Wimbledon 2011: Can Roger Federer seal number seven?
As Djokovic and Nadal fight for No1 and Murray eyes a first Major, Federer has another record in view
There was a certain dejÃƒÂ vu about the 2011 Wimbledon draw. Not because the rankings and seedings were in perfect accord, nor that the top places were filled by same protagonists who reached the French Open semi-finals.
It was not even that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were fighting it out for the No1 ranking for the second Major in a row.
No, the first buzz that went up around the Wimbledon had nothing to do with the top seeds nor even about the good fortune of the seven British women all avoiding a seed in the first round.
Instead, computers were a-Twitter about the 16,000-to-one chance of a repeat of the record-breaking match between Nicolas Mahut and John Isner.
Their 2010 first-round marathon has entered history books as the longest match in time -over 11 hours -and games played -183. It took three days to settle, 70-68 in the final set, in Isner’s favour.
So renowned has the match become that a plaque now graces the scene of the gladiatorial encounter -Court 18 -and a pair of small bronzes graces the entrance to the Media Centre.
The first Tweets put in a plea for their rematch to have a Centre Court schedule but the best comment came from one of the protagonists. Isner announced: “We were supposed to practise tomorrow, so we had to cancel that.”
Eventually, though, the dust settled and the repeat of the Nadal-Djokovic No1 race took over. For at Wimbledon, Nadal has to retain his title to keep the No1 spot while Djokovic, even if Nadal does win, will still become No1 if he reaches the final. Indeed Djokovic will reach No1 if Nadal falls anywhere short of his 11th Grand Slam title.
It could be the dream final, then: the top ranking ready to shift from one player to the other as they fight for the king of titles.
However, there are two flies in that particular ointment. Both Roger Federer and Andy Murray have been finding their best form of the year.
Federer brought Djokovic’s 43-match run to a halt in the semi-finals of Paris; Murray challenged Nadal on his own turf in Monte Carlo and Djokovic in Rome and has just taken the biggest grass title outside of Wimbledon.
Bearing in mind that this quartet has taken 13 of the 16 semi-finals places in the last four Slams, including all four at the French Open, it’s a tough ask for the rest. However, there are plenty who, on a given day, could throw the cat amongst the pigeons.
Quarter one: Rafael Nadal
Nadal has his work cut out to keep his No1 hopes alive in one of the tougher quarters, certainly in its middle phase.
However, this is the man who is unbeaten at Wimbledon since 2007 -14 straight matches -and his quarter-final exit at Queen’s may have worked to his advantage by giving him a few days’ rest and recuperation.
His draw holds the prospect of a quarter-final replay of last year’s final with Tomas Berdych. To get that far, the top seed first has to beat No91, Michael Russell, in his opener, the easiest first-round opponent faced by the top four. He could then face Pablo Andujar for the second consecutive time in a Major.
It’s in the third round that things get tricky, with the big Milos Raonic playing his first full year on the main tour and already ranked 26.
Raonic has the serve and hitting power to be dangerous on grass and reached the quarters of his first ever grass event at Halle.
He is likely to blast past the returning Tommy Haas on his way, too, though it will be interesting to see how the youngster negotiates the craft and experience of Haas’s grass game.
Next up, in all likelihood, is Juan Martin del Potro and even though the Argentine has little match play following injury in April, he has beaten Nadal enough times to give him the confidence that he can do so again, especially given his relatively easy route to the fourth round.
An alternative quarter-finalist to Berdych is Mardy Fish -though he faces an in-form and grass-atuned Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round -or Fernando Verdasco -trying these days to crank up his all-court game with some more volley-power.
Berdych, a semi-finalist at Halle last week, proved his grass credentials here last year by beating both Federer and Djokovic, but his current form does not suggest he will repeat that feat against Nadal.
In another rewind of last year, then, a semi-final against Murray beckons -and Nadal negotiated Murray in the quarters in 2008, too.
This year’s Murray is looking a more confident challenger, especially after his performances at Roland Garros and Queen’s. If he can hold onto that self-belief, he might just turn the tables on Nadal this time.
Matches to watch out for: Verdasco v Stepanek, first round; Fish v Kohlschreiber, second round; Raonic v Haas, second round.
Quarter two: Andy Murray
Murray has a look about him this year that suggests he has both the form and the mindset to break his Slam duck.
He seems more relaxed and less pressured about the hype of home expectations and he played some of his best tennis in thrashing Andy Roddick at Queen’s a week back. It is Roddick, by happy coincidence, who Murray could face again on second Friday.
First, he meets an acquaintance from junior days, Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver, a nice warm-up ahead of a likely third-round against Marin Cilic or Ivan Ljubicic.
