Tennis Lacking Star Power on Eve of Wimbledon

It has been a very busy month and a half or so for me. I am now writing about the NFL for

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See my work here: Wimbledon starts tomorrow. So, I am back to personal blogging!

Like any other sport, tennis is driven by its stars. In fact, star power is more important in tennis than most other sports simply because it is an individual one. Make no mistake, the names that drive tennis are Serena, Venus, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Azarenka, and Sharapova. On the eve of Wimbledon, the sport’s biggest event, most of these names are in shambles.


A 14 time major champion, Rafael Nadal seemed to be rounding back in to top-notch form at last month’s French Open, an event he has won nine times, but he suffered a wrist injury and was unable to finish the event. The same injury will keep him out of Wimbledon this year and possibly the Olympics later this summer. It is a similar story for former ladies world number one Victoria Azarenka. A two-time major champion, she seemed to be back to her best in March when she won back-to-back titles in Indian Wells and Miami. However, the injury bug bit the Belarusian again, also at the French Open. She retired from her first round match with back and knee issues. She announced last week that she will not be ready for Wimbledon. Two major stars will be watching the sport’s biggest event on TV. That is never a good thing for any sport.

Also not at Wimbledon is five time major champion Maria Sharapova. However, her situation is far more complicated than just a simple injury. Sharapova announced a failed drug test at January’s Australian open in March. She was banned for two years last month even though she had been serving the ban since January. Quite frankly, I could devote an entire blog post to her situation. All I will say here though is that it is not as clear-cut as I just made it sound. Most “experts” feel that two years is a bit excessive. I tend to agree, though the iconic Russian absolutely should be punished. All I know is that no matter what she did or did not do, no one benefits from having Sharapova enrolling in Harvard business school the day before Wimbledon starts. That is not a joke. That is really what she is doing. Sharapova is appealing her suspension. A ruling is expected by mid-July. I feel the best he can hope for is being eligible to play again on January 1, 2017. Again, I will not get into details here. However, that is the punishment most reasonable people, myself included were in favor of to begin with.


So, of the eight names I mentioned above, three will not even set foot on the grounds and Wimbledon this year. Of the five that are here, major question marks surround four of them. Venus Williams has won Wimbledon five times and has a favorable draw to make a run at it yet again. However, the 36-year-old has constantly battled injuries and illness in the twilight of her career. She is capable of beating anyone on the grass courts of Wimbledon, but she is also capable of losing to anyone. That never used to be the case. She has not reached a major semifinal 2010. Her little sister Serena is chasing Steffi Graf’s all-time record of 22 major titles. She is just one back. However, since losing in shocking fashion to Roberta Vinci in the semis of last year’s U.S. Open, she has struggled in big matches. She has come up short in three finals this year, including the first two majors of the year. Look, she is still by far and away the most talented player in the ladies game, but off days are becoming more and more frequent. She is beatable.


That leaves Federer, Murray, and Djokovic in the star department. Federer is arguably the greatest player that ever lived. However, even the 16 time major champion himself will tell you, his best days are behind. He has withdrawn from a handful of tournaments this year, including the French Open which was the first grand slam he missed since 1999. He has dealt with a bad back that has become more of an issue in recent years, a meniscus tear, and the flu. However, he is hoping to make one more run at an eighth Wimbledon title. It is unlikely, but champions never forget how to win. Then, there is local favorite Andy Murray who is fresh off a win at a tune up event last week. He became the first Brit to win Wimbledon in front of the home fans since the 30s just two years ago. He is playing well this year finishing runner-up to Djokovic at both the Australian and French Opens. However, recent coaching changes and the always immense pressure he is under when playing in his home country are X factors that could greatly help or hurt him. Only time will tell.


The one big name that there is absolutely no question about going into Wimbledon is world number one Novak Djokovic. I am not sure if anyone has ever played the game better than the Serb is right now. His career major total is now at 12. He captured the one thing missing from his resume at the French Open. He is the current title holder at all four majors. Anything is possible, so he could be beaten at Wimbledon. However, he has no weakness and plays the best defense I have ever seen. So, I would not bet on it. Most importantly though, Djokovic is carrying the sport right now in terms of star power and intrigue.


The logical question to ask is if the stars of today are struggling, doesn’t that mean new ones are being created? I wish, but that just is not happening. Djokovic is not allowing it on the men’s side. Apart from Serena, the ladies game has been a bit of a joke in 2016. German world number four Angelique Kerber upset Serena to win her first major in Australia, but has struggled since losing five times in her first match of an event. French Open winner Garbine Muguruza also upset Serena to win her first major in Paris, but also has struggled since. She could get hot here, but has a scary first round against big hitting Italian Camila Giorgi. Maybe the biggest indictment about the state of the ladies game right now is the fact that I would place Sharapova as the second favorite behind Serena, if she were eligible to play. I doubt I am alone there. She has not played since January. No matter what is happening, Wimbledon always provides a great two weeks. So, enjoy it on the ESPN family of networks starting tomorrow morning at 8:00.

Sleepers: (24) Alexander Zverev (Men) (27) Coco Vandeweghe (Women), Tsvetana Pironkova (Women)

Predictions: (Men) (Women)