Wimbledon Day 1 picks, including Nieminen vs. Hewitt and Mayer vs. Kokkinakis

Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand and Joey Hanf of The Tennis Nerds preview and pick the four best men’s singles matches on opening day at Wimbledon. Either Jarkko Nieminen or Lleyton Hewitt will be playing his last match at the All-England Club.

Jarkko Nieminen vs. (WC) Lleyton Hewitt

Ricky: Nieminen is retiring at the end of this season. Hewitt is calling it a career after the 2016 Australian Open. One of these two well-respected veterans will wave goodbye from Wimbledon on Monday; the other will likely play his last match on Wednesday against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Something has to give here because Nieminen has an edge in current form (10 ATP-level wins this season compared to Hewitt’s one), but Hewitt is 5-0 lifetime in the head-to-head series. The Australian won Wimbledon in 2002 and is quite simply a far superior grass-court performer. It would only be fitting for Hewitt’s finale to come against Djokovic on Centre Court. Hewitt 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(3), 6-4.

Joey: In all honesty, the actual tennis played in this match is largely insignificant. With both players entering their final Wimbledon, this is less about tactics and execution and more about managing emotions and nerves. Hewitt it is a legend and really deserves to win the match, but he has been struggling mightily to generate any sort of aggressive play in the last 12 months. His flat strokes will get some added skid on the grass, but it remains to be seen if he can get on the offensive enough in rallies. Nieminen is a player that many will forget about, but he really has made a great career for himself. He was never the most talented guy out there but seemed to continuously improve even into his 30s. I think Nieminen is actually the safer pick, but I’ll take Rusty simply because he will not let himself lose the match. Hewitt 6-3, 5-7, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-4.

(24) Leonardo Mayer vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis

Ricky: Kokkinakis recorded five-set wins from match point down in each of the first two Grand Slams in 2015 (vs. Ernests Gulbis in Melbourne and vs. Bernard Tomic at Roland Garros). And that is just to name a few of the Spartan performances by the king of clutch. It would not be surprising to see another one in a matchup that looks fairly even on paper. Kokkinakis’ power game should work well on grass and he fared decently at Queen’s Club (beat Jeremy Chardy, lost to Gilles Simon). Mayer, who has not played since the French Open, does not particularly like the slick stuff. The Argentine had never done anything at Wimbledon until last summer, when he benefited from David Ferrer’s early exit to reach the fourth round. Kokkinakis 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-5.

Joey: This is a really interesting first-rounder. Mayer took me by surprise last year in SW19 when he made the fourth round. His long strokes usually allow him to succeed on slower surfaces like clay, but his timing is so good that he can also play well on grass. Kokkinakis is obviously fast on the rise, and his serve-forehand combo will do serious damage on the slick surface. The only downside to the Australian’s game on grass is that he hits with heavy spin, and the ball is not going to bounce out of Mayer’s strike zone; in fact, I think Mayer is going to love Kokkinakis’ rally ball. The Argentine will prevail in four this time, but clearly we’ll be seeing much more of the Kokk very soon. Mayer 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

Martin Klizan vs. Fernando Verdasco

Ricky: Klizan also had to go up against a Spanish left-hander in last year’s first round. That opponent was none other than Rafael Nadal, who started slow but recovered to see off the Slovakian 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Klizan’s heavy topspin is more effective on clay, so it is not surprising that the only event he played in between the French Open and Wimbledon was a clay-court Challenger. Klizan is a mere 1-3 lifetime at the All-England Club, whereas Verdasco reached the quarterfinals in 2013 and led eventual champion Andy Murray two sets to love. He has advanced to the fourth round on three other occasions. Even though Verdasco is not in the best of form, this should be relatively straightforward on grass. Verdasco 7-5, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.

Joey: It’s actually shocking how similar these two players are. Both possess absolutely massive lefty forehands and have the ability to hit their opponent off the court at any time. Both men also have the tendency to spray unforced errors like there is no tomorrow. On grass, I believe Verdasco understands movement significantly more than Klizan. Take a look back at Klizan’s match against Nadal last year and you’ll notice that he is on the ground for about 1/4 of the total elapsed time. There’s an argument for (and against) both guys in this one, as Verdasco and Klizan are incredibly unpredictable. I’ll take the Spaniard because of his ability to hit a good slice backhand, which should help neutralize Klizan’s weapons on this surface. Verdasco 7-5, 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-3.

Juan Monaco vs. Florian Mayer

Ricky: Not unlike Nieminen and Hewitt (except for the fact that these two do not appear close to retirement), Monaco and Mayer have been around pretty much forever. How long? Well, of their eight previous encounters, three came at least a decade ago. Mayer leads the head-to-head series 6-2, but they have not faced each other since 2013 as the German missed much of last season due to a hip injury. He is just now coming back but is already in decent form with a quarterfinal showing in Halle under his belt. Whereas Monaco would almost certainly take this on clay, grass gives a clear advantage to the 2012 Wimbledon quarterfinalist. Mayer 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Joey: I’m sure I echo many others’ thoughts when I say that it is great to see Mayer back on tour. His shot-making and creativity on the tennis court are always fun to watch, and he excels on grass. On the contrary, the green stuff is definitely Monaco’s worst surface and his baseline game has never translated particularly well at Wimbledon. Mayer’s ability to take the ball early, mix up spins and pace, as well as aptitude in the forecourt should allow him to take control of rallies and put the match on his racket. The only question mark is how Mayer reacts to playing best-of-five for the first time since returning from injury. Mayer 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.

3 Comments on Wimbledon Day 1 picks, including Nieminen vs. Hewitt and Mayer vs. Kokkinakis

  1. Insightful read fellas. Thanks. *Leo Mayer has played since RG. Ousted by Istomin at Nottingham.

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