Wimbledon draw: Roger Federer targets No9 and No99 in 20th appearance – but who can stop him?
Marianne Bevis looks ahead to the men's singles tournament at Wimbledon, where Roger Federer is the defending champion
He was junior champion in 1998, and Roger Federer is the only man since to go on and win the senior title at the All England Club.
Indeed, you have to go back to 1983 to find the previous one—and that happened to be one of the most influential players on the young Federer’s career: Stefan Edberg.
Federer regularly quotes the graceful serve-and-volley Swede as one of the models for his own single-handed game, and the Swiss would later recruit Edberg as his coach to develop those very net-attacking skills.
Federer, though, took his time to mature into a fully-fledged Major champion, even on the grass of Wimbledon that he so loves. In the first of his two senior appearances here, he lost in the first round, but a month short of his 20th birthday, it all came together in the most striking way. He would beat his other childhood hero, Pete Sampras, in their one and only match to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
Even so, Federer would again lose in the first round the next year, and was almost 22 by the time he won his first Major, on Wimbledon’s grass—the first of five in a row.
Federer records pile up
This year, then, marks the 20th appearance of Wimbledon’s most successful men’s champion, in a record 73rd Major appearance, and his first match will extend another record, his 103rd on Wimbledon’s courts.
Only one person has won more singles titles here: Martina Navratilova. And if Federer defends this year, he will equal her nine, and take his tally of titles to 99.
Last year, just short of his 36th birthday, Federer became the oldest Wimbledon men’s champion in the Open era, all the more notable for coming a full five years after his last victory on SW19’s Centre Court, and after six-month break following knee surgery in 2016. When he returned last January, he was ranked No17, but promptly battled to the Australian Open title, then Indian Wells and Miami, and returned after the clay season to win Halle and, for the first time, to lift the Wimbledon trophy without dropping a set.
He ended last year, then, on 52-5, with seven titles from eight finals, and targeting the No1 ranking for the first time in well over five years.
He achieved that in Rotterdam—and twice this year since. He also won Major No20, and arrived in London with an 8/9 run on grass, but in those nine matches, he had several close battles with the likes of Benoit Paire, Mischa Zverev and Nick Kyrgios. Were there at last some signs of vulnerability?
That will certainly be the thread of hope among the other 127 who make up the Wimbledon draw. For while Federer is ranked No2 and seeded No1, there are some players in the field who will fancy their chances.
Marin Cilic ready to seize the day
The tall Croat was one of the chief beneficiaries of the ‘grass formula’ for Wimbledon, bolstered to No3 seed from a No5 ranking. It was with good reason. He first won big on grass at Queen’s in 2012, went on to win 17 titles, among them the US Open in 2014, and picked up his first Masters title in 2016.
He reached his first Wimbledon final last summer, made the final in Australia this year to reach a career-high No3, and last weekend, he came through a really tough draw—Fernando Verdasco, Gilles Muller, Sam Querrey, Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic—to win Queen’s again.
He has, in short, been playing some of the best tennis of his career: Aggressive, focused, with exemplary serving. He will be a hard man to beat, though finds himself scheduled to meet Federer in the semis, with some big men in the way before that, among them Milos Raonic and John Isner.
Novak Djokovic on the rise
Had Djokovic’s chances at Wimbledon come up for debate four or five weeks ago, most would have predicted them as slim.
The 12-time Major champion, former No1, and three-time Wimbledon champion had not made a final since he won the Eastbourne title a year ago. Since then, he had struggled with persistent elbow problems, did not play until the start of this year, and then aborted his return to have minor surgery.
He went on to lose in the first rounds of the Indian Wells and Miami Masters, but began to pick up his form and confidence—along with his old coaching team—on Rome’s clay. He was desperately disappointed to lose in the quarters of the French Open, but that seemed only to sharpen his resolve ahead of the grass season.
Eager to build his momentum, he took a wild card into Queen’s, where he had played just three times before, and was soon impressing—not least in his swift defeat of No2 seed Grigor Dimitrov—and came within a hair’s breadth of beating Cilic in the final.
Certainly the quick footwork, precision baseline striking, clear tactics, and his willingness to move forward in the court, professed his fitness and abundant grass-court skill. They also took him to 17 in the ranks, and ‘the formula’ lifted him inside the top 16, though he has drawn the big-hitting 21 seed Kyle Edmund in the third round.
But if Djokovic advances, he should have the measure of Verdasco and clay-loving No7 Dominic Thiem—who has yet to get beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon. Then it becomes much tougher: Kyrgios or Alexander Zverev. There are also some dangerous non-seeds in this quarter, such as Karen Khachanov, Frances Tiafoe, and Ernests Gulbis.
Rafael Nadal hopes to tighten grip on No1
It is not only Federer who bounced back to top form last year after months away. Nadal missed long stretches of 2016 with injury, and was at No9 when he reached the final of the Australian Open. But his tear through the clay swing and victory at the US Open saw him reach No1.
He and Federer have swapped the top spot several times since, but Nadal it was who nabbed the No1 ranking when Federer fell at the last hurdle in Halle, and he will stay there if he reaches the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Over the years, the king of clay has proven his worth on grass, too, twice winning Roland Garros and Wimbledon back to back, and reaching three more Wimbledon finals.
He comes to SW19 with just a couple of exhibition matches as Hurlingham under his belt, but that has proved no barrier in the past. And he has picked up a decent draw as far as that significant fourth round, full of clay rather than big-hitting grass exponents. Trip-wires may come from non-seeds: serve-and-volley Mischa Zverev, or Eastbourne semi-finalist Mikhail Kukushkin—but it is hard to see a fit and fresh Nadal truly tested until the quarters and Juan Martin del Potro or another of that stacked eighth.
Del Potro armed and dangerous
The popular Argentine’s backstory is well known: four lots of wrist surgery through five years, and repeated returns to the tour. But the last 12 months have shown what the tour has been missing.
He reached the semis at the US Open last autumn for the first time since he won the title in 2009. He reached the semis at Roland Garros, again for the first time since that remarkable 2009. He beat three top-10 players to win in Acapulco, and won his first Masters title in the demanding Indian Wells draw, beating defending champion Federer in one of the matches of the year so far. But despite equalling his career-best ranking of No4, he lost out to Cilic in the seedings.
That makes him the second seed in Nadal’s quarter, but his route to the third round is packed with difficulty: grass lover Feliciano Lopez, wunderkind Denis Shapovalov, unpredictable Paire, and the in-form Jeremy Chardy, who has piled on grass wins in Surbiton, s-Hertogenbosch and Queen’s.
Even so, he is upbeat about his chances, as he pointed