The Wimbledon Championships return to the All-England Club for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic. The “Big Four” of tennis–Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray–have dominated the Men’s championships at Wimbledon for the last 17 editions. There hardly have been any major surprises, barring a few Nadal early exits over the last decade. While the Spanish legend chose to sit out this year, the other three stalwarts are eager to put their best foot forward.
Yet it certainly does not seem outlandish to believe this edition might see a new surprise winner. The likes of Matteo Berrettini, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Daniil Medvedev are all in their prime, playing the best tennis of their careers. Several others are strong contenders to reach the second week, with some of them also likely to make further strides, if not all the way to the title. And while none of the top five seeds outside of the “Big Four” have come close to toppling title favorite Novak Djokovic on the turf in recent times, then-eighth seed Kevin Anderson did make the final of the 2018 edition before the former thrashed him to claim the title.
Roger Federer is not quite in contention
Roger Federer has won the title an unprecedented eight times. He is also a three-time finalist in addition to a semifinal loss. Federer also has an unrivaled 103-13 win-loss record at the All-England Club and a 365-59 record at all Slams combined. Notably, though, the eight-time champion has only managed to claim the title twice since 2010, showing some vulnerability.
Like most serve-and-volleyers, the World No.8 relies heavily on his serve. It is, therefore, hard to imagine Federer winning a close contested match when his first serve falls below the bar he has set over the years. To make matters worse, a lot of unforced errors have crept into his game lately. Lastly, lack of competitive practice since the 2020 Australian Open has cast a shadow of uncertainty over his prospects of going deep at what is unquestionably his most successful Slam. Modern tennis has grueling demands. If only Federer can stay consistently on the very top of his game and minimize time spent on the court, he does he stand a genuine chance of going deep.
Andy Murray is undeterred, but perhaps not 100% prepared
Two-time champion Andy Murray has demonstrated willpower beyond the ordinary. Despite being on and off the court following multiple hip surgeries over the last few years, the Scot has been open about his intentions to return to the singles game, and about his unabated love for tennis. Murray was solid in the Queen’s Club opener earlier this month, only to realize in the second round match that he has more work to do. Matteo Berrettini, the World No. 9, with his power-packed serve, exposed the need for Murray to be more aggressive on return. Murray lost the match in straight sets, but remained confident he was in great shape for Wimbledon.
Murray still possesses the game to be a threat to any opponent, but not being 100% fit can hurt his chances.
Novak Djokovic is the favorite, but he has to keep emotions at bay
The five-time champion comes into the fortnight in overwhelming form, following two consecutive Slam titles. The impulsive Serbian, however, runs the risk of being defaulted at every other tournament he enters. He was defaulted at the 2020 US Open, and it is only a matter of time before an unfortunate incident of that sort happens again, unless the World No.1 can contain his instincts.
Baseline play vs serve-and-volley
The early 2000s saw the advent of baseline play with the Argentines and Europeans leading the way. As we embark into the third decade, the baseline game remains the staple, with players like Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray still active in the sport. However, the likes of Matteo Berrettini are silently fueling a resurgence of the serve-and-volley game through their natural playing styles that are a slight departure from the “behind-the-baseline” style.
Who if not the Big Four
Although he commands a pretty uniform win-loss record on all surfaces, Medvedev was falling short of wining tournaments on grass and clay. This changed in the last few weeks. Shortly after making the quarterfinals at the French Open, Medvedev also excelled on grass as he stormed into the semifinals at Mallorca. The Russian has demonstrated nerves of steel. He is a strong contender for the Wimbledon title. A quick mover on the court, the World No.2 has a flair for dictating longer rallies.
Tsistsipas perhaps has the closest shot to the title. His game has evolved in the last three years, and he is only getting better by the day. The World No.5 likes to play from the baseline, but is equally efficient at the net. He has great balance when he is delivering shots on the move. Most recently, The Greek came in dangerous proximity to the French Open title as he took the first two sets off Djokovic in the final. If Tsitsipas can play through the fortnight at the same intensity, he might find himself in a career-first Wimbledon final.
Berrettini has a devious serve and a devastating forehand. The Italian is a natural at the serve-and-volley playing style. If he can add more variety to his shot-making, especially mixing them with slices and drop shots, he can give anyone a run for their money. The 25-year-old has a genuine chance of booking a place in the last four, if he is not drawn in the same quarter as Novak Djokovic.
Only a few weeks ago, this would have sounded too good to be true. But the Frenchman is a man on a mission. He seems to have all the goods to upset many of the top players. He is young and very quick on his feet. The Halle champion has also shown that he is surface-immune. If he carries his form into London, he should be hard to stop.
Not really a title contender, but certainly a man to watch at the Wimbledon. Musetti has a lot of work to do. His serve is not good enough to cause trouble yet. If he can raise his level, he might book a ticket to the second week, if not beyond.
The next generation holds a lot of promise, but it would take a herculean effort to cause an upset. The prospect of a new champion seems exciting, and it is also perhaps something that can turn the course of the sport and change the face of men’s tennis. Most likely, though, we won’t see it this year.
Main Photo from Getty.