Believe it or not, Wimbledon is just two weeks away. Many of the pros are already hard at work on the grass after a grueling clay-court season. However, a pair of returns have grabbed the early headlines on the lawns.
Federer keeps picking his spots perfectly
20-time major winner Roger Federer has taken some heat for skipping the clay-court season each of the last two years, but the 36-year-old already has a French Open title and is clearly intent on playing as long as he can, which is a great thing for all tennis fans. If that means skipping a portion of the calendar where Rafael Nadal dominates anyway to keep himself fresh, so be it.
The eight-time Wimbledon champ has always been at his best on grass. He showed little sign of rust, picking up his 98th career title in Stuttgart this week with a win over big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic in Sunday’s final.
Federer will now head to Halle, Germany, for a final tune-up event before heading to Wimbledon in search of a ninth title there. His quest to that goal could not have gotten off to a better start. He has also reclaimed the world’s top ranking.
Murray is back
Starting Monday, all eyes will be on the Queen’s Club in London. Britain’s favorite son Andy Murray returns to the tour after nearly a year out with a hip injury.
The choice to return on home soil is fascinating. On one hand, it makes sense. Murray is a four-time winner at Queens Club and a two-time Wimbledon champ. On the other hand, he is returning under the most difficult circumstances possible.
Britain is a tennis-crazed country that has not produced much male talent in the modern era. Given that, Murray has always played under immense pressure to win and win a lot in his homeland. It is almost impossible to overstate.
A few Brits have begun to emerge in Murray’s absence, but Murray remains a national hero. He has even been knighted. He has handled the pressure of playing at home spectacularly well throughout his career, but this is not a normal situation.
Murray obviously wants to win every event he plays. Still, for a player who relies so much on movement, the only realistic goal has to be to get through the week without pain and be ready for Wimbledon. However, the massive expectations are going nowhere for Murray. The draw did him no favors. His comeback will start against talented Aussie Nick Kyrgios.
Half of the top-10 women in the world are starting their Wimbledon preparations Monday. Four of those players are leading the field in Birmingham, England. Petra Kvitová is the fourth seed and defending champ.
The two-time Wimbledon winner may be the best grass-court player in the world who is fully active and healthy at the moment. The lefty has won four titles this year, meaning she has played a ton of tennis.
Her surprise early loss at the French Open may have been a blessing in disguise. It allowed her to rest up a little bit before her favorite time of year. Garbiñe Muguruza and Karolína Plíšková will provide stiff opposition to Kvitová in Birmingham and beyond. French Open champion and World No. 1 Simona Halep will return to the tour next week in Eastbourne.
Former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka also starts her grass season in Spain on Monday. Her full-time return to the tour as a mom has not gone well as of late. She won just one match in three clay events. The Belarusian has never done much on grass, but this is a huge time of year for her. Firstly, she needs to build momentum ahead of the North American hardcourt summer where she always does well.
Secondly, the few ranking points she does have are from the event in Spain and Wimbledon last year. If she fails to defend those, the road back to the top gets even longer for her. Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams have each made massive strides in their comebacks in 2018.
Except for one event in Miami, Azarenka has been irrelevant. Something good has to start happening for her on the court fast. Otherwise, the only conclusion to draw is that she just is not the player she once was.
Featured image from Republic World
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