If you’ve spent the last 18 months away from the world of tennis, you’d arrive at Wimbledon expecting to see Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray duke it out for the Men’s Singles Championship.
While both players are likely to appear at SW19 this year, they’re not expected to start as favourites and have been eclipsed by the revitalised pair of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Incredibly, these two warriors have shared the last six Grand Slam titles between them and few would bet against this trend continuing in the summer.
Still, it’s worth appraising the credentials of the key contenders at SW19 and asking who is likely to win the ultimate prize?
1. Andy Murray
We should start with Andy Murray, who recently played his first competitive match in almost a year at the iconic Queen’s Club Championships.
While the three-time Grand Slam winner performed well and showcased some impressive stroke play during a tight, three-set defeat to Australian Nick Kyrgios, he approached Wimbledon with virtually no match practice to speak of and growing doubt as to whether he will risk appearing at SW19 at all.
Now ranked 156 in the world, there’s no doubt that Murray faces a long road back to full form and fitness, as he continues to recover gradually from hip surgery. It has recently been suggested that he could skip SW19 altogether this summer, and instead target lower-level tournaments where he can build his match fitness.
If he does compete at Wimbledon, we should not expect Murray to progress too far, with an extended run in the first week likely to represent significant progress.
Once again, much will depend on whether officials decide to seed Murray, but this is said to be unlikely given his lack of activity.
2. Novak Djokovic
While Murray’s fall from grace has been spectacular and entirely out of his control, the 12-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic has endured a slightly different set of circumstances.
He has managed to retain a world ranking of 22, while he has also suffered from an ongoing elbow injury and this has not prevented him from performing in both majors so far this season.
The Serb has also experienced motivational issues, with his hunger and intensity having understandably dipped since he completed a long overdue Career Slam at Roland Garros in 2016.
He has also balked at the idea of being among the favourites at SW19 and this betrays the lack of confidence that has besieged Djokovic in recent times. This also contributed heavily to a fourth-round defeat at Chung Hyeon at the Australian Open and a shocking, four-set loss against unseeded Marco Cecchinato in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.
Still, Djokovic showed glimpses of best form on clay, while he has also performed superbly well in the early stages of the Queens Championship. If he can continue this and remain fit, there’s no reason why he can’t go deep in the tournament and challenge the likes of Federer and Nadal.
3. Roger Federer
Federer’s return from the blink of oblivion has been truly incredible, with his achievements given even more weight by the fact that he is now 36 years old.
After slipping down the rankings and missing the majority of the 2016 season through injury, he has since returned to win three of the four Grand Slams he has competed in (remember, he skipped the clay court season and the French Open both this season and last).
His record-equalling sixth Australian Open win was also his 20th Grand Slam title overall, while he has recently progressed to the semi-finals of the prestigious Halle Open as he pursues an incredible 99th tour title.
The Swiss remains imperious on grass, having won an unprecedented eighth Wimbledon title last summer without dropping a single set. The creeping wrath of age has certainly had no impact on Federer’s incredible ball striking ability and metronomic service, while the sheer economy of his game helps him to conserve energy and negate any competitive advantage that younger athletes may have on him.
He’ll rightfully start at SW19 as the 13/8 favourite, and at present it’s hard to see anyone stopping the Swiss from winning a 21st Grand Slam and potentially 100th career title.
5. Rafael Nadal
Let’s start with an obvious assertion; Rafael Nadal’s 11th French Open triumph confirms his status as the undisputed king of clay (in this or any era, we hasten to add).
Still, it would be wrong to ignore Nadal’s ability of grass and hard courts, with the powerful Spaniard having won three U.S. Open titles, two Wimbledon crowns and an Australian Open back in 2009.
Few players have worked as tirelessly to diversify their game as Nadal, who has become one of the greatest players of all-time through sheer force of will. He has also mirrored Federer’s renaissance at the top table, after a series of knee and wrist injuries threatened to curtail his career in 2016.
Nadal won two slams and reached another final last year, however, while he also continued his incredible record at Roland Garros in May. He also won an eighth Rome Masters title (and 32nd overall) in the spring, with even his quarter-final exit to Marin Čilić at the Australian Open only came about due to an unfortunate hip injury.
Rafael undoubtedly brings form and pedigree to SW19, but his Wimbledon record has been relatively poor since his last triumph in 2010. The biggest concern is his ability to make the physical transition between clay and grass, this is why the Spaniard remains a narrow outsider at odds of around 7/1.
6. Juan Marin Del Potro
We were tempted to feature last seasons’ beaten, SW19 finalist Cilic in fifth on our list, but there is a growing sense that the powerful but injury-prone Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro may have a big say in this years’ Wimbledon.
He is certainly having one of his best seasons since his historic U.S Open win back in 2009, while also remaining fit and healthy (which has remained one of the Argentine’s biggest challenges during his career). Despite a third-round defeat at the Australian Open, Del Potro has earned prestigious titles in Acapulco and Indian Wells this spring, with the latter tournament seeing him overcome Federer in a thrilling, three set final.
Del Potro also reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros, and while he lost to the imperious Nadal he managed to equal his career high ranking of fourth.
Not only are form and fitness finally on Del Petro’s side, but his game is also tailor-made for grass, with a monstrous serve, huge forehand and slice backhand capable of dominating any player on tour.
Make no mistake, this could finally be his year at SW19, and he certainly represents great value at odds of around 20/1.