Well, we have to wait a week longer this year but now Queens and Halle are over and every store in SW19 has tennis balls in the window. It can mean only one thing…. Pimm’s o’clock, Britain going tennis mad, it’s Wimbledon time!
This writer for one is struggling to decide whether this year’s Wimbledon men’s draw is the hardest to predict in memory, or Novak Djokovic’s to lose. Andy Murray is back to his best but seems to have a psychological block when it comes to facing his Serbian nemesis.
In July 2013, the question of ‘Will Murray win Wimbledon?’ was answered, only to be replaced by ‘Will Roger Federer ever win another Slam?’ as the most oft asked question in world tennis. It’s almost universally agreed that Wimbledon is his best chance but then he does things like lose to Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round.
Meanwhile the once indestructible Rafael Nadal is suffering such a slump that he’s been drawing more sympathy than plaudits recently. Stan Wawrinka has shown that his Australian Open title wasn’t a flash in the pan but his grass court record is dire.
Then there is the cast of ‘can they make the jump,’ and ‘will they ever’ players along with the huge servers who always threaten on the green green courts of the All England Club. Though the all-important draw is yet to be made, let’s have a look at the runners and riders for men’s silver gilt cup.
Novak Djokovic – World No. 1, two-time and defending Wimbledon champion, 41-3 win/loss record for 2015.
The saying goes that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, but a 41-3 win/loss record year to date is hard to deny. Once the man struggling to make the leap to Federer and Nadal’s level, the man has been irresistible and almost indestructible for four years now. Fatigue doesn’t seem to affect him and he doesn’t suffer the same early round shock exits that have befell Federer and Nadal in recent years; Roland Garros in 2009 is the last time he failed to reach the quarter-finals of a slam. Is he unbeatable? No, but only if he has an off day, which doesn’t seem to happen very often.
Why he might not win it
The draw – with the current rankings and level of competition in the men’s draw, there should be no easy route for any player this year. At the recent French Open Djokovic had to defeat both Nadal and Murray just to get to the final. If we assume no Mal Washington-esque upsets, that means the Serb will have to see off three world class opponents to take home the crown for the second successive year. Has he got the ability and endurance to do it? Yes, but it won’t be easy.
The crowd – the one thing that really seems to get on Djokovic’s nerves is being on the wrong side of a partisan crowd. And that’s something he’ll definitely see at Wimbledon if he faces Murray or Federer. It may not be enough to cost him an entire match but it may be enough to give an opponent a glimmer of hope, as it did for Murray in the French Open semi-final.
Roger Federer – World No. 2, seven-time Wimbledon champion, 29-6 win/loss record for 2015.
The seemingly ageless Swiss maestro is in fine form and has just won the Halle Gary Webber open for the eighth time. Contrary to Djokovic, Federer might get an easier draw, if there is such a thing. But the real reason to back the world number two is his affinity for the tournament, a place where he was almost unbeatable for seven years. That was a while ago and while he’s only made the final twice in the last five years, his run to the final last year gave hope to the thousands of fans who really do want to see him win one more slam.
In terms of his game, his back hand looks the best it ever has and he’s coming to the net more than usual – though it remains to be seen if that can be a successful tactic against the likes of Djokovic or Murray. If there is any surface where Federer really will believe that he can beat the best in the world, it’s the grass of centre court, especially if the roof happens to be closed as we saw in the 2012 final.
Why he might not win it
I said above that he is seemingly ageless, but he still hasn’t won a two-week tournament for three years and he isn’t synonymous with the iron man heroics of consecutive five-set epics like Djokovic is. Moreover, Federer’s place in world tennis these days is such that other players see him at a huge scalp against whom they raise their game. Federer no longer walks onto court with a set advantage thanks to his reputation. Indeed his six defeats this year include losses to Nick Kyrgios, Gael Monfils, and Andreas Seppi.
Andy Murray – World No. 3, one-time Wimbledon champion, 36-6 win/loss record for 2015.
Murray is absolutely flying at the moment, in his best form since 2013, if not better. Yes much of his recent success has been on clay but he looked supreme at the Aegon Championships at Queen’s club this week, well by the end of the week anyway. As has been mentioned ad nauseum, married life seems to agree with Murray, losing only once since tying the knot, and that was a five-setter to Djokovic in Paris (Murray did also withdraw in Rome due to his recent heavy schedule). Murray also seems to thrive on crowd support, and no where will he get more of that than at Wimbledon. The monkey of his back, a ring on his finger, what can stop him?
Why he might not win it
…well, one particular Serbian. Since losing to Murray in the 2013 Wimbledon final, Djokovic has come out on top in each of their eight encounters and most haven’t been close. Whether it’s Murray’s belief or Djokovic’s bizarre injury antics, there definitely seems to be a psychological barrier for Murray, and only time will tell whether the fight back in the recent French Open semi, though eventually futile, has given Murray the belief he needs.
