A few weeks back, Rafael Nadal was on the brink of creating history and making his mark in the record books when he approached French Open seeking a staggering 10th title. Move to Sunday, June 2, hours before Wimbledon, it is his long-time rival Roger Federer who stands on the verge of history. Federer has won seven of his 18 Grand Slams at Wimbledon, which is equal to that of Pete Sampras in the Open Era. One more and the Swiss extends not just his total tally but becomes one with most Wimbledon titles. This comes a year on from his five-set defeat to Milos Raonic in the semifinals after beating Marin Cilic in a marathon five-setter.
The loss forced him to rest his ailing knee injury and go under the knife. In the process, he skipped the Rio Olympics and the remainder of the season to extend his “drought” Grand Slam drought to four years.
Many counted him off when he returned this past year at the Hopman Cup – playing in Perth for the first time in 15 years. His excitement inducing return to action drew a crowd of 6,000 in just the first practice. Back on the court, he prove detractors wrong by winning Australian Open against Nadal – coming back from brink of defeat and followed that up with Indian Wells and Miami to complete the “Sunshine Double”.
As hard court season ended, clay began and so did Nadal’s glorious run where he won titles in Barcelona, Madrid and then in Paris. However, it remains to be seen whether Nadal’s knees can endure the strain of the grass. Nadal hasn’t progressed beyond the fourth round since 2011 and skipped the tournament altogether last year. Additionally, With the duo turning back the clock, the usual title suspects in Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have faded with poor form. Where Murray has won just one title this year, Djokovic has two including one this past week in Eastbourne.
With the duo turning back the clock, the usual title suspects in Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have faded with poor form. Where Murray has won just one title this year, Djokovic has two including one this past week in Eastbourne. If the lack of titles and disappointing form wasn’t enough for the local hope Murray, he picked up a sore hip in the past week to skip two exhibition matches but has improved to compete. For Djokovic it would be tricky proposition to play three straight weeks and repeat what Patrick Rafter achieved in 1998 – win a title and Grand Slam in consecutive weeks.
Coming into Wimbledon, Federer won at Halle after a blip in the first round of Stuttgart having skipped the clay season altogether. This would mean Federer comes to All England Club with his legs fresh and relaxed.
However, the Swiss has not ruled out the three from battling for the trophy despite concerns for all three coming into the tournament. “If Andy is anything close to 100% physically, I consider him one of the big favourites to win. It’s that simple. It’s the same for Novak and the same for Rafa,” said Federer who will start his Wimbledon campaign against Alexander Dolgopolov of Ukraine. “I think it’s very even when we put it all out on the line. Everybody has their own little story right now.”
Nadal admits that the lower bounce and subsequent strain on the knee at Wimbledon could hurt his chances of winning a third title at SW19. “If I have pain in the knees, then I know from experience that it’s almost impossible,” said the 31-year-old. He said while speaking of his disappointing defeats to Lukas Rosol (world ranked 100), Steve Darcis (135), Nick Kyrgios (144) and Dustin Brown (102) from 2012 till 2015. He takes on Australia’s John Millman.
For Murray, bigger concerns are physical and less psychological. He opens against lucky loser Alexander Bublik with coach Ivan Lendl insisting the champion will be fit. “Unlike before Paris, he is hitting the ball really well. Practice has gone well,” said Lendl. Later Murray confirmed his participation, “It’s (the hip) felt much better the last few days. If I feel like I do today, I’ll be fine to play the tournament. I’ll be fine to play seven matches. I’ve had hip problems since I was very young. It’s not something new to me. It’s just been very sore the last few weeks,” said Murray who will also be fighting for his World No 1 ranking.
“It was giving me quite a lot of trouble moving to certain shots and getting into certain positions. This is an extremely important tournament, so you worry a little bit. It’s a little bit stressful if you can’t practise for a few days. You really want to be preparing, training as much as you can to get ready and make you feel better, especially when you hadn’t had any matches,” he added.
Last year’s finalist Raonic has had a fairly poor season despite the promise and rise of last year but on his day he can cause plenty of damage – something everyone found out last year at Queen’s and then at Wimbledon. In the same vein of outside hopefuls are Cilic, Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios. Cilic reached the final of Queen’s where he lost to Feliciano Lopez. He starts out by facing Philipp Kohlschreiber.