On the eve of Week 2 at Wimbledon, Roger Federer has to be liking his chances more than ever. He is obviously in fine form as is the norm every year on the grass, not to mention every week of every year. Federer already is the best player in the world and has asserted himself even more robustly on grass, dominating the surface for the past four years.
The best thing going for Federer has nothing to do with his play. His biggest advantage is that, most likely, the bottom half of the draw has been taken out of contention. Mother Nature has handed Wimbledon a bum hand so far this year and the club's tradition of being closed on the middle Sunday exacerbates the already tenuous situation. What Rafael Nadal and his fellow competitors in the bottom of the draw are faced with is the challenge to win five matches over the next seven days, daunting to say the least. I am not sure that even Nadal's strengths -- courage and stamina -- can hold up under the pressure of these conditions. With Nadal possibly operating on less than all cylinders come next Sunday, Federer's chances of winning the title for a fifth straight time are escalating by the day.
Being a bit of a traditionalist (some might say a "rigid" traditionalist), I have a soft spot in my heart for the way Wimbledon operates. However, when considering what is on the line every year at the All England Club, one has to take into account competitive fairness and the need for a tournament to provide an even playing field for all its participants. All it takes is one day of bad weather in the first week to create an untenable competitive environment for half the men's field. Each year half the draw is scheduled to play their third round on Saturday of the first week. If the rain hits hard that day, the tournament moves those matches to Monday of the second week, the same day the other half of the draw plays its fourth-round matches. Despite the challenges the weather presented this past week, if it was clear on Saturday, the men's singles competition would be right on track. What a difference a day makes.
I believe it is time for Wimbledon to address this issue. This traditionalist believe there should be greater willingness to play on the middle Sunday of Wimbledon. In this year's scenario, it would be automatic, as none of the eight third-round matches were completed Saturday. It is the only way to preserve some element of fairness. Yes, the roof going on Centre Court by 2009 will help in the completion of some matches, but even that improvement won't allow for all of the early-tournament contests to conclude. Wimbledon can't control the weather, but it can react to it and do what is right for everyone involved.
Let me touch on a peculiar dilemma for Federer. Tommy Haas has defaulted their fourth-round match. Now, Federer has to figure out how to keep himself sharp during a four-day layoff in the middle of a tournament. Fortunately for him, his quarterfinal opponent will be Janko Tipsarevic or Juan Carlos Ferrero, neither of whom are legitimate threats to Federer. Knowing the way Federer competes, that one match will prepare him well enough for his presumed semifinal appearance with Andy Roddick.
There is, however, the chance that the opposing semifinalist will be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. This young, talented and strong Frenchman has a big game, one that could present some challenges for Federer. Tsonga has a long way to go to get to his potential showdown with Federer. He would have to beat his countryman Richard Gasquet and then the winner of Roddick versus Paul-Henri Mathieu. But, I like the way Tsonga plays and carries himself. Don't be at all surprised if he is the unknown who makes the biggest impression in the second week.
Nadal still has a tough road to the semis. There are players in every round who have a chance against him. He might will himself into the final again this year, but he has quite a ways to go. There are several players in the bottom half that have a great chance to progress. I still like David Nalbandian to stick around and I can see Nicolas Kiefer making some noise in the coming week.
One thing is for sure, it will be fun watching and discussing with you.