On Monday, the tennis tour will return to its sacred ground: The Championships, Wimbledon. To culminate the month-long grass-court season, tennis greats and unknowns alike will attempt to forever etch their name in tennis history by claiming the sport’s most coveted title.
Wimbledon’s pristine grass lawns have set the tournament apart from other tournaments, even other Majors, for decades now. The low bounces and quick play contrast sharply with the high bounces and long rallies of clay-court tennis played just a month ago. With only three weeks to make the transition, players must rapidly shift their playing styles, making the tournament a fascinating fortnight of tennis.
With the qualifying tournament complete and the first round underway, let’s breakdown the draw for a closer look at the next two weeks.
Gentlemen’s Singles Draw Preview
At the top of the draw sits defending champion, top-seed, and World Number One Andy Murray. Murray has achieved his best results on the grass, winning two titles on his home-turf in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Murray accumulated a streak of success towards the end of last year, winning Wimbledon, Olympic Gold, and the ATP World Tour Finals to finish as year-end Number One. However, Murray hasn’t been able to replicate the same level of success this year, losing in the fourth round of the Australian Open and in the semifinals of the French Open. In his Wimbledon tune-up, Murray, the clear favorite to win the 500-level tournament, fell in his first match to a Lucky Loser. Murray’s quarter of the draw includes some dangerous players. Nick Kyrgios, the big-serving, swaggering 22-year-old who took out Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014, could have met Murray in the third round, but he removed himself from the tournament due to a nagging injury after going down two sets in the first round. Fifth-seeded Stan Wawrinka, who reached the finals of the French Open last month, was eliminated in the first round, clearing a path to the semifinals for Murray. My pick to meet Murray in the quarters is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the big-serving and hard-hitting Frenchman. Despite Murray’s recent struggles, his mastery of the grass makes him the obvious pick to reach the semifinals from his quarter.
The importance of tradition at Wimbledon has set it apart as a unique tournament. Wimbledon differs from many other tournaments through its seeding system. While most tournaments seed players based only on their ATP or WTA ranking, Wimbledon factors in success on grass in its seeding formula. As a result, world number two Rafael Nadal is seeded fourth. Nadal has looked incredible during the first half of the year, reaching many finals during the year’s first quarter and dominating the clay-court season. Dangerous players in Nadal’s section include big server Gilles Mueller and Lukas Rosol, who defeated Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon in 2012. However, I’d bet on Nadal’s recent excellent play to propel him to the quarterfinals. At the bottom of Nadal’s quarter, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic are likely to meet in the fourth round in a rematch of the 2014 US Open final. Cilic, with a hard and flat game, is the clear favorite in that match-up. A Nadal-Cilic quarterfinal will prove interesting. Despite Nadal’s recent dominance, he has struggled mightily at Wimbledon since his last run to the final in 2011. Nadal’s topspin-heavy game and injury prone body has prevented him from winning a third Wimbledon title. Cilic has made a few deep runs at grass-court warm-up tournaments, while Nadal has rested his body since a highly successful clay-court season. The addition of Carlos Moya to Nadal’s coaching team should help him transition from clay to grass. This match-up is a tossup, but I lean towards Cilic. In a Murray-Cilic semifinal, the hometown favorite Murray has the crowd, the surface, and experience all behind him.
My pick for the top half’s finalist: Andy Murray.
Onto the bottom half. Novak Djokovic, the world number four, is seeded second despite his struggles over the past six months. Djokovic claimed a title in Eastbourne on grass-courts this week, which should inject the Serb with some much-needed confidence. A potential matchup with Juan-Martin del Potro in the third round could prove interesting, but I see no legitimate threat to Djokovic’s quarterfinal chances. There, he could face Dominic Thiem, the young Austrian who defeated Djokovic in quarterfinals of the French Open, or Tomas Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist. Thiem’s struggles on grass point towards a Berdych-Djokovic quarterfinal, a matchup that shouldn’t trouble the second seed. Blessed with a relatively easy draw, I see Djokovic advancing to the semifinals in London.
Roger Federer, 7-time Wimbledon champion and world number five, has been seeded third due to his unmatched grass-court record. Federer has looked utterly dominant this year, winning the Australian Open, the Indian Wells and Miami Masters, and a recent grass-court title in Halle, Germany. Federer skipped over the clay-court season, historically his worst stretch of the year, to prepare for this very moment. His quarter of the draw appears most interesting. Federer is likely to meet Grigor Dimitrov, nicknamed “Baby Fed” for his Roger-esque game, in the fourth round. Fed versus Baby Fed will be fun to watch, but the Swiss champion should have no problem advancing to the quarterfinals. Here, he could likely face eighth-seeded Milos Raonic or tenth-seeded Alexander “Sascha” Zverev–both interesting matchups. Raonic reached the finals last year and will be seeking to replicate last year’s success with his big serve and hard, flat groundstrokes. Zverev has rapidly ascended the tennis rankings over the past year and looks to be a future star. Though Raonic struggled in pre-Wimbledon grass court tournaments, I lean towards the big-serving Canadian to battle past Zverev and reach the quarterfinals. This would set up a rematch of last year’s Raonic-Federer semifinal, in which Raonic upset Federer. This year’s match should produce a different result, as Raonic will likely struggle to topple the dominant Federer.
Should the bottom half play out as I predict, Federer and Djokovic should face off in the semifinals. This match could prove to be the jewel of the tournament, as the two faced off in successive Wimbledon finals in 2014 and 2015. Both of these championship matches are memorable, and the 2014 five-setter has become legendary in the world of tennis as one of the all-time great matches. I most look forward to this match-up, where a superb Federer will look to avenge his previous losses against a struggling yet determined Djokovic. I’m hoping for another five-set epic, but Federer is simply playing too well to beat. I pick Federer in five sets to advance to the final against Murray.A Federer-Murray championship match, a rematch of the 2012 final, should produce a similar result in 2017. Murray is a fighter, tougher than almost any player on tour. He will defensively battle back against whatever is thrown at him. But Federer has form, confidence, and seven Wimbledon Championships on his side. My guess? Federer in four sets to win a record eighth Wimbledon title (surpassing Pete Sampras) and a mind-boggling nineteenth Grand Slam title.