This is assuming both players reach the semi-final but in truth, Murray does have the habit of throwing in the odd bad day at the office in the earlier rounds. Last year it was Grigor Dimitrov, in his championship year he almost lost to Fernando Verdasco and this week at Queens he was pushed right to the edge by Giles Muller. On his day, with the crowd roaring him on, an aggressive Murray is irresistible; hopefully the coaching team of Jonas Bjorkman and Amleie Mauresmo team can ensure we see that aggression in every match.
Rafael Nadal – World No. 10, two-time champion, 33-10 win/loss record for 2015.
It’s Rafa, anything is possible. And he just won the ATP 250 Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, his fourth grass court title and first since 2010.
Why he probably won’t win it
He’s this high up on the list more out of respect than anything and by Rafa’s standards it hasn’t been a great year. Monfils was his highest ranking opponent for his Stuttgart title run and Alexandr Dolgopolov saw him off in round one at Queen’s this week. Moreover it’s been a while since he’s had success at SW19, with 2nd, 1st, and 4th round defeats in the last three years. Being ranked 10th will mean a hard draw for the Mallorcan matador and it’ll be a surprise, albeit a nice one to see him late in the second week this year.
Stan Wawrinka – World No. 4, best Wimbledon performance QF in 2014, 29-8 win/loss record in 2015.
He has the best single-handed back hand in the game and enough power to force Djokovic and Federer to the back of the court. He doesn’t seem to have any fear of the top players either, having lost to and beaten Djokovic in several epic slam encounters and in Paris this month finally earned his slam victory over Federer.
Why he might not win it
I saw Stan-the-man live in action last week losing to Kevin Anderson and he didn’t look impressive. His main weapons weren’t firing and he struggled to make any impact on Anderson’s serve, something Murray coped with brilliantly in the final. Maybe Wawrinka just wasn’t interested after the glory of Roland Garros but his grass court record just isn’t great. He’s never won a grass court title and his record at Wimbledon is woeful of a player of his ability – two 4th round and one quarter final appearance but five first round exits in his 10 entrances.
Kei Nishikori – World No. 5 – little known in the UK but the man from Japan has had a great year, with the pinnacle being his US open final loss to Marin Cilic. Many believe he’ll be the next player to win their maiden grand slam.
He retired injured from his semi-final in Halle, but if he recovers he could make a deep run. The 4th round last year is his best Wimbledon performance to date and it would still be a surprise to see him in the final.
Tomas Berdych – World No. 6 – it sounds harsh but I think most have stopped believing that the big Czech is ever going to win that elusive slam. Though Wimbledon in 2010 was the closest he ever came I just can’t see him beating three of the world’s best over five sets to secure a slam. It would take a kind draw and some upsets to see him lift the trophy.
David Ferrer – World No. 7 – one of the most likeable players on tour, a great sport and a perennial also-ran. He has the tenacity and staying power to beat one great player in a slam but not to beat the multiple he would need to win a slam, especially at Wimbledon where the quarter final is the farthest he’s reached.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – World No. 12 – on his day he can beat anyone, as we have seen many a time, including his epic comeback against Federer in 2011. But it would take a leap in maturity and focus for him to piece it altogether for a slam win. Never count him out though…
Gael Monfils – World No. 16 – even more so than Tsonga, Monfils just doesn’t seem to be able to piece it together consistently, especially for the two weeks of a slam. He’s never surpassed the 3rd round at The All England Club and his one slam semi-final came back in 2008. He’s a threat to any player in the draw, but unlikely to be walking out on court on the final Sunday.
The big servers:
Milos Raonic (W#8), Marin Cilic (W#9), Kevin Anderson (W#17), John Isner (W#18)
The Wimbledon courts aren’t as fast as they used to be, or even as fast as the courts at Queen’s Club for that matter. But Raonic reached the semi-final last year, and Cilic lifted won his maiden slam at Flushing Meadows in September showing that the big servers with solid ground strokes, volleying and a game plan can still be dangerous. But as was shown at the Queens final when Murray dismantled Anderson, a skilled returner should be able to defeat these huge servers. Anderson almost came a cropper much earlier, facing match point to wily veteran Lleyton Hewitt in round one. I’d expect to see at one or two of these four in the quarter finals, but a tournament win seems unlikely.
The young crop:
Grigor Dimitrov (W#11), Nick Kyrgios (W#28)
These two have shown tremendous promise and flashes of brilliance. Dimitrov won Queens last year and destroyed a below-par Andy Murray at Wimbledon in the quarter-final. But that’s the closest he’s come to piecing it all together and in the semi-final, his first and only to date, the stage looked still too big for him. Though he shed the ‘Baby Fed’ nickname a while ago he hasn’t yet come close to winning that grand slam that so many predicted he would.
Kyrgios is a real dark horse here and his defeat of Federer at the Madrid Open catapulted him into the public’s attention. He could cause an upset or two at Wimbledon and will definitely entertain but it’s a couple of years too early to consider him a contender.
The Wimbledon Draw will be held on Friday 26 June
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