Wimbledon 2018 Preview, Predictions

Deputy Sport editor and resident tennis columnist Joel McInally analyses the potential favourites, dark horses and flops ahead of the start of the Wimbledon Championships tomorrow.


There is arguably no tennis tournament as iconic as Wimbledon. Whether it is the grass courts, the all-white outfits, or the general feeling of privilege that accompanies the tournament. In Britain the tournament holds even greater meaning as the British grand slam and a scene of continued failure since Virginia Wade’s 70s triumph, right up until Andy Murray ended Britain’s wait for a Wimbledon winner.

Unfortunately for British fans a home  winner this year is unlikely on either side of the draw, with Murray in the early stages of his comeback, Johanna Konta having gone off the boil somewhat, and Kyle Edmund being far from a grass court specialist. Sadly the only British sporting success that will occur on Sunday 15 July will be England’s World Cup win.

For the men’s draw there continues to be a name that is associated with winning the famous trophy, and that is Roger Federer. That the Swiss maestro is still competing to the top of the men’s game is nothing short of remarkable, with his longevity being as great a testament to his greatness as his grand slam haul. Then there is Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, the 2017 Wimbledon runner-up, and the 2018 Australian Open runner-up. The big-hitting, big-serving Croat is a real threat on grass and will be buoyed by his second Queens triumph last week. Novak Djokovic is inching back to his best, while Juan Martin Del Potro also cannot be ruled out.

I expect a thrilling five-set semi-final between Federer and Cilic, with the winner going on to claim the title. My heart says Cilic, while my head says Federer. The Swiss legend will win in five before defeating Del Potro in the final, again possibly in five, but do not be surprised to see Cilic lifting the trophy in a fortnight’s time.

Picking the winner of the women’s tournament is probably harder than predicting the lottery. Simona Halep finally won her maiden slam at Roland Garros, but following up a career high so quickly can be tough. Serena Williams’ chances are slim due to age and injury, although she has been boosted by being seeded at 25 which will give her some protection in the first couple of rounds.

In terms of potential winners there are a few women who could be the Wimbledon champion at the end of the fortnight. If the 2018 trend of women winning their first slams is to continue then Madison Keys and Karolina Pliskova could go far. If experience is to win out then Maria Sharapova could claim a first Wimbledon title since 2004, while both Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki showed well at Eastbourne and Petra Kvitova could complete her comeback from her stabbing by sealing a third Wimbledon crown.

However, I think that this year the trophy will not change hands with Garbine Muguruza retaining her title. She did well to reach the semi-finals in Paris and her power game is very difficult to deal with when she is on form. I think she will either win the whole thing or fall early, but I am backing her to go all the way again.

In the men’s draw there are a few outsiders for the title with a realistic shot at the title such is the gap between the best and the rest. The obvious dark horse for the title is two-time champion Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has the ability and determination to win Wimbledon but his recent record at the slam is not great with him not having gone past the fourth round since reaching the 2011 final. However, if he serves well and plays aggressively I would not rule out a fourth Federer-Nadal Wimbledon final, although I could not see how the Spaniard could win that match. 2016 runner-up Milos Raonic could also challenge if he overcomes injury, while other big servers like John Isner and Kevin Anderson could make deep runs.

It is very difficult to distinguish between a favourite for the women’s title and a dark horse as there are really no standout players at the minute who look ready to dominate. If Serena Williams can stay fit and avoid gruelling matches then she could bulldoze her way to the title, although I do not think she will as there are simply too many question marks surrounding her. A player with similar power to Williams without as much skill is Naomi Osaka, who may not be ready to win a slam, but certainly has the game to do well and give any player a run for their money. Britain’s Johanna Konta could also attempt to better her semi-final run last year, and with the support of the home crowd she should not be ruled out despite her questionable form recently.

I am also going to throw a complete wildcard into the mix in the shape of Eugenie Bouchard. In 2014 she looked set to dominate women’s tennis but since then has capitulated and is currently ranked 193 in the world and to some appears to be more interested in her modelling and celebrity status than tennis. Despite this, she clearly has talent and reached the final here in 2014. At 24 she still has plenty of time to overcome her poor form and as a qualifier will be coming into the tournament hot, so she could upset the applecart somewhat.

In terms of notable names struggling, fans could see a few recognisable aces fall early. Andy Murray is the obvious one as he faces Benoit Paire in the first round which will be a very tricky tie. Elsewhere Stan Wawrinka faces Grigor Dimitrov so either way we will see a big name out in the first round, although I think Dimitrov wins in straight sets. Nadal could also struggle as grass is his least favourite surface and a tricky potential third round match against Mischa Zverev could see him struggle. On top of this Sascha Zverev’s poor grand slam record means that every match for him could be a battle and I would not be surprised if he did not reach the second week. Finally, Novak Djokovic faces a tricky draw with Australian Open quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren in the first round, a potential third round tie against British number one Kyle Edmund and a fourth round against Dominic Thiem or Karen Khachanov means that if Djokovic is to win Wimbledon he will have to do it the hard way.

In the women’s draw I think there is also the potential for upsets. US Open champion and Roland Garros runner-up Sloane Stephens will have to be on her guard against Donna Vekic in the first round. If Stephens starts slowly, then Vekic is definitely good enough to send the American home early. Similarly, Caroline Garcia, the sixth seed, faces former top ten player Belinda Bencic in her first match in one that could go either way, and I think Bencic may cause an upset there.

No matter who wins this year’s championships I think it promises to be an enthralling fortnight of tennis. The only problem viewers will have is choosing between the football and the tennis, with the final Sunday offering the chance to watch the men’s final before switching over to the World Cup. No sports fan could ask for more.

If Joel’s predictions for the French Open are anything to go by, the safe money would appear to be on Federer and Muguruza!


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