Neither has been at their best of late so Murray’s first big challenge looks set for the fourth found where he should find the survivor of Richard Gasquet -returning to some of his best tennis in years -and Stan Wawrinka -also climbing back into contention in the rankings and often at his most confident in the Majors.
There are some tricky lurkers in Roddick’s section: The unseeded Feliciano Lopez, for example, has looked in strong form in recent months. Roddick’s major threat, though -especially with Janko Tipsarevic sustaining an injury in the Eastbourne final -is Gael Monfils.
The Frenchman can blow very hot on a good day, reached the semis in Halle and is at his highest ever ranking. He could be the one to face Murray in the quarters, though the sentimental choice, three times the bridesmaid but never the Wimbledon bride, will be Roddick.
Matches to watch out for: Ljubicic v Cilic, first round; Lopez v Bellucci, second round; Gasquet v Wawrinka, third round.
Quarter three: Roger Federer
In the last month, Federer has muscled his way between the shoulders of Nadal and Djokovic to establish himself as many people’s favourite for Wimbledon.
His aggression in beating Djokovic in Paris before pushing Nadal hard in the title match showed an impressive surge just in time for his favourite tournament.
He is keen to equal Pete Sampras’s seven Wimbledon titles and he brings the best Open era win-loss record to the famous London turf. As if there was any doubt, he has announced that winning in London is “a huge priority.”
If Federer is to achieve his ambition, he may have to beat Djokovic again in the semis -no small ask -and he does not have the easiest of early draws.
His second-round meeting may be with the rising talent of Adrian Mannarino -up 200 places to No53 in the last 12 months -who took the scalps of del Potro, Gilles Simon and Ernests Gulbis at Queen’s.
The same may be said of Federer’s possible third-round opponent, David Nalbandian, who has scored numerous victories over his contemporary in the past.
The Argentine is recently back from various injuries, including hip surgery, and played his first match since February -his first match on grass in three years -at Queen’s this month.
He also played three good matches at an exho event this week. He is not an opponent Federer will relish so early in the draw.
The fourth round may throw up John Isner: His big serve is a danger on grass if his progress is not impeded by another marathon Mahut match. Isner may even pose a bigger threat than the seeds in this section, Mikhail Youzhny and Nicolas Almagro.
The quarter-finals should hold either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or David Ferrer. The Frenchman showed a return of his huge talent in reaching the final of Queen’s and he lost early enough in Eastbourne to enjoy some rest and practice. He does, though, have the unpredictable talents of Grigor Dimitrov and Alexandr Dolgopolov to beat.
Ferrer this year got further in both the Australian and French Opens than ever before but will have to do the same in London if he is to reach the quarters. He has, though, worked hard on his aggressive game and net play so could just get past Tsonga -but not Federer.
Matches to watch out for: Dolgopolov v Gonzalez, first round; Federer v Mannarino, second round; Federer v Nalbandian, third round.
Quarter four: Novak Djokovic
There is no question that Djokovic is the man to beat at the moment, despite his loss to Federer in Paris. He has had time off for a much needed rest and, with just one match on grass -a brutal defeat of Simon in a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœfriendly’ this week -he seems back to his fresh and confident best.
Asked if he feels better than ever before coming into Wimbledon, he replied: “Yes. Yes, definitely.” With the No1 ranking up for grabs, too, he has plenty of motivation to get beyond his semi-final finish of last year.
His draw looks a reasonable one, too, with some solid early players such as Kevin Anderson but no particular threats.
Even in the third round, he has the lowest seed, Marcos Baghdatis, and while the Cypriot reached the semis in the Unicef Open, he is no match in movement or fitness for Djokovic.
His fourth-round opponent is likely to be Davis Cup team-mate, Viktor Troicki, who has won only eight games in their three 2011 matches.
The quarter-finals look rather more intriguing. The top section holds Dimitry Tursunov, who has just won the Unicef Open, Xavier Malisse, who reached the Unicef semis and took a set off Murray at Queen’s, and Philipp Petzschner, who beat Raonic and Berdych to reach the finals of Halle.
The German will be a first-round challenge for the big man in this section, Robin Soderling. The Swede entered the top five a year ago after his quarter-final showing at Wimbledon and he has won three titles this year.
But he finds himself in a tough segment that also includes a possible third round against Nikolay Davydenko, a fourth against Jurgen Melzer and finally Djokovic.
Matches to watch out for: Soderling v Petzschner, first round; Nishikori v Hewitt, first round; Mayer v Melzer, third round.
Finalists: Federer v Murray