Tommy Paul in action at Roehampton. Photo courtesy of Ben Rothenberg.
A week before the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world is played, 128 players gather for a chance to qualify into Wimbledon. Unlike each of other three major tournaments, Wimbledon’s qualifying matches do not take place on site at the All England Club. In an effort to the protect the grass courts before main draw play begins, all qualifying rounds(including doubles!) are played at a the cozy if not cramped tennis club in Roehampton.
For passionate nerds and diehards, Roehampton is often considered the pinnacle of tennis viewing: there is a fantastic combination of finesse, grinding, choking, and overall drama. Players compete at vastly different stages of their careers; from young guns(#NextGen?) to journeymen, every year there a more than a few great stories that go unnoticed. Before final round qualifying begins Thursday, let’s dig into a few of the more compelling players left in the field. To provide some perspective, we’ll attempt to paint a picture of each player’s style of play, career highlights and realistic potential going forward.
In effect, this list will have no real order, but the best stories will told last.
Have your heard of him? This writer had seen Skugor’s name in draws, but never actually watched him hit a ball. After some digging, the Croatian’s story is pretty remarkable. At 28, his two straight set wins have put him into Final Round Qualifying for the first time in his career.(never played main draw) He had played 11 times prior in slam qualifying, with an overall record of 4-11. He has won one challenger title in his career, all the way back in 2010. In recent years he has found some success in doubles, with a career high ranking of 92. Skugor began playing professionally in 2005, and has earned just under $400,000 in prize money in his career.
Based on some youtube searching, it appears that Skugor is a decent player on fast surfaces. His service motion is strange but somewhat effective. His strokes are pretty flat which should help on the grass. His movement does not seem to be…elite.
Realistically, this is the probably the best chance he will ever get to play in major singles draw. He will have his hands full with Gerald Melzer, who possesses a fair amount of talent. Can you imagine waiting 10 years to realize a dream, and then having one match to potentially decide your fate? #Pressure
On the other side of the spectrum, Bjorn Fratangelo could possibly be playing his final year of slam qualifying. After a strong 2015, the 22 year old American has impressed this season, notably taking World #1 Novak Djokovic to three sets in Indian Wells. After earning a Wildcard into the French Open, Fratangelo made good on it and took out Sam Querrey in straight sets. That result, however, was not all too surprising. Clay is Fratangelo’s favorite surface, and he would definitely tell you that Grass is his worst. Typically players like Fratagelo who play with a lot of spin tend to struggle on grass. He picked up a good win over Ryan Harrison(solid on grass) in the first round, and rolled in sets 2 and 3 over Michon.
Here’s a recent interview with Fratangelo in Surbiton:
Fratangelo recently cracked the top 100 for the first time, and while he currently sits just outside, an FRQ win could serve as a gateway to automatic main draw entries for some time to come. With his new coach Brad Stine, Fratangelo is trending upward quickly, and could be a full time Tour-Level player as soon as this year.
Saville is as much a grass court specialist as there is in the draw. A former Junior no. 1, the Australian won the Wimbledon Junior title in 2011 and was the runner up in 2012. After turning pro, however, Saville has struggled mightily. Some of the small weaknesses in his game have become large holes. His forehand is at times mechanical, and his movement is laborious on other surfaces. But the second he steps back on a grass court, he is dangerous. I still haven’t quite figured out why, but he always seems to look way more confident on the green stuff. He has a good slice, and overall plays very smart on grass. His only main draw win came at Wimbledon in 2014, where he beat now a top 10 player, Dominic Thiem.
He has not lost a match in his career at Wimbledon quallies, and he’ll need to continue that trend if he wants to springboard his career back to where many thought it belonged-the top 100. I would consider him the favorite over Bachinger in FRQ.
British players in Wimbledon qualifying are always great to watch, and the fans in Roehampton rally behind them strongly. Ed Corrie, 28, is an interesting story; he’s never cracked the top 200. As a WC, Corrie has picked up quality wins over Tommy Paul and Michael Berrer. Corrie was a two time All-American at Texas, and has continued to grind it out on the lower circuits for a few years now. It’s always cool to see the college guys having success on the tour. He has a pretty good serve and forehand, but tends to counterpunch.
Fun fact: he was the guy Darian King was playing before his infamous default in Charlottesville:
Corrie will have the opportunity of his tennis career in FRQ, as he has never played in a slam main draw. His draw is not bad at all, with Olivetti having just played a marathon, 8-6 in the third match on Wednesday.
These last two names are the most interesting in Roehampton. Safwat pulled off a shocking upset over the talented Georgian Basilashvili in the second round. The Egyptian #1 had never even won a match in slam quallies until this week, no less the main draw. Safwat has played the majority of his tennis on clay courts, and before this week he hadn’t played *ONE* match on grass. Tamer El-Sawy was the last Egyptian player in a grand slam at the 1996 US Open.“It’s such a passion to be participating in such a big tournament. And Wimbledon in Egypt is very big, so that’s the ultimate,” Safwat said after the match.
Here’s a fairly epic (and loud) video of Safwat playing Gulbis in Davis Cup:
Once again, a win in FRQ would likely change Safwat’s career. The amount of nerves these guys are facing is pretty remarkable, and that’s exactly why it’s great to watch.
On both a personal and public level, this is by far the best story of Roehampton. Hopefully some of my readers have heard of Willis, who I will now refer to as Cartman for the rest of this piece. Cartman, a nickname from the famous “South Park” character, came about during the U.S. Challenger swing in 2014, when Willis had a fair amount of success, and fired back at the haters on twitter who were commenting on his weight. Cartman is pretty much a complete legend, and one of the funniest guys on the challenger circuit. His ability to make fun of himself is unmatched.
Here’s a taste.
Cartman is an incredible player to watch. No really, he is. His feel around he court is truly incredible. He plays the most deft half volleys, and will slice the opponent to oblivion when he’s on. He’s the definition of crafty, and his serve is left serve is very effective. Obviously movement is not the strongest part of his game, but he anticipates really well and can be extremely frustrating to play against.
Many will forget that Cartman actually started a crowd funding campaign in 2014 labeled, “Willis for Wimbledon”. Willis wrote that playing in the main draw of Wimbledon has always been his childhood dream. Well, he’s one match away. #AllezCartman