The most regal of all slams, Wimbledon is around the corner and the excitement is palpable, more so after the announcement of the tournament draw. For most tennis aficionados looking at the men’s singles draw, the second week of the slam at SW19 throws up some mouth-watering clashes. The battle-hardened veterans – read Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – also the top seeds in the tournament - are pitted against those whose star is on the rise, their youthfulness endearing them to the media which is quick to label them as the ‘Next Gen’ of tennis.
There are those who are plotting a comeback: who’ve seen good days on tour and are wanting to make up for the lost yards during injury lay-offs.
And finally, there are the wonder-boys. Players who are early into their life at Wimbledon. Their only claim to fame is their names being listed amongst those 128 Gentlemen in the draw. Few expect them to alter the course of the tournament, but as history has evidenced, they have little to lose, all to gain and they’re most likely to cause an upset or two in the initial days of the tournament.
Dustin Brown comes to mind. His was a career languishing in obscurity. That was until Wimbledon 2015 when everyone sat up and took notice as the lanky German with his imposing dreadlocks, peppered his infallible serve and volley strategy with lethal drop shots to rush past two-time champion Nadal in an upset for the ages. Brown became a media sensation overnight with experts writing paeans for his journey on the tour, as for his self-assured style of tennis.
There was Sergiy Stakhovsky, a little known player from Ukraine who caused a stir when he beat the then world number three Federer in the second round at Wimbledon 2013, pounding first-serves with an unfailing accuracy before volleying his way to a four-set victory.
Tennis of the majors appeals to the romantics for it routinely affords the underdogs, a chance to battle the best and furnish a reputation for posterity.
In many ways though, the build-up to Wimbledon 2019 doesn’t bode well for those hoping for the top seeds to fall in the early stages, or for those pining for the Next Gen stars to beat the top-three and realise their potential. The reasons are well-documented.
While the hallowed courts at the All England Club have seen many upsets over the years where those seeded have fallen to 'unknowns' on the tour, the fact remains that the different faces which have gone on to win the title since 2003 could be counted on one finger. The Championships have been shared between Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Andy Murray in the last 16 years. The only notable difference this year is Murray’s absence from the men’s singles draw, as he finds his feet on the court post a hip surgery which renders him unfit for the gruelling five-set routine. The other three are ranked one, two and three. Their dominance on the tour over the last couple of years has led many to predict that the tournament will advance along expected lines.
However, a look at their projected route in the tournament gives hope of there being a surprise. The troika is likely to have run-ins with players of proven potential – who’ve fallen by the wayside lately in terms of rankings – as early as the second round.
Nadal’s collision course
Third seed Nadal has been dealt with the toughest draw as he’ll likely face the excitable Nick Kyrgios in the second round. While Kyrgios has had a tough time on tour lately with his outbursts against match officials earning him a slew of penalties and fines, a match-up against the title contenders is known to bring out the best from him. His record against Nadal too (3-3) suggests that there’ll be no easy winner here.
Nadal stays on his collision course thereon as his likely opponents in the further rounds have displayed the propensity of preying on the big guns in the past. For the third round, Nadal will likely face Canadian Denis Shapovalov. They've squared off twice with both enjoying the spoils once each. However, Shapovalov’s form in singles of late doesn’t seek to instill confidence and the advantage rests in Nadal’s court.
The potential fourth round would be a serious cause of concern for Nadal. His likely opponent here could be Marin Cilic. While Nadal enjoys a superior win-loss record, winning six out of the eight times they’ve squared off; yet, their last meeting, an exhibition match at Hurlingham saw Cilic authoritatively trumping Nadal 6-3, 6-3.
Nadal’s route is likely to maintain its tough nature as he’ll possibly face Dominic Thiem, Federer and Djokovic in the final.
Djokovic dealt an easier hand
The world number one, on the other hand, will reap the perks of being the top seed, being placed in the relatively easier side of the draw. The Serb enjoys a superior win-loss record against Philip Kohlschreiber and has potential second and third round opponents in Malek Jaziri and Dusan Lajovic respectively. Against Jaziri and Lajovic, Djokovic is unbeaten. He has the same record against Frenchman Gael Monfils, his predicted fourth-round opponent, whom he has defeated on all 15 occasions they’ve met. Thereafter waits Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals. The Greek will be yearning to live up to his words and puncture the aura of the top three, having called their dominance on tour ‘boring’ recently.
Federer’s comfortable draw
The number two seed Federer too will fancy his chances to advance to the latter stages of the tournament. His is a comfortable draw. The Swiss will be facing first-timer Lloyd Harris in the first round while Jay Clarke, a wild-card entrant at last year’s Wimbledon when he exited in the first round, is expected to advance to the second round where he’ll face Federer. Frenchman Lucas Pouille waits in the ranks for the third round. In their only matchup, Federer came out on top and if the recent form on grass is concerned, Federer’s title win at Halle puts the eight-time Wimbledon champion squarely ahead of the rest. The threat of Matteo Berrettini, replacement of injured Borna Coric, looms on the horizon though. Kei Nishikori, Nadal and Djokovic will be Federer’s likely opponents for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final respectively but our predictions need not venture there for we might be getting too ahead of ourselves then.
Tournament seeding and world rankings might not matter
There are several players who are charting their way back to the top after falling behind owing to a poor season or due to injury lay-offs. Case in point being Grigor Dimitrov who had a horrid 2018 season owing to a shoulder injury. This year, Dimitrov has been plotting his way back, having battled hard to beat Janko Tipsarevic and Marin Cilic, both taxing five-setters, in the first and second round respectively at the French Open. Dimitrov eventually lost to Stan Wawrinka 7-6, 7-6, 7-6, in the third round, giving a fine account of what the 2014 Wimbledon semi-finalist can bring to the table.
The Bulgarian is likely to run into the rising Canadian Felix Auger Aliassime who beat him recently at the Queen’s Club Championships. The winner of that match will, in all likelihood, run into Monfils. The stop-start nature of the eleventh seed Monfils’ form and career suggests that that could be anybody’s match where tournament seeding would have little bearing. This is one of the possible ways through which Dimitrov or 'FAA' could upset Djokovic’s projected route and that holds true for most of the top-10 seeds.
There will be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, on the ascent after a knee surgery and fresh off the grass courts, having stretched Federer to three sets in a match which swayed both ways until the Swiss delivered the finishing touches to cap off a tight 7-6, 4-6, 7-5 win over the Frenchman in the second round at Halle.
Tsonga could face Shapovalov in the second round. The winner of that match would go on to face the winner of the probable second round match between Kyrgios and Nadal. Hence, Nadal’s projected route could well be tweaked as the tournament progresses and those seeded suffer the ignominy of defeat at the hands of unseeded lower-ranked players.
It is such players and their resurgence which will yield some extremely watchable matches, the second round onwards. That will make this year’s Wimbledon an exciting prospect for the ‘Next-Gen’ and those charting their way back to prominence on tour, to puncture the aura of the top three and claim their much-deserved title finish at a grand slam.
Updated Date: Jun 30, 2019 14:41:09 IST