We’re now into the swing of summer and that means it’s time for tennis’ most prestigious slam tournament: Wimbledon. Roger Federer is ready to defend his crown as the men’s champion and win a record 9th Wimbledon, while Rafael Nadal poses the biggest threat. There is plenty of intrigue all across the draw, so let’s dive right in:
Let’s first do a quick recap of the tennis season to date. Roger Federer won the Australian Open, as I predicted back in January. He then won the Rotterdam Open in February to become the oldest man to retake the ATP #1 ranking. Everything was cruising at that point until Indian Wells, when Federer lost to Juan Martin Del Potro in a tough third set tiebreak and then was stunningly upset in the first round of the Miami Open by a qualifier. As he did last year, Federer then took clay court season off, with Nadal steamrolling the competition, winning 2 of the 3 tourneys leading up to the French and then cakewalking to another win at Roland Garros. Nadal hasn’t played since, resting up for Wimbledon, while Federer returned to win the Stuttgart Open to retake the #1 ranking, before promptly dropping it in the Halle Open final to Borna Coric two weeks ago.
So here’s a link to the full men’s draw so you can follow along as I break it down. While Nadal is back at #1, Federer is the top seed in the draw and he really got a benefit of the draw, since Nadal’s half is much tougher. Starting with RF’s quarter, he should be able to make the semifinals pretty easily. Ken Anderson is the highest ranked player in his quarter and Federer is 4-0 against him all time, a rather small amount of H2H matchups for a pair of players in their 30s. He could have to play Coric in a rematch in the 4th round and there are some tricky retreads like Ivo Karlovic, Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Mikhail Youzhny, but there shouldn’t be too much trouble overall.
The other part of that half is anchored by #3 seed Marin Cilic, who Federer defeated for the title here last year. Grigor Dimitrov is the #6 seed in this quarter, joined by John Isner, Stan Wawrinka, and Milos Raonic, so expect to see a lot of tiebreaks and big serves. Outside of those big five though, there aren’t a whole lot of players to watch out for, so I’d expect it to be one of those 5 reaching the semis.
Now we jump down to Nadal’s half, starting with his quarter and it’s no easy one. The other big seed is #5 Juan Martin Del Potro, who has the ability to trap you in an endless big serve/tiebreak-athon. DelPo is 5-10 against Nadal in his career, which isn’t bad when you’re talking about the second best player of all time and 4 of those matches came on a surface that Nadal is unbeatable on (clay). I would still expect Nadal to win a matchup between the two but it probably wouldn’t be a pushover. Also in this quarter is Canadian young gun Denis Shapovalov, who beat Nadal at the Canadian Open last year. They’ve only played twice (1-1 record), but he’s an intriguing young player, just 19 years old. Diego Schwartzman is another tricky spot in this quarter. While the #14 seeded Argentinian has never beaten Nadal in a match, he was the only player to take a set from the King of Clay at the French Open, and also took a set from him Down Under in January. Andy Murray was also supposed to be in this quarter but he was forced to withdraw from injury.
Finally we have the other remaining quarter, with #4 seed Alexander “Sascha” Zverev as the top seeded player. Zverev, an incredibly talented 21 year old German, has long struggled in Grand Slams, only finally making a quarterfinal back in May at the French, losing promptly to Dominic Thiem. Thiem is the #7 seed in the tourney and he’s also in this quarter, though he struggles on any surface that isn’t clay, going 26-5 this year on it, and 10-5 off of it, frequently bowing out before his seed would suggest when on hard or grass courts. Most intriguing, Novak Djokovic is in this quarter, still trying to recover from nagging injuries. While the Nole will probably never regain his 2015 form, he’s still a fine tennis player and has started to get more consistency. He’s 12-3 in his last 15 matches after starting the year 6-6. I don’t think he’ll make a deep run, but it would be nice if he did and perhaps he’s got a few tricks left up his sleeve.
So, what does this all point to? I’m not really sure. Rafael Nadal has been the best player as of late, but we also just got done with clay season, so it’s sorta hard to say. Grass is certainly not Nadal’s best surface, with a 77.2% winning percentage on it compared to the ungodly 92.0% on clay. He’s won Wimbledon twice, but amazingly hasn’t even made the quarters of the tournament since 2011(!). He’s been prone to early upsets at the All England Club and with a tough quarter, I don’t want to say definitively he’s a lock to make the finals, even if he’s been playing well recently. His success on clay last year didn’t translate to success on grass, and we shouldn't be sure it will.
As for Federer, it’s hard to bet against someone who wins at an 87.3% clip on grass and who has won the tournament 8 times. He’s made the finals in 11 of the last 15 tournaments, including three of the last four. Even when he was ailing and not at his best in 2016, he still made the semis, and he took Prime Novak Djokovic to 5 thrilling sets in 2014. My point is: even if Federer has been inconsistent as of late, he’s still a pretty good bet to make at least the semis. If I had to bet, I’d probably take him for the obvious reasons, but this year’s tourney feels pretty wide open. Is this when a young player finally breaks through? I don’t know, but it’s worth watching.