Saturday, July 07, 2012

2012 Wimbledon: Men's Final Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's final at the Wimbledon Championships for 2012. Last year I correctly predicted Petra Kvitova's win over Maria Sharapova in the women's final and Novak Djokovic's win over Rafael Nadal in the men's final. This year I have correctly predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals2 of 2 women's semifinals4 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals. I also correctly predicted Serena Williams's win over Agnieska Radwanska.

How They Got Here: Men's Semifinals Review
Roger Federer SUI (3) d. Novak Djokovic SRB (1) 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-3
Many pundits believed that the World #1 would continue his winning ways against the 16-time champ in major semifinals but I always believed otherwise. After all, Federer had been able to end Djokovic's 44 match winning streak in the semifinals of Roland Garros last year and that was on clay. On grass, here at Wimbledon, Federer has lost a mere 3 matches in a decade (2008 Final against Rafael Nadal, 2010 quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych and 2011 quarterfinal against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga). In order to beat him on Centre Court you need to bring something special, and if he gets out to an early lead and feels comfortable, look out. Against Djokovic Federer easily won the 1st st after an early break in well under a half-hour. Djokovic returned the favor in the second set, although he had a slightly tougher time holding on to the break. The key to the match was the 3rd set, where the two had pretty thrilling rallies, and it became clear that Federer was able to hang with Djokovic in backhand-to-backhand rallies and was winning the forehand-to-forehand rallies. Federer's defense on grass was stifling the Serb's offensive efficacy. Federer failed to break serve in the 6th game but in the 10th game he was able to get breakpoints which were also set points and took a 2-1 set lead by blasting an overhead into the corner out of reach. In the fourth set Djokovic played like a man mentally defeated, and soon the score reflected that fact, giving Federer his 8th appearance in a Wimbledon final, a perfect 8-0 in Wimbledon semifinals.

Andy Murray GBR (4) d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA (5) 6-3 6-4 3-6 7-5.
This match was fraught with historic significance, as Britain's Great Hope was playing to end a 74-year drought of British male players reaching the Wimbledon final. Happily, he had an excellent 5-1 head-to-head record against his opponent, and his play showed why. Murray raced out to a quick two sets lead as Tsonga was slightly flat at the start. Murray got an early break in the 3rd and the match looked like it would soon be over but then Tsonga broke back and since he was serving first he was able to put pressure on Murray to hold serve to stay in the set, which the Brit was unable to do. The fourth set seemed like it would go to a tiebreak but in the 12th game out of nowhere Tsonga got tight and suddenly faced two break points which were match points. Tsonga served a first serve on the first and Murray blasted a forehand crosscourt  service return which appeared to clip the sideline but was called out by the linesperson. Murray challenged as the two players walked towards the net and the electronic review showed the ball had indeed touched the line and Murray was awarded the game, set and match. History made.

Who Will Win: Men's Final Preview
For both players, this is going to be the most important match of their careers to date, but 30-year-old Federer has been in this position many many more times than his 25-year-old opponent. Surprising to some, Murray has a slight 8-7 career head-to-head edge against the 16-time champion. Earlier in his career, Murray had an even better record against Federer, but the Swiss Great has had more success recently, especially in big matches. In ATP tour finals Federer leads 6-2 and the two have never met on grass before. This is the 3rd major final the two will be contesting, after the 2007 US Open final and the 2010 Australian Open final, both won by Federer in straight sets. In fact, Murray has been unable to win a set in the three major finals he has appeared in, also losing in straight sets in the 2011 Australian Open final, this time to Djokovic.  I am pretty confident Murray will end that streak in the men's final, giving his country hope but in the end I think the history that will be made is Roger Federer extending his lead in the number of most men's singles majors titles to 17 (Pete Sampras is next at 14) and returning to the World #1 spot in order to surpass Sampras's record 286 weeks at #1. Federer has currently been #1 for a mere 285 weeks. For Murray to win he will become the first British male in 76 years to win a singles title at Wimbledon, which would happen one day after Jonathan Marray became the first British male in 76 years to win a doubles title at Wimbledon.

Despite my confidence that Federer will win, it is very possible for Murray to win this match. He has the ability and almost certainly will be a heavy crowd favorite. However, he will have to get some help in order to win the match Great Britain has been waiting to see for 76 years. Murray wants the weather to be bad, windy and wet but not wet enough that the roof is closed. Federer has been nearly flawless in indoor matches, amassing a gaudy 28-1 record over the last year in indoor matches (the one loss was to John Isner in Davis Cup this spring). If the roof is closed, Murray may not even win a set. However, if the roof is not closed and Federer starts to have problem with his timing on the serve and one-handed backhand in the wind then Murray has a much better chance to stay close enough to win two (and possibly even 3) sets. This would require assistance from Federer, which is very unlikely to occur in a final, especially a major final. His overall final record is 74-30 and his major final record is 16-7. I expect Federer to find a way to close out the match, and end the debate about the Greatest Player of all Time once and for all. Prediction: Federer.

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