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Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Don't count out these underdogs


Remember the days when Boris Becker battled Stefan Edberg at Wimbledon? Most rallies wouldn't exceed three shots.

How the times have changed.

The grass at the All England Club isn't as short, leading to slower conditions and giving baseliners hope. Net-rushers have their hands full thanks to the pace and spin confronting them, as Andy Murray and Queen's winner Sam Querrey pointed out in recent months.

Still, for those possessing a whopping serve and decent volley, Wimbledon is the place to prosper.

Who are some of dark horses (ranked outside the top 20) that can pull off a huge upset or reach the second week?

Men

Sam Querrey (No. 21): The seeds fell early at Queen's, and Querrey took full advantage. The chilled Californian needs a good Wimbledon since he lost in the first round in Melbourne and Paris this year.

Lleyton Hewitt (No. 26): First off, Hewitt doesn't have a huge serve. But he knows grass and picks his spots moving forward. Imagine the Aussie's confidence at the moment, too, having beaten Roger Federer in Halle, Germany, to end a 15-match losing streak against the Swiss. Also, despite a wonky hip last year, the 2002 champ managed to take Andy Roddick to five sets in the quarterfinals.

Marcos Baghdatis (No. 27): Baghdatis likes grass and the big occasion -- he's reached the quarters and semis at Wimbledon. Disregard a first-round loss to the unpredictable Philipp Petzschner in Halle. Baghdatis was thrown off his game when he slightly injured his leg in the opening set.

Ernests Gulbis (No. 29): Gulbis played Rafael Nadal tough at Wimbledon in 2008. But how healthy is he? The Latvian injured his hamstring at the French Open and withdrew from Queen's.

Feliciano Lopez (No. 30): Lopez had a decent clay-court season but came unstuck at the French, struggling after getting trashed in the press by his former girlfriend. The dapper Spaniard, a two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist, subsequently put in good prep time at Queen's in west London and reached the semis.

Mardy Fish (No. 70): Fish looks like another player. No, really. He's lost 30 pounds and is now fit as a fiddle. At Queen's, the Tampa resident even bounced back from playing three matches in one day. Fish downed Murray, the defending champion, in the second round -- that's two in a row against the Scot -- and went on to reach the final.

Others: Richard Gasquet doesn't have the mental stamina to reach another semifinal at Wimbledon, although none of the top seeds want to face the fragile Frenchman early. … German Benjamin Becker can be downright ugly in a bad patch. When he's on his game, the former Baylor standout is hard to stop. Becker won his only title last year on grass in the Netherlands. … Wondering about Ivo Karlovic? He is nursing a foot injury and won't likely be a factor if he plays.

Women

Going from clay to grass, the women's contenders, as a whole, don't change much. Venus Williams, the five-time Wimbledon winner, is the notable exception.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a serve-and-volleyer on the women's tour?

Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (No. 21): There's no reason Martinez Sanchez shouldn't do well on grass. She owns a crafty left serve, is good at the net and can slice. Her first-round defeat at the French, to journeywoman Akgul Amanmuradova, might have been due to the mental fatigue of triumphing in Rome.

Alisa Kleybanova (No. 27): Kleybanova is bound to break through and reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal one of these times. Overcoming a foot injury, and now in better shape, the tall Russian almost did it at Roland Garros. She has the game for grass, hitting flat -- and with pop.

Tamarine Tanasugarn (No. 72): If ever there was a grass-court specialist, how about the veteran Thai? Tanasugarn has almost more wins at Wimbledon than the three other majors combined. The 33-year-old headed into this week's UNICEF Open in the Netherlands as the two-time defending champion.

Others: Dinara Safina, who is on the mend from a back injury and working with a new coach, has to snap out of her slump -- five straight losses -- sometime.