In about a fortnight, the All England Lawn Tennis Club at London’s SW19 will host the most popular Grand Slam in tennis: Wimbledon. 128 male players will compete in the third Grand Slam of the calendar year. It must read like 2006 and 2007 all over again, with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal sharing the first two majors of the year and heading into Wimbledon as favorites.
ROGER FEDERER (7 titles)
World no. 5 Federer came back from his two-month break to lose his first grass-court match at Stuttgart against Tommy Haas last week. Generally, top players find it exceptionally tough to acclimatize to the new surface after a long European clay season. Top three seeds Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic all bowed out of Queen’s (one of two traditional Wimbledon warmup tournaments) in their first rounds. Dominic Thiem lost in his first round at Halle, too. Suddenly, Federer’s loss at Stuttgart seemed fine. He had a chance to get that out of the way before he started playing at Halle – where he has won eight titles. He is gunning for his ninth this year, and started well, winning his first round. He also won his 1100th ATP singles match of his career. Only Jimmy Connors has more wins. Much will depend on Federer’s performance at Halle this week – where his main competitors will be Kei Nishikori and Alexander Zverev.
RAFAEL NADAL (2 titles)
World no. 2 Nadal will directly play at Wimbledon, without any grass-court matches before that. He opted to rest after a chaotic clay season, winning four titles and heading to the top of the ATP race for the year by a long margin. He has already qualified for the World Tour Finals at O2 in London for November. Before that, he will really hope to improve on his recent performances at Wimbledon; he hasn’t gone past the third round since 2013. Nadal won his 15th Grand Slam at Paris last week, but won’t be entering London as the only contender. He needs the rest even more before facing up against some power hitters at the early rounds. He is most vulnerable on this surface – but 2017 has been magical. We could just be in for a surprise.
ANDY MURRAY (2 titles)
World no. 1 (barely) suffered a shock defeat to a lucky loser in his first grass-court match of the year. He had been unbeaten since 2015 on this surface, winning both Queen’s and Wimbledon last year. Murray has been in awful form this year, but managed to reach the French Open semifinals through pure grit. Grass is his home – he has won two Wimbledon titles – but never has he entered Wimbledon weaker than now. Yet, because of his experience, he remains one of three favorites at this Slam.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC (3 titles)
For the first time in years, the 12-time Grand Slam winner and now World no. 4 is in the “contender” list and doesn’t enter as a favorite. In fact, it’s unclear if he might play Wimbledon at all – given that he isn’t playing any of the warmup tournaments either. He said he needed a break after the heavy loss to young Dominic Thiem in the French Open quarterfinals. He might also need a while to tune in with his new part-time coach, Andre Agassi. Many expect Djokovic to return to full-time tennis in the North American hard-court swing leading up to the US Open. His spiral hasn’t stopped yet, despite reaching the finals at Rome, and showing why he enjoyed one of the most dominating men’s tennis streaks in history till 2016. At this time last year, he was more than double no. 2 Murray’s ranking points – an unprecedented achievement. Now he trails even Wawrinka in the top five.
The big-serving Canadian automatically becomes a threat on the grass courts at the All England Club. His height and power come into play, while his run to the final last year proved that he can string together some victories over two weeks. He had defeated Federer in the semifinals, but comes into the tournament without having recorded any significant top-10 wins since January. From his recent form, it’s apparent that he might become more of a mercurial Jo Wilfred Tsonga kind of player instead of a consistent Tomas Berdych kind of player.
Thiem will now enter most tournaments as one of the contenders after his great clay court season. He was the only player to defeat Nadal on the surface this year (Rome). He couldn’t get the better of him at Paris, but defeated Djokovic on the way to the semifinals again. However, the transition to grass is always a tough prospect, as Thiem learnt when he lost to Robin Haase in his first grass-court match of the year. He will enter Wimbledon without much match practice under his belt.
The young German is the only one not named Federer and Nadal to win a Masters 1000 title this year – at Rome. However, he lost in the first round of the French Open a few days later to Fernando Verdasco, an upset that prompted whispers of his packed schedule and inability to adapt to the best-of-5 circuit. He hasn’t gone past the fourth round of any Grand Slam yet. Depending on his performance at Halle, this Wimbledon could be his Grand Slam breakthrough – after he has been performing well between the Majors. Many tout him and Thiem as future World no. 1s, and 2017 could go a long way in proving if there is any credence to that theory.
The Bulgarian had a great start to the season, reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open and playing the match of his life against Nadal and still losing. Since then, he has been AWOL – his career in a nutshell. He is now looking to enforce his credentials on grass with a strong showing at Queen’s, where he is a former champion. He is one of the more talented players on the circuit, but lacks the mental ability to go the distance.
The one final he reached back in 2011 was when he defeated Federer in the quarterfinals, but lost to Nadal in the title match. That pretty much defines Berdych’s career – always in the picture, but just not great enough to beat the best. He has reached probably more quarterfinals than most others without a Slam, and considers grass to be his favorite surface. He has been in the top 10 for a while without winning any major titles.
It really depends on whether Aussie Kyrgios wants to win anything. He again retired in Queen’s in the middle of his first match, and will want to do more for his legacy than just being known as a worse Marat Safin. He defeated Djokovic twice in two weeks earlier this year. But has done little else of note except challenge an on-song Federer in that phase. The best players get out the best from him, but he rarely reaches that deep into a tournament where he can actually play the best.
The Swiss player is again enjoying a good season, but suffered his first loss in four Grand Slam finals against Nadal in Paris. He is not traditionally good on grass, and has never gone past the quarterfinal. His early exit at Queen’s has only solidified that unfortunate reputation, for it remains the only Major he has never won.