On July 2, 2018, the 141 st edition of the oldest tennis tournament in the world will, once again, begin at London’s hallowed All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at the SW19. Wimbledon is perhaps the most prestigious of the four Grand Slams played in the calendar year. And this year it may also be the most unpredictable.
Just like in 2017, 2018 feels like a throwback to the last decade. Roger Federer has won the Australian Open and Rafael Nadal has won the French Open. Nothing has truly changed – and yet, this time, everything has. Nadal is ranked 1, and Federer 2, while entering the third Grand Slam of the year. This will however be the first Slam in 2018 where all the ‘Big Four’ will be participating. Andy Murray is finally making his way back after a hip surgery, Novak Djokovic is picking up lost steam, Nadal will directly play at Wimbledon after an exhausting clay season, while defending champ Federer will look to set right his Final loss at Halle last week.
Yet, none of them will be overly confident. On evidence of what we have seen from Federer, the greatest player on grass, so far this year, he won’t be an overwhelming favourite – he looked scratchy at Halle, struggled to break serves, but he still finds a way in best-of-5 tennis.
Let’s take a look at some of the disruptors and dark horses of the men’s draw for Wimbledon 2018:
BORNA CORIC (Croatia)
The 21-year-old Croat star has enjoyed sort of a breakthrough year, and remains one of the only young tennis players to have defeated Nadal, Murray as well as Federer at least once in his career. He eliminated Nadal from Wimbledon a few years ago, but his battles against Federer this year have put him in the spotlight. He has an improved all-court game, and is finally coming of age. Nobody will forget his 3-set battle at Indian Wells against Federer – a match he looked destined to win until he let nerves get the better of him. But at Halle, in the final, he improved upon that performance and out-baselined Federer over the course of three tough sets. The most impressive is his ability to save the big points and his belief when he steps onto court. Don’t ever count this kid out.
MARIN CILIC (Croatia)
Another Croatian star, but slightly older, is enjoying a second wind in an inconsistent career so far. He remains one of the rare players to have stolen a Grand Slam when the Big 4 were dominating tennis back in 2014 – his US Open victory remains his only Slam so far. But Cilic has been knocking on the doors since last year. He reached the Wimbledon Final, where he succumbed to blisters and Federer, after which he reached the Australian Open final this year, where he fought for 5 exciting sets against Federer. He is getting closer to beating the Swiss maestro, and another match could just be the clincher. He did well at the French Open, too – an indicator of how he is letting his big-match experience dictate his play even on surfaces he doesn’t traditionally enjoy. Cilic won his second Queen’s Club title last week, defeating the mighty Novak Djokovic in the final while saving a match point. He enters Wimbledon as the second favourite behind Federer to win the title.
ALEXANDER ZVEREV (Germany)
There will come a time when the 21-year-old German wonderkid will be the favourite for every tournament he enters. But despite winning another Masters title on clay this year, and despite proving his credentials as perhaps the second best 3-set player in the game, Zverev has struggled in Grand Slam tennis. He reached the quarterfinal in Paris with 3 consecutive 5-setters, where he was dismantled by future rival Dominic Thiem – a breakthrough for the German World no. 3, but still not the level he would like. Perhaps Paris was a turning point for him, and despite an early loss at Halle this year, he might just fancy his chances next week after recovering from a grueling clay season.
NICK KYRGIOS (Australia)
There is nobody more dangerous than Kyrgios at this time of the year, when he starts to play and gain confidence on his favourite surface. He reached the semifinals at both Stuttgart and Halle, and he somehow manages to play best against the top players – he has consistently posed a problem to Federer on harder surfaces, and can defeat Djokovic and Nadal easily on his day. He makes tennis look like more of an afterthought at the toughest of times, and his mercurial talent is just begging to come to the fore 4 years after he exploded onto the scene by defeating Nadal at Wimbledon. Kyrgios, if he remains focused – a big “if” – can go all the way, irrespective of who he faces.
KYLE EDMUND (Britain)
The British no. 1 has picked up speed this year, and reached the semifinals at the Australian Open after being in the shadow of Murray for years. He just defeated Murray on grass a few days ago, and will be confident of his abilities on a surface that suits his deep style of play. He isn’t as dangerous as the other youngsters, but he can certainly be a bit of a giant killer on current form.
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO (Argentina)
The tall, lanky crowd favourite is perhaps the most worrying player for Federer in a Grand Slam draw. He not only defeated the Swiss master at the US Open last year, but also broke him at the Indian Wells Final in 2018, consistently displaying his best tennis on the biggest of stages. His injury-prone career has made the 1-time Slam winner into somewhat of a courageous underdog, who seems to be fighting his way into the last 8 or 4 of every Slam these days. He falls to Nadal quite often, but has all the weapons on grass to upset everyone else if he stays fit. He is one of the few Slam champions, like Cilic, to have tasted blood in the era of Federer and Nadal.
GRIGOR DIMITROV (Bulgaria)
He hasn’t had the best of starts to the grass season, but Dimitrov is now a consistent top-10 player. Djokovic destroyed him at Queen’s last week – a loss that will again convince tennis fans that perhaps Dimitrov doesn’t have what it takes to bring it against the best players on the bigger stages. He has been a semifinalist here in 2014, but he may not go all the way – a little like Richard Gasquet, all style and not enough substance.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC (Serbia)
It’s odd to see one of the greatest players of all time in this list. But 3-time Champion Djokovic has had a strange two years – one that has seen him plummet to the bottom and back. Irrespective of his flailing legacy, Djokovic has shown signs of life in 2018, especially in the clay season, in his run to the quarters at the French Open, as well as his run to the Queen’s Final last week, where he blew a match point. He may not be mentally all there yet, but his skills haven’t diminished – he is more human than robot now, but he remains the most dangerous ‘dark horse’ on grass this year. Expect him to battle his way into the last 4, despite a low seeding.
Stan Wawrinka, now ranked 263 in the world after a spite of injuries since last July, has never been a contender on grass. It remains the only Slam he hasn’t won yet – and he has never gone past the quarterfinals. The ageing Swiss will be the first to admit that this gap on his sparkling CV will remain so.
Andy Murray, now ranked 156 in the world, made his professional comeback at Stuttgart after almost one whole year – where he lost to Kyrgios despite winning the first set. Those were promising signs, and he defeated Wawrinka at Queen’s before falling to Edmund a few days later. He has it on grass, and the two-time Champion knows what it takes, despite his long comeback road.
Milos Raonic reached the Stuttgart Final and lost to Federer, but another injury kept him out of Queen’s a week later. Fitness not withstanding, Raonic is a former finalist and will want to make his comeback to form in his favourite Slam.
Americans Sam Querrey (Wimbledon 2017 semifinalist) and John Isner (who won his first Masters title at Miami after years of trying) have strong service games and consider grass to be their favourite surfaces. They will cause a few upsets, but it’s hard to imagine them winning the whole thing.
Long shots: Denis Shapovalov, Kei Nishikori, Dominic Thiem