From Paris to London, transiting from clay to grass. The tennis world readies itself for the third Grand Slam of the year, “the jewel in the crown” and undoubtedly the biggest of them all. We’re days away from start of the 131st Championships at Wimbledon.
Champions will once again be made at the epicenter of tennis. The year 2017 has so far served an interesting scenario with the rebirth of two of the sport’s greats. Many thought the best years of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were behind them but interestingly, they have been the ones dominating the big stage.
Both men endured a difficult 2016 with lengthy injury layoffs but have been invigorated this term and are re-living their best moments of yesteryear. The Swiss topped the hard courts in Australia and United States while the Spaniard came to his stride on clay, capturing three “La Decimas” which was capped off with the French Open triumph. The two have shared the first two major titles, the four Masters 1000 titles so far and have one ATP 500 titles apiece.
Federer is back on his favourite grass which he is regarded as the king. Last week’s win at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle puts him in pole position for record 8th crown at SW19. Skipping the clay court season and more importantly Roland Garros seem to have done his body a lot of good. Are we going to see Grand Slam number 19 for the Swiss Maestro?
What comes to mind when you hear Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, Nick Kyrgios and Dustin Brown? These players have been Rafa Nadal’s conquerors in his last four appearances at the Championships. The two-time winner’s best run in recent past at SW19 was reaching the fourth round in 2014 where he lost to Kyrgios. Despite enjoying a good season, the Spaniard knows he has scores to settle on the hallowed turf. His tenth crown in Paris has shot him up to second in the men’s rankings. Depending on how farther he goes in London albeit the final stages and if other results go in his favour, he could return to the summit of men’s tennis.
Among all the favourites coming to Wimbledon, the one with most weight on his shoulder is defending champion Andy Murray. The Scot had his preparation cut short at Queens Club after a first round loss to Australian Jordan Thompson. British fans who are expecting so much from him would be hoping the defeat at Queens was just a blip. His number one ranking is also on the line and as stated earlier, Nadal could snatch it if the Briton suffer an early exit.
Last year’s championships was the beginning of Novak Djokovic’s stuttering form. The third round loss to Sam Querrey was a seismic shock at SW19 considering the Serb’s form then and seen to be unmatched on all fronts. This has continued through to this term, he’s dropped to fourth in the ranking, parted ways with his successful coaching team and picked Andre Agassi to help him.
A year on and it’s still difficult to pinpoint what the problem is with the Serb. What is apparent though is that he’s switched off mentally. Agassi has got work to do in getting the 12-time major winner’s focus back if he hopes to even make the second week.
Stan Wawrinka is the player we hardly talk about as favourite but always pulls his head unexpectedly. That hasn’t quite happened for the Swiss number one at Wimbledon, the only major left him to complete a Career Grand Slam.
Wawrinka last year had 1996 men’s champion Richard Krajicek in his box to assist him at Wimbledon but had to suffer a second round defeat to Juan Martin del Potro. Renowned coach Paul Annacone, who has been with former champions Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, is in his box this year specifically to try and achieve the elusive success on grass. For Stan if he switches on mentally, only a few players can stand in his way.
Aside these five mentioned, Croatia’s Marin Cilic could be one to keep an eye on. The 2014 US Open winner has had a strong preparation with a runner-up finish at Queens. Lest we forget last year’s classic quarterfinal match against Roger Federer, leading by two sets before the Swiss pulled off an incredible comeback.
Again, can any of the NextGen guys show up on the biggest stage? Will it be Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev or Lucas Pouille going against all odds to win.