For the first time in a year, all members of the ‘big four’ are back in the main draw of a tournament. Defending champion Roger Federer will find familiar names in Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in the main draw of the Wimbledon that gets underway on Monday. Such has been the level of injuries on the ATP Tour that the dominance has been shared between Federer and Nadal who have won each grand slam between them since Stan Wawrinka won the 2016 US Open. At Wimbledon, Wawrinka and Juan Martin Del Potro will be back as well to fight for the title. But, realistically expecting all of them to go deep in the draw would be too far fetched an ambition.
The difference a year makes can be felt by the fact that likes of Djokovic and Murray were unseeded during an ATP 250 tune-up event to the Wimbledon. The quadropoly between them at Wimbledon may be strong but now more than ever, they look vulnerable to an early exit. A young gun always lurks – waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios are all pushing with each passing tournament. And then there are the likes of Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic who are strong on the surface owing to their massive serve and one-two point finishing approach.
Worth noting at this stage, however, is that in the last 15 years, Wimbledon has been shared between only four men – Federer (2003-07, 2009, 2012, 2017), Nadal (2008, 2010), Djokovic (2011, 2014, 2015) and Murray (2013, 2016). The closest someone has realistically come to breaking this streak was a now-retired Andy Roddick in 2009.
Like Nadal at French Open, Federer is the man to beat on grass and at Wimbledon. He played two warm-up events at Stuttgart and Halle, reaching the final in both, and winning one. Despite the defeat to Borna Coric in Halle, which ended Federer’s 20-match winning streak on the surface, the Swiss remains well on course to win his ninth title at SW19.
Looking at his challengers, Nadal hasn’t done better than a fourth round appearance since reaching the final in 2011. Last year, he was outdone by a big serving Gilles Muller which went 15-13 in the fifth set. Injury stopped Djokovic in his tracks against Tomas Berdych in the quarters while Murray surrendered to Sam Querrey at the same stage.
One could look at Federer’s recent form to ascertain the chances of him winning a 21st grand slam before the 37th birthday rolls around which would suggest things aren’t as plain and smooth. Defeat to Croatian Coric but before that saving a match point against Benoit Paire would have the Federer fans thinking that it won’t be a sail through to the title. But then again, last year, Federer only lost to Tommy Haas and yet won Wimbledon without dropping a set.