch
With Wimbledon wrapped and the summer hard court season upon us, it’s worth taking a look at some of the storylines to keep tabs on as the rest of the year unfolds. We’ll start with who to watch, and after her run at Wimbledon, Sabine Lisicki is the player to follow on the WTA. As previously noted, she’s got a big game, but she also possesses touch and feel and still has youth on her side. She’s never played consistently well outside of SW19, but after breaking new ground at the All England Club by reaching the final, perhaps she’s ready to do the same at other venues across the globe. On the men’s side, you have to like what you saw from Juan Martin del Potro at Wimbledon. He gave Djokovic all he could handle before bowing out in five enthralling sets in the semifinals and after that defeat, stated he felt he was ready to be back in the mix with the Big 4. As an added bonus, del Potro managed to engage the crowd much more by conversing with spectators and even joking throughout the course of that important match. He may have ultimately lost that semifinal, but he won a lot of fans sure to watch him going forward.
Who Will Feel the Love
After holding her nerve to grab the opportunity of a lifetime, newly-crowned Wimbledon Champion Marion Bartoli deserves some serious respect. The Frenchwoman has been better known for her quirks and some unfortunate disparaging remarks regarding her looks, but she deserves to be known for her game. Her relentless attacking style makes her a tough customer for the game’s best – as she proved six years ago – and with the confidence that comes from winning a major, she should be solidly back in the thick of it this summer. She also has a delightful personality that should have fans warming to her. For the men, it’s about time Ferrer got some kudos. He’s now in the top three, and he’s not there by accident. He consistently shows up week in and week out and just reached his first major final a month ago in Paris. At 31, he doesn’t have the same kind of upshot as a del Potro, but with the Spaniard likely to continue to produce throughout the remainder of 2013, it’s about time he was fully appreciated and respected for the tenacity and consistency that have played a big part in him surpassing Nadal and Federer in the rankings.
How Will They Respond?
Despite winning Roland Garros, Serena was undoubtedly unhappy to fall short at Wimbledon. To be fair to her, Lisicki did play a great match. But Serena also looked nervous. It’s unclear if that had to do with fear of Lisicki’s ability or if the pressure of defending her title – and a heavy favorite to do so – was getting to her. If it was the latter, things could get tricky for the American in the second half of 2013. She has a boatload of points to defend thanks to a stellar second half of 2012, and particularly if she wants to maintain the top WTA ranking, the pressure will only mount. She’s responded well to adversity before, but at 31, she’s bound to feel it a little more. As for the ATP, it’s a tossup as to whether it’s Federer or Nadal facing more questions going into the second half of the season. Both suffered shocking early exits at Wimbledon. Federer is looking to get back on the horse immediately by playing a couple of European clay court tournaments before heading to North America. How things transpire at those events will likely dictate just how freely he’s swinging as he preps for the US Open. In regards to Nadal, it’s unclear when he will return and how much the knee may or may not be hampering him. How his knee responds, as well as how mentally confident he feels about his game and body on the hard courts will determine just how much success he’ll enjoy the remainder of the season.
Will They Return?
The two players facing this question both represent the Stars and Stripes. Venus Williams continues to battle a back injury and is questionable for the US Open. It will all depend of if she is healthy enough to play a tune-up event before Flushing Meadows. If you factor in her age and other outside interests, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if we see little to no play from her until the autumn or even 2014. Mardy Fish is the other player struggling to make a comeback, though he is set to compete in both Atlanta and Washington DC in the coming weeks. Fish remains upbeat about his chances of tasting success, citing the recent resurgence of veteran Tommy Haas as a point from which to draw inspiration. But as Mardy has admitted, so many of his issues have stemmed from the mental side of things. He’s also already suffered a couple of comebacks that have failed to get off the ground this season. Again, at his age, you have to wonder how many setbacks he’s willing to overcome before he decides to hang it up.
Race for No. 1
It’s a three-way race on both tours. For the WTA, it’s your top three, with Serena, Sharapova, and Azarenka the most likely candidates to finish in the top spot. On paper, Serena has a bit of a cushion, but she has more to defend than the other two. Still, if she stays healthy, you have to like her odds of defending the bulk of her points from 2012. If not, with Azarenka struggling with injuries, this could prove a great opportunity for Sharapova to step it up. On the men’s side, it’s looking like a race between Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal. Similar to Serena, Djokovic has an apparent cushion but also has a number of points to defend. The good news for Djokovic is that World No. 2 Murray also has a large share of points to defend, and particularly with his early loss at Wimbledon, Nadal has to log exceptional performances at a number of the bigger events throughout the remainder of 2013. Assuming he doesn’t fall apart, Djokovic is still the favorite to finish atop the rankings.