by Anand Mamidipudi
Like Saqib, I became enamored with tennis in the mid-eighties. My earliest memories date back to watching John McEnroe win Wimbledon in 1984, on his way to one of the most dominant calendar years in the Open era (McEnroe lost only three times, one of which was inexplicably to an ageing Vijay Amritraj). Tennis really caught my fancy when a baby-faced 17 year old with a booming serve shredded through the draw to make the final against the formidable South African Kevin Curren. Becker was the underdog against Curren, who had stunned McEnroe in the quarterfinals. Becker’s performance in that final was thrilling – the kind that sets a nostalgic buzz in your ear and gives you goosebumps. His win at that young age remains one of the great dark horse stories in all sport. After that, I was hooked to the unpredictability of tennis, to the glory of Wimbledon, to the thrill of rooting for the unexpected winner. One of the things that I loved to do as a fan is to rummage through the field for other potential dark horses that could recreate the magic of 1985. It’s that time of the year again and here are my dark horses for this year’s Wimbledon.
The young Russian has big guns from the baseline and enormous potential. His semi-final performance against Federer against Halle shows that he is not far away from the highest echelon. Look for Karen to improve upon his fourth round performance at the French Open and go even deeper.
The lefty who once stunned Andy Roddick in the first round of the US Open has a game carved out for grass. He made the semis at Queen’s and was a tiebreak away from winning the Hall of Fame tournament last year against Ivo Karlovic. An interesting piece of trivia – Muller and Karlovic have now played seven straight tiebreaks, with Muller having won five of them. Muller is no spring chicken at 34, but he is a dark horse.
In case people have forgotten one of the greatest upsets in recent memory, it was Sam Querrey who brought down the juggernaut of Novak Djokovic last year at Wimbledon. Djoker went into a funk he hasn’t recovered from since. Meanwhile, Querrey showed that his win was no flash in the pan by beating up on Rafa earlier this year in Acapulco. This much is clear: when Sam’s game is on, he is capable of serving up nightmares to the very best. If not for the man above on this list, I’d wager Sam would have won Queen’s.
Everybody is waiting for Pouille to truly break through (as in win something big). The Frenchman with an enigmatic game (which seems to be par for the course for all Frenchmen – see Leconte, Pioline, Escude, Monfils, Tsonga, Gasquet et al) upended Nadal at the US Open last year. Given how Rafa has started this year, we know that young Lucas had done something special. Pouille has all the tools to win Wimbledon, but his level is infuriatingly inconsistent from one tournament to another (he won on grass a coupe of weeks ago at Stuttgart and then lost in the second round at Queen’s). Still I’m picking Pouille to take the next step up from his quarterfinal appearance at both Wimbledon and US Open last year and possibly take a bow in front of the Duchess of Kent on the second Sunday. That is, if he does not self-combust in the first round.