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The Second Day: 2013 daily preview

Novak Djokovic speaks to the media
by Clive White
Monday 24 June 2013

After what happened to Rafael Nadal yesterday it would be a brave man who made any kind of prediction in these Championships. And yet many tennis fans would probably still feel comfortable in suggesting that the two No.1 seeds should make the finals here. It’s a measure of the respect that Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams command in today’s game, as competitive as it is.

Neither has hit a ball in anger since reaching the latter stages of the French Open more than a fortnight ago, but so proficient are both players on all surfaces that lack of competitive play on grass shouldn’t really be a problem for them.

Of course, compared to Williams, Djokovic is relatively new to mastering the intricacies of the green stuff (one Wimbledon singles title as opposed to Serena’s five), but anyone who saw him playing in the Boodles exhibition event at Stoke Park last week will know how naturally comfortable the 2011 champion is on the surface these days.

Both, too, have been blessed with obliging draws, particularly Djokovic, but, as he emphasised at the weekend, no one gets six consecutive passes straight through to the final of a Grand Slam. He could have had an easier first match than that against world No.34 Florian Mayer today on Centre Court. That said, he did beat the German in straight sets at last year’s quarter-final stage.

“Some people would say that I was lucky with the draw,” he said. “But look, it's a Grand Slam, so I don't think that there is any easy way to the title or easy way to win because the best players in the world are playing in this tournament, the most valuable, most prestigious tournament in the world.”

In two years’ time the grass court season will be extended by a week, giving players more time in which to recover/practise after the French Open – a particularly big plus for Nadal. For the time being they will have to take a leaf out of his book and that of others like Bjorn Borg, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova, who all made that tricky transition from clay court title to grass court title on more than one occasion in the Open Era.

Should Serena win this year she will join this exalted company; the only other time she did the “double” was in 2002. In taking her first step this year towards achieving that feat the 16-time Grand Slam singles champion admitted to being “not really familiar” with the game of Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella, whom she will face in the opening match on Centre Court today.

That isn’t really surprising since the 27-year-old from Esch-sur-Alzette only made it to the first round proper of Wimbledon for the first time last year. This will only be Minella’s seventh match on grass in a career spanning nearly 12 years and if she can win as many games as she can speak languages – five – she will have done well.

Some of the ladies seeds are likely to be more severely tested and from a domestic point of view many will be hoping that Russia’s No.10 seed Maria Kirilenko is by Britain’s Laura Robson on No.1 Court. The 19-year-old British No.1 is looking for the kind of run here which saw her sweep past two seeds – Kim Clijsters and Li Na – at last year’s US Open.

Britain’s Elena Baltacha pushed Kirilenko hard at the Aegon International in Eastbourne last week and if Robson’s first serve is in good working order and her forehand booming she could do the same. The day’s most vulnerable seed would appear to be No.32 Klara Zakopalova. The Czechoslovak has to stave off the experienced in-form Daniela Hantuchova from neighbouring Slovakia. Hantuchova won her first grass court title in Birmingham last week after 13 years of trying.

Another seed seriously at risk is Germany’s No.7 Angelique Kerber, who has to find a way of suppressing the ebullient Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The American, whose outfits are always guaranteed to cause a stir on those days that her tennis doesn’t, leads Kerber 2-0 in head-to-heads.

Even more familiar with one another’s game are the two who follow them on to No.3 Court: Feliciano Lopez, of Spain, and the seeded Gilles Simon, of France. They square off against one another just three days after contesting the Eastbourne final. Two tiebreak sets were shared one apiece until the Spaniard, a seed himself here in four of the last five years, ran away with the decider 6-0.

Now that Nadal has gone Spain will be looking to him to carry their hopes – and, of course, the indefatigable David Ferrer.

 


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