The current poll results might seem somewhat surprising with Rafael Nadal leading by a wide margin for early favorite to win Wimbledon. Despite a dubios loss there last year and limited grass play, right now I’m actually going to agree with those voters. Nadal is my early favorite to win Wimbledon.
1. RAFAEL NADAL
Naysayers will argue that Rafa is a clay courter and there’s no question clay is his dominant surface. But there’s more to Rafa. How else do you explain him reaching the Wimbledon finals five of the last six times he’s played, winning two of them?
Pure luck? Good draws? Slower grass?
Fact it Nadal has three career wins at Wimbledon over Andy Murray. He’s beaten Novak Djokovic there plus Tomas Berdych, Robin Soderling, Mikhail Youzhny and of course the greatest grass court player of our time, Roger Federer, in one of the greatest matches ever played.
That’s a pretty damn strong resume.
Sure, last year he got a shock from Lukas Rosol. But look what he’s done since: reached the finals in all nine events winning seven for a 43-2 record this year and outright lead in the 2013 point standings. And he’s once again back beating up on his brethren. Rafa’s won 21 of his last 22 matches against Top 10 players.
I know there’s a lot of talk about his Wimbledon seeding, I really don’t think it matters much. Rafa’s likely going to have to beat Federer or Djokovic or Murray at some point anyway. It’s inevitable.
As a No. 5 seed, however, it could get treacherous. If he survives early – the best time to get him – his path to a title could end up winding through Djokovic in the quarters, Federer in the semis and then Murray in the final. That’s murderer’s row. But if anyone could navigate such a road it’s Nadal.
2. ANDY MURRAY
My No. 2 pick is Murray. In the last year no one has played better on the surface. Aside from a hiccup (read: roof closure) against Federer in the Wimbledon final last year, he’s been perfect on grass the last 52 weeks winning the Olympic gold and then Sunday at Queen’s where he had notable wins over JW Tsonga and Marin Cilic.
He’s now got his Slam so some pressure has to be off his shoulders. But he’ll still get the benefit of the English scheduling (late in the day, Center Court) and if his back holds up, which I believe it will, I think he’s got the confidence right now to take it all the way.
Last year there was so much build up to that final, his first at Wimbledon, with Federer. This year because he won the gold and the US Open, I don’t think we’ll see that same frenzy. And that will help.
3. NOVAK DJOKOVIC
Novak has a Wimbledon title, but I’ve never sensed this event is a big priority for him. He’s always struck me as someone who’s more focused on the hardcourt majors, and his results have showed that. Djokovic has six Slams, five of those on the hardcourts. And of the three major surfaces, his winning % on grass is the lowest (just by a tick!).
What really troubles me about Novak right now are two things. First, he just hasn’t looked terribly sharp since his Dubai win.
He had very disappointing results at Indian Wells and Miami, two tournaments one would think he would walk away with at least one title. He had the scary ankle turn in Davis Cup but rebounded in the best of fashion with that stunning win over Nadal in Monte Carlo. But he couldn’t sustain it losing to Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid then Berdych in Rome. He played better at the French, his main mark on the calender this year, and played Rafa tough in that epic semifinal loss, but again, it just wasn’t a complete match from Novak. And that’s what I want to see from him. Complete matches against the best.
Recently I feel like he’ll play one good set, then mix in a poor one or two.
And I can extended that to his recent grass court losses. In the semifinals last year at Wimbledon he lost listlessly to Federer. And again at the Olympics two more underwhelming performances against Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro in the bronze match.
Novak also doesn’t have the wins that Nadal and Murray have on grass. He beat Rafa in the 2011 Wimbledon final and he’s got a few over Tsonga, but anyone else?
He’s still a very strong, elite player and he is World No. 1. It’s just that the magic from 2011 has rubbed off.
4. ROGER FEDERER
Federer finally got back in the win column this weekend with his 6th title in Halle. It was also his first win in 10 months and while this might signal to him and his fans that he’s back, I’m not so sure. Roger struggled late in that tournament beating Tommy Haas and then Youzhny in the final, both in three sets. If he’s having troubling putting those 30 something players away, how’s he going to fare against the likes of Nadal, Murray and Novak?
Maybe he can get the roof closed again, that’s how!
Fact is Federer is aging and he’s just not the same player he was when he dominated the event. Last year en route to his 7th Wimbledon he was gifted with the perfect storm: Nadal got upset, Djokovic was flat and Murray was shellshocked playing in his first final there.
Still, he’s Federer, he’s the defending champion and he’ll have another run in him. With still just one Top 10 win on the year, he’ll need a great draw and a lot of fortune (again) to make it back to the finals.
As for the other players to watch, that list starts with Tsonga. He’s showed improvements this year under new coach Roger Rasheed. And with his style of play I think he could get hot enough to beat just about anybody including Nadal – the exception would be Murray who really owns JW. The question is, mentally can he hold it together over 5 sets, in tiebreakers, through rain stoppages to win the darn thing? Probably not.
We can’t ignore former finalist Berdych. He doesn’t run quite as hot as Tsonga (who does?), but if you are having an off day he’s the kind of player who can put you away on any surface. Now at 27, we’ve likely seen the best from him but he’s still ultra dangerous and someone you’d rather not see in your section of the draw.
After that we get into a mish-mash of players who have potential but it often fails to translate. They have Big Games, but they cannot beat the Big Names. Among them I count Milos Raonic, Ernests Gulbis, Richard Gasquet, Sam Querrey, John Isner, Grigor Dimitrov, Kevin Anderson and Tommy Haas.
Raonic is always intriguing. I think Haas has played well enough to maybe reach the quarters. Anderson’s has a great year as has former semifinalist Gasquet.
So to follow up on Rafa, given his results this year and his Wimbledon history (5 finals!), right now it’s hard for me to pick someone like Murray, Novak or Federer to beat Nadal on grass in a single match, winner-take-all situation.
If Rafa played Novak tomorrow, I’d have to pick Rafa. If he played Roger I’d still take Rafa. Murray’s makes me wonder, but look how badly Rafa’s beaten Andy at Wimbledon (9 sets to 1).
We’ll know a lot more once the draw is released on Friday, but until then, vamos!
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