The 2014 edition of the ATP World Tour has flown by thus far, as it seems to do every year. We’ve already finished two Grand Slams, five Masters 1000 events, and numerous other 500 and 250 events. 2014 has proven to be quite interesting year in the realm of men’s professional tennis thus far. Today we stand at the cusp of what is expected to be an incredibly fun and exciting fortnight at tennis’ most prestigious arena: Wimbledon. I thought it would be fun to do a quick rundown of what to expect from some of the top male players ahead of the draw just to keep it a bit more generic. Without further ado, allez! Novak Djokovic:
Much to his surprise and to the surprise of anyone who was not applying Wimbledon’s unique seeding system to the male players, the World No. 2 was awarded the top seed at this year’s Wimbledon ahead of World No. 1 Rafael Nadal. The 2011 champion enters Wimbledon not having played a single warm-up event on grass and a disappointing defeat in the French Open final. Djokovic, this year, also failed to defend his title at the Australian Open, however, he has performed well at the Masters 1000 events in 2014, winning three of the five contested so far. Grass is not Djokovic’s best surface by any means, however, I believe him to be less prone to the upsets normally seen during the first week of The Championships than the other top players. I expect him to perform well during this fortnight and, if he survives the first week, the odds of him winning the title over any possible other finalist become very good. The key for him will be both his health (as he’s been struggling with a slight wrist injury since Monte-Carlo) and pushing the disappointment of yet another Paris defeat out of his mind.
Nadal comes to London following a ninth Roland Garros victory. Triumph in Paris has not always led to success in London for Nadal, however. His last two attempts at a Wimbledon trophy have been met with disaster. The 2008 and 2010 champion was bounced in the 2nd Round in 2012 by Czech Lukas Rosol. 2013 also saw Nadal handed defeat at the hands of Steve Darcis on Day 1 of The Championships. Nadal has played one match on grass in 2014 and suffered defeat to German Dustin Brown in Halle. All three players took advantage of the slippery conditions of the grass, a condition that does not play well into Nadal’s hands. For Nadal, the draw is crucial. If he can survive to the second week when the grass is much more worn along and behind the baseline, he has a very good chance of ending the tournament with a third London victory. However, surviving the first week has proven to be difficult for him. The talk of an “aura” around the top players is true and the last two years have certainly damaged Nadal’s aura at Wimbledon. Big servers who look to end the point within the first 3-5 shots will be Rafa’s biggest obstacle during the first week. If he can make it past them, there’s really only Djokovic and Murray to worry about for him.
The British No. 1 is entering Wimbledon for the first time as defending champion. The Scot’s year has improved steadily and comes into SW19 following an early loss at Queen’s to Radek Stepanek. Despite this loss, his recent performances on clay are good indicators that he’s ready to defend his Wimbledon title. Like Djokovic, I think Andy is less prone to the early round shock losses some of his peers may face. He is one of the best fast-court players in the sport today and can play aggressive, attacking tennis when necessary. His defensive skills will allow him to come face big hitters more easily and he should survive to the second week. Having defeated Djokovic in the 2013 final and Federer in the 2012 Olympic final should provide him with ample confidence that he can repeat his 2013 win with one in 2014.
The 7-time Wimbledon champion enters SW19 coming off of a 7th title in Halle. Despite a 4th Round loss in Paris to newly-minted World No. 10 Ernests Gulbis, Federer will be quick to take as little from that defeat as possible and welcomes the change from clay to grass. 2014 has seen a Federer more willing to attack the net and his choice of coach in Stefan Edberg reflects this slight change in style. The Swiss No. 2 will take even more confidence from his semifinal and final wins in Halle over Kei Nishikori and Alejandro Falla, two players he’s struggled with in the past. His attempt to defend his 2012 title in 2013 was met with a shock defeat to Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky in the 2nd Round, the earliest defeat for Federer in a Grand Slam tournament since 2003. His 2012 run was nearly put to rest in a similar manner by Frenchman Julien Benneteau. Both players served big and targeted the Swiss’ backhand and sought a short return of serve on which they could pounce. Federer’s 2014 is also remarkable due to a change in equipment. The change from a 90-sq-in. racquet to a 97-sq-in. frame will give the Swiss just a little more power in his shots as well as protect him from mistimed, framed shots. Of the top four seeds, Federer’s run will be the most dependent upon the draw. Federer’s seeding of four protects him from Murray, Djokovic, and Nadal until at least the semifinals, but if he survives the first week, the second week will be filled with big hitters like Tomas Berdych, Ernests Gulbis, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Stanislas Wawrinka, amongst others. Federer can solidify his place as the greatest player at Wimbledon and lift the trophy for an eighth time on the final Sunday, but it will take a momentous effort and a little luck to pull it off.
The Rest… Stanislas Wawrinka – the Swiss No. 1 and Australian Open champion has never really quite figured out the grass, however, confidence can go a long way and if there’s anyone in 2014 brimming with confidence, it’s this man
Tomas Berdych – the big-hitting Czech is no stranger to the second week at Wimbledon, having lost the 2010 final to Rafael Nadal while defeating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic on his way there. Because of his style of play, he’s a threat anywhere, but especially on grass.
Ernests Gulbis – Gulbis is entering Wimbledon on a high after a fantastic run in Paris which saw him defeat Roger Federer in five-sets, Tomas Berdych in straights, and even took a set from eventual runner-up Novak Djokovic. The talented Latvian is looking to make his mark and is nearly fearless regardless of his opponent. He is someone none of the top players would want to play against on grass.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – the exciting Frenchman has made it to the Wimbledon semifinal in 2011 following a win over Roger Federer, match he won after losing the first two sets. 2014 has not been as kind to Tsonga as previous years have, but if he gets it together, there’s no reason he can’t make a deep run.
Milos Raonic – the Canadian No. 1 is enjoying a stand-out 2014 and the grass surface plays well to his big serve and big forehand. Despite an early exit at Halle, I doubt he’ll allow it to bother him, especially considering his good run in Paris.
Grigor Dimitrov– the young Bulgarian is eager to make his mark on the world and will be confident entering SW19 following a win at Queen’s. He has a game well-suited to the fast grass surface and is will be a dangerous opponent to anyone across the net.
Wimbledon has proven to be the most unpredictable of the four Grand Slams. The slippery grass during the first week of the tournament allows lower-ranked, fast-court specialists to thrive in what is considered a nearly-extinct condition on the World Tour. Despite this, the Wimbledon trophy has only been shared by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray in the past ten years. Regardless of what occurs over the next fortnight, it’s sure to be an incredibly memorable tournament!