World number 1 and top seed Andy Murray will begin the defence of his 2016 Wimbledon Trophy against ‘lucky loser’ Alexander Bublik from Kazakhstan on Monday, as the draws were announced for both the men’s and women’s competitions at the All England Club today.
Novak Djokovic, who as second seed was drawn at the opposing end of the draw, will face Martin Kližan in his opening match, whilst fourth seed and world number two Rafael Nadal who could face Murray at the semi-final stage will take on Australian, John Millman.
Current bookies favourite Roger Federer will play Alexandr Dolgopolov, whilst compatriot and current world number three Stan Warwinka will play 21-year-old Wimbledon debutante Daniil Medvedev.
The big 4
A seven-time former Champion starting the competition as favourite shouldn’t represent a minor shock, but the fact that Roger Federer holds this position in the bookies estimations marks a remarkable turn around for the 35-year-old.
Federer, who before this season had not won a major title since the Wimbledon title he secured in 2012, began the year by taking the Australian Open, the 18th grand slam of his career; and comes into this years Wimbledon off the back of an impressive win at the Halle Open; securing this title for the 9th time without dropping a set, suggesting his decision to forgo the clay court season including the French Open was a wise one.
The decision to skip the French Open may have been prompted from the notion that his defeated opponent in that epic Australian Open Final, Rafael “The King of Clay” Nadal was also a rejuvenated force once more following several years struggling with injuries and form, and that returned to his favourite surface he would be unbeatable.
If that was a calculation, it was spot on as Nadal duly won the French Open for a remarkable 10th time in his career, dropping only 35 games in his 7 matches on route to victory.
However, before we begin to drool nostalgically at the prospect of another Nadal vs Federer Wimbledon final, we must consider that the fast green grass of London represents a very different proposition for Nadal than the soft red clay of Paris.
Not only is this highlighted in Nadal’s record at Wimbledon, where his last final appearance was in 2011, with the second of his two victories in the tournament coming a year earlier, it was evident in his own comments ahead of this years tournament;
“There has been a while since I don’t play very good Wimbledon.”
“It’s true that after 2012 what happened with my knees, been tougher and tougher to compete on grass for me. But if I have pain on the knees, then I know from experience that it’s almost impossible.
Because I need to feel strong, low, and powerful legs to play well in Wimbledon. If I don’t feel that, then probably my chances are not there, no?
Rafa Nadal commenting on his chances at Wimbledon this year
So if not Nadal, what about the home challenge from Andy Murray?
It would be foolish to dismiss the chances of the current World Number 1 and last years Champion before a ball has been struck in anger, yet question marks over his form in 2017 so far and a hampered preparation for this years tournament temper enthusiasm.
Citing form issues could be perceived as unfair given his imperious form through a gruelling schedule in 2016; where he won a career best for a season 9-tour titles, including a second Wimbledon title, Gold at the Rio Olympics and the end of season ATP Tour Final’s, rising to the rank of World Number 1; a first not only for Murray, but for any British male since rankings were introduced.
Maintaining that level of performance for an even further sustained period, within the context of arguably the most competitive era of mens’ tennis ever known, would have required a superhuman effort even beyond that of the Scots insatiable tenacity.
Yet with only one tour tile to speak of so far in 2017 and some disappointing results, the latest being Murray’s first round defeat to Jordon Thomson at the Queen’s Club Championships its hard not to have suspicions that the exertions of the previous 12-months have left their mark.
This worry will be further heightened by news that Murray has been suffering from a sore hip, an injury that appeared to be causing him some discomfort during a public practice session today.
The response from his camp was “Practice has gone well” with Murray further adding he was feeling “good” and it would be a surprise if the injury prevented him from playing his first round match on Monday, but its clearly a worry Murray would prefer to be without.
Another thing Murray might prefer to be without is the presence of long time friend, but devastating nemesis Novak Djokovic, even if Murray’s only chance of meeting him is if they were both to reach the final.
Djokovic himself appears to have suffered from a relative form crisis himself, with results towards the end of 2016 seeing him lose what had been his World Number 1 ranking for 122 consecutive weeks to Murray.
Perhaps aware he hadn’t been hitting the levels of performance we had come become so used to, Djokovic chose to end his association with former Wimbledon Champion and icon Boris Becker in December 2016, only to replace him with another, Andre Agassi just before this years tournament.
Whether this provides Agassi enough time to make a positive impact on Djokovic’s game remain to be seen, but the early signs from Djokovic’s preparation in the Aegon International Eastbourne tournament, for which he plays in the final tomorrow appear ominous for his competitors.
Indeed, given upon departing Becker himself suggested a “loss of focus” was a defining factor in Djokovic’s recent decline, it makes the fact that this represents the first time Djokovic has played in a grass court warm up event before Wimbledon for seven years even more interesting.
Speaking after defeating Vasek Pospisil in the second round, Djokovic was keen to play down his chances of adding to his 3 Wimbledon titles over the coming weeks, but this will no doubt sound like a warning sign to his rivals that Djokovic’s mind is back on the game.
“It is good not to be one of the favourites for Wimbledon,”“I find it very liberating, and even as number two seed I don’t see myself as a potential champion.”Novak Djokovic on his chances, as he enters this years tournament as the second seed
Outside the big 4?
Given the domination the big 4 have enjoyed in this tournament for over a decade; you have to go back as far as Leyton Hewitt’s win in 2002 to find a winner other the contenders mentioned above, it would be some achievement for anyone outside of this group to be having their named etched into the history books come July the 16th.
However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of contenders without hope.
Stan Wawrinka would be the choice of many a shrewd judge as the man most likely to break the top 4’s dominance and indeed you could argue his performances mean we should now be calling it a top 5.
Winner of an Australia (2014), French (20150 and US Open (2016) to date, triumph in this years Wimbledon would complete a uniformly satisfying set of the the Grand Slam’s for Wawrinka, but to do so he would need to go well beyond his best performance at the All England Club to date of a pair Quarter-Final appearances.
And like Murray, Wawrinka will have been disappointed to exit the Queens Club warm up event early, as would fellow contender and last years finalist Miles Ranoic, who’s powerful game on a fast grass surface should prove a challenge for any opponent.
Another to fancy there chances on this surface must surely be the big serving Sam Querrey, who recorded his best performance in a major at Wimbledon last year by reaching the Quarter-Finals, whilst Marin Čilić may consider his position in the draw provides him with a great chance to go deep into the tournament.
29th seed Juan Martín del Potro might have proved an attractive outside bet at long odds for many had he faced the prospect of meeting Djokovic as early as the third round, so perhaps this leaves the 20th seed Nick Kyrgios as the liveliest outsider for the title.
The enigmatic Australian certainly has the talent to be a future Wimbledon winner, there is no questioning that, but what is called to question too many times is his temperament. Scheduled to meet Murray in the fourth road, if Kyrgios can keep it together he would represent a tough match for the Scot, the problem is that’s a big ‘if’ to keep for a whole two weeks.
In truth, for any of these outsiders to win, they probably need a favour from their fellow outsiders in the form of knocking out one of more of the big 4 along the way. To beat one of these legends will be tough. To beat two within the space of two weeks, almost impossible.
Perhaps the safest prediction would be to make no predictions at all, but as you’ve made it this far, expect an shock in the early rounds, a surprise package make it to the Quarter-Finals, some fantastic tennis and… Djokovic to win in 4 sets come the final.