Is there any greater sight in the world of tennis, than the magnificent and expertly manicured grass courts of Wimbledon?
A kind English summer, strawberries, cream and the finest tennis players in the world, dressed immaculately in pearl white. What more could a tennis, or sports fan ask for?
How about a throwback in history, to a time when Roger Federer was regularly the preeminent favourite, with his primary challenger, Rafael Nadal looking to prove his critics wrong on the game’s quickest surface. Sound familiar?
Only the most bold tennis pundits and commentators could have even contemplated a tennis season in the year 2017 dominated almost completely by two men ‘on the wrong side of thirty’.
The shift from clay to grass, much like the shift from hardcourt to clay in April, brings with it a change in style of play, a change of shot pace, as well as changes in bounce, player movement, and rally length. It also brings success and defeat to different players as the different surfaces play to their respective strength or weakness.
The Wimbledon Championships is the marque tournament of the entire tennis calendar, the most sought after crown for any professional tennis player, male or female.
Rather regrettably though, the grass court season is now barely a month long, starting the day after the Roland Garros final, and concluding on the second Sunday at Wimbledon in mid-July.
Because of the tight scheduling, there’re only six warm up tournaments in the lead up to Wimbledon, at the speed of two per week; Stuttgart and s-Hertogenbosch, Halle and Queens Club, Antalya and Eastbourne.
Frenchman Lucas Pouille was victorious in Stuttgart, Gilles Muller took home the bacon in the Netherlands, Roger Federer won a 9th title in Halle, Feliciano Lopez won a thrilling final against Marin Cilic at Queens, Yuichi Sugita won his 1st ATP title in Turkey and late addition, Novak Djokovic warmed up well for Wimbledon with a win in Eastbourne.
Speaking of the Serb, at this stage twelve months Djokovic held all four Grand Slam titles, a super human feat in itself, but he has struggled for form, motivation and titles ever since. The fact that he has brought in numerous new faces (Andre Agassi among them), changed up his schedule at the last minute to squeeze in a warm up tournament in Eastbourne, speaks to his desire to get back to the top of his game. A fairly kind draw (minus a possible del Potro 3rd match up), should get ‘The Joker’ every opportunity to reach the semi finals even if he isn’t playing his best tennis. If his best tennis comes out, look out!
Andy Murray may have risen to world number 1 in the last 12 months, but he hasn’t cracked the Slam stage since this very tournament last year. Furthermore his form since ascending to the top of the rankings has been average and patchy, and an early round loss at Queens to low ranking Australian Jordan Thompson hasn’t helped. Injuries are a concern too, after pulling out of an exhibition/warm-up earlier last week. Grass still remains Murray’s best surface, and his best chance to add to a cabinet with three Grand Slam titles already tucked away.
Stan Wawrinka has the opportunity to achieve a rare career Grand Slam if he is victorious in a fortnight. His particular Grand Slam would be unique as he would’ve won each slam only once, without doubling up. Although there’s still a long way to go before that can even be seriously entertained, Wawrinka has a good a chance as any, with two dominant grass courters, Djokovic and Murray currently down on form and confidence.
Rafa Nadal hasn’t been a serious threat on grass since 2011, hasn’t played a single warm-up tournament since his Roland Garros triumph and has structured his whole season around the clay and the French Open. Nonetheless, Nadal was simply indomitable on the clay. Accumulating 10 French Open titles is one of the finest feats in professional tennis history, but just how that will translate to grass remains to be seen. If he can get through the first week healthy, and in form, he can win it all. Which is a sign of how great his resurrection has been in 2017.
Nadal’s greatest rival is also in the midst of a most remarkable and unexpected season. Roger Federer elected to forego the entire clay court season, after dominating in Australia and on the US hardcourts, and has been focused on Wimbledon since the Miami Open in March.
At the age of 35 (!) he is the bookie and fan favourite to win an 8th Wimbledon title, and 19th Grand Slam championship overall. His play this year has been unmatched in its aggression, precision and execution. Against a likely future Grand Slam winner in Alexander Zverev last week in Halle, he at times toyed with the young German, with gorgeous, jaw dropping drop shots and supreme net play to take the title. Like the Australian Open draw, Federer hasn’t received the easiest of paths, Dimitrov, Zverev/Raonic, and Djokovic all will likely stand between him and the final. But even those men, with their wide variety of strengths, challenges and playing styles won’t stop him, if the early 2017 Roger Federer is front and centre.
2016 finalist, Milos Raonic hasn’t lived up to expectations since last year’s personal best grand slam finish. Grass is easily his best surface, with that serve, and Wimbledon is his best chance for a Grand Slam title.
Marin Cilic’s strongest surface is also grass, but unlike Raonic, Cilic is in form and with a nice section of the draw, progressing beyond the quarters is very doable for the Croat, who has had success before on some of tennis’ biggest stages.
Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios are certainly capable of winning Wimbledon, if not this year then in the future. Both have excellent grass court games, and supreme confidence. Zverev did have a bad loss to Federer in the Halle final, he was comprehensively outplayed and out-thought and will likely face Federer in the quarters, if he makes it that far. Kyrgios’s troubles are well known, but his talent and skill are undeniable. If wielded with a healthy body and healthy mind, he could do real damage.
Dominic Thiem is another of these young chargers looking to take the next step towards Grand Slam glory. But that next step isn’t likely to take place on the English grass, easily his weakest surface, and his current grass court form backs that up.
There’re other challengers who could make a run, including the French trio of, Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille. Queen’s Club winner, Feliciano Lopez is always a joy to watch on grass, whilst big servers, John Isner, Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson always do well on the hallowed Wimbledon turf.
Popular sentiment and social media has been extremely vociferous in their demands for a Federer/Nadal final. The draw and seedings have made this scenario possible, and the last time these two men met at ‘The Championships’ in 2008, it was widely regarded as the greatest tennis match of all time.
They may be the front runners, but the chasing pack should be trending upwards, Murray is back on his home court, where he’s had many great victories. Djokovic, has made many changes and won his warm-up tournament, Stan is always a threat, as is Cilic and Raonic on his day. Regardless of the eventual winner or results on court, Wimbledon never disappoints.