Wimbledon 2018: ‘Serena Williams Is Still the One to Beat,’ ESPN’s Cliff Drysdale Says

“As usual the men’s event is going to be a lot more predictable than the women’s,” tennis analyst and former U.S. Open doubles champion tells TheWrap

The first ball will be served at the All England Tennis Club in London to mark the beginning of the 2018 Wimbledon Championships on Monday, July 2.

Ahead of the start of the only Grand Slam played on grass, TheWrap spoke with ESPN tennis analyst and former U.S. Open doubles champion Cliff Drysdale on what to watch for and who’s hot going into the historic tournament.

“This year, I think — as usual — the men’s event is going to be a lot more predictable than the women’s,” Drysdale told TheWrap. “The women’s event is going to be really wide open depending on how Serena Williams is feeling and how well she is playing. If she is recovered from her effort in Paris and is in good physical shape, then I still put her as the favorite to win Wimbledon.”

Williams, 36, was forced to withdraw from the French Open last month due to a chest muscle injury after making her highly-anticipated return to the Grand Slam circuit following the birth of her daughter in September 2017.

“It is not going to take much for Serena to bounce back and win,” Drysdale said of the seven-time Wimbledon singles champion. “I think she is the greatest female player who ever played. She has also been some bad injury issues in the past — she’s had her challenges, but everybody does, and she has handled them better than anyone. Serena is still the one to beat, if she’s healthy.”

As for the “predictable” men’s side, Drysdale said: “Tennis goes in cycles and we’re in a cycle of some of the greatest players who have every played with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic,” adding that Andy Murray (who is attempting to return after a hip injury) is a “distant fourth.”

Read the full Q&A with Drysdale below, and watch him and the rest of the ESPN tennis team from July 2-15.

TheWrap: Do you think Murray will be able to make a comeback after being out for so long — and will be even play?
Cliff Drysdale: The probability is very slim. You can’t just drop your racket for almost a year and be expected to come back and play well. It is going to take him a while. His game has been built so much on his incredible physical fitness and his mental strength. I don’t think he’ll have the confidence to win seven matches.

Murray is beloved by the British fans, will his absence have an affect on the Wimbledon experience as a whole?
It is sad for the British fans but it won’t impact ratings or attendance, Wimbledon is sold out from Day 1. It doesn’t really matter who’s playing, the public will go. It is one of the most exclusive events on earth.

Who are your top picks on the men’s side?
Having won the French, Nadal’s confidence is at an all-time high. But Federer loves the grass surface and Novak Djokovic has also now shown in the last few weeks that he is on the way back. There’s no doubt in my mind that he is going to win another major in the next 12 months, I’d put money on it.

Who are the U.S. players to watch for?
Sloane Stephens got to the final in Paris so she is a favorite for sure, there are a lot of new U.S. female players who have done extremely well but I think Sloane could do really well on grass.

John Isner is having an extremely good year and his game is really well suited to grass, so I am looking forward to him. He is one to watch … he’s 6-foot-10 and while that can be a disadvantage because it’s difficult to bend to get down to the low balls, if he serves as well as he can, it’s very difficult to do anything about it. He’s got one of the best technical serves in the game, if not the best, which is why he’s got a real good shot at going a long way.

Is there a female player who can challenge Serena if she’s 100 percent fit?
Romanian Simona Halep, who won the French Open, will have a challenge winning Wimbledon because she is more defensive than offensive. It is harder for a defensive player because grass courts are faster [than clay] and they give the advantage to more aggressive players. Halep can be overpowered … plus, to win the French and then Wimbledon is very difficult to do.

You played Wimbledon in the early ’60s, what’s the biggest difference between then and now?
It is unrecognizable from what it was. I played the semi-final at Wimbledon twice and got a voucher for two pairs of tennis shorts as a prize! In those days it was amateur, so there was a separation between the amateurs and this little band of pros who were great players but they were not allowed to play at the majors. That all changed in 1968.

Then we’d walk to the courts and talk to people. Today, the players are totally separated from the public and travel with their entourages of coaches, masseurs, mental health experts … In my day, if someone said they’d got a coach, everyone would have laughed them off the grounds. When I played the final of the U.S. Open in 1965, I took a subway to the grounds with my rackets — that would never happen today.

Do you like the way the tournament has grown?
Yes. Wimbledon has slowly, cautiously, carefully and thought-fully upgraded their facilities to where they are no less than magnificent. It is a garden party atmosphere there — it was always was but even more so now.

You’ve been covering for ESPN since their first tennis event in 1979, how has the broadcasting of Wimbledon evolved?
Wimbledon has always been televised on BBC, but now you can get every match that is played every day. It is staggeringly different. You can immerse yourself in the tournament from early morning [ET] and watch for five or six hours. We have more bells and whistles in terms of being able to share with the viewer such as the statistical comparisons of the players, where they are hitting the ball, how far they are running. Things that we never had access to when I started out.

Tennis is a game of a myriad of different pressure points. The scoring system is not like any other sport, it’s not just about adding up points and getting more or less than your opponent. In tennis, you play a game and then you play a set, then after that you start it over, so you have so many opportunities to get back into a match. It is a unique scoring system and means you’re never really out of it. When you think of the number of crisis points, break points, set points, serving for the set, serving for the match … to capture those moments is part of our job in the TV business.

What advice do you have for viewers new to watching Wimbledon?
Follow your favorite players and get to know them, you get drawn into the personalities of the game. The thing that is unique about Wimbledon is it’s a two-week story that unfolds, getting more dramatic as it goes on until you eventually have a winner. This is 14 days of sweat, toil, trouble and tears.