“Considering the results of the best players in the world, it is true that it is probably the most open Wimbledon in the last 10 years, I will say,” is how Feliciano Lopez summed up the mood prior to the third Grand Slam of the year which begins on July 3. In its latest start in over a century, the prestigious tournament played at the All England Club, looks like it could have more than one winner and the usual suspects in Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have looked pale this entire season. In fact, for Djokovic, it has been a year of poor results – a run that began last year at SW19 when he lost to Sam Querrey. To make matters trickier, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are back from injuries that hurt their 2016 and have won the two Grand Slams so far this year. In the ATP Masters Series 1000 events, Federer has won Indian Wells and Miami while Nadal bagged Monte Carlo and Madrid titles to keep things going in their favour. Let’s look at the possible suspects and their preparations for Wimbledon:
Federer opted to skip the clay court season completely and the French Open for a second straight year to give himself time to rest and ready himself for the gruelling season up ahead on grass and hard courts. He returned to play at Stuttgart but lost in the first round to Tommy Haas. Against a fellow veteran, Federer started brightly to win the first set and looked good in the second set before the German, who retires at the end of the year, upped his game to win the second and an early break in the third gave him control of the match.
If the start was poor for seven-time Wimbledon champion Federer, he turned the tables at Halle for his ninth trophy in central-eastern Germany. In the tournament he got the better of Mischa and Alexander Zverev (in the final), defending champion Florian Mayer to go without dropping a set. He will not be playing again before Wimbledon and the title in Halle means he will be the third seed thus avoiding a potential Nadal final and Murray/Djokovic until the semi-finals.
Two days after lifting his record tenth French Open, Nadal announced he was going to skip Aegon Championship at Queen’s in order to be physically fit for Wimbledon. “I am very sorry to say that I am not going to be able play Queen’s next week. I was hoping to take some days off and then be ready. But, at 31, and after a long clay-court season with all of the emotions of Roland Garros, and after speaking to my team and doctor, I have decided my body needs to rest if I am going to be ready to play Wimbledon,” he said in a statement.
“I am sad to make this decision because I love Queen’s. I won the tournament in 2008 and every time I reached the Wimbledon final it was after playing Queen’s,” he added.
Nadal has trained in Mallorca, on the sidelines of the WTA event there, in the process. He will get some proper match practice on grass at the Aspall Tennis Classic exhibition event at the Hurlingham Club prior to Wimbledon. The event gets going on June 27 and runs till June 30.
Nadal hasn’t played on grass since 2015 and understood it was going to be tricky to acclimatise with the surface. “That is a handicap against players who have been (playing on grass),” he said. “The first few matches will be very important.”
Murray entered the Queen’s event looking to win his sixth title and it did look like he would have little trouble on a surface he has gotten better at over the years. Further, he has improved at handling the pressure of home crowd as his Wimbledon titles in 2013 and 2016 would suggest. But things have changed dramatically since the latter half of last year and now. Murray has just one title this year – back in February in Dubai. He did reach the semi-finals of French Open but was beaten by Stan Wawrinka.
Move to Queen’s and the Briton was up against lucky loser Jordan Thompson and he came up short to lose 6-7, 2-6. In a listless and error-prone performance, Murray could have no excuses to make even as Ivan Lendl looked on from the stands. The showing was so desperately poor that Murray was unable to break the 23-year-old Australian’s serve even once. Not since Cincinnati in 2015, against Federer, had Murray failed to break serve at least once and 136 matches later, that sequence was broken in a tame show.
To get more playing time under his belt, he will take court alongside Nadal at the Aspall Tennis Classic exhibition event. Maybe it is too early to panic given Murray lost in the opening round of Queen’s in 2012 but went on to win Wimbledon and the Olympic gold.
Like Murray, Djokovic has been under a spell of terrible results. A poor stretch that began last year after winning in Paris, the Serbian has seen that dismal run going this year too. He has not won a title since Doha at the beginning of the year and with results not going his way, drastic steps have been taken. He parted company with longtime coach staff in an emotional statement and brought on Andre Agassi at the French Open. The American remained in Paris for the first week but not the second and it remains unclear whether the former World No 1 would be present in London where he’s won one title.
For just the third time in his career, Djokovic is playing a tournament a week before a Grand Slam as he took a wild card for Eastbourne that gets underway on Monday. He has a first-round bye and could face the likes of Gael Monfils, John Isner, Steve Johnson and Querrey in the tournament.
… and the rest
Other winners in the tune-up events are Lucas Pouille (Stuttgart), Gilles Muller (‘s-Hertogenbosch) and Feliciano Lopez (Queen’s). Lopez has finished runner-up at Stuttgart and Marin Cilic in Queen’s. French Open runner-up Stan Wawrinka has played just one match since the final in Paris and lost to Lopez in Queen’s.
Despite not winning the title, Cilic can be considered a dark horse for the title in three weeks time. He’s not reached the last-four yet – finishing in quarters for the last three years. “It’s interesting that he (Lopez) won a tournament and I’m the favourite,” Cilic said. “I’m playing really well, and especially the last few months. For me, I’m keeping my feet on the ground. Definitely I’m going to get into Wimbledon with good determination, good confidence – hoping that I can go further than the last three years.”
The Croat acknowledged Federer would consider that he’s at home in Wimbledon. “To say that he’s No.1 favorite, you know, it could be true but also could not be,” Cilic said of Federer. “Definitely he’s going to be playing really well, and, you know, he’s feeling at home in Wimbledon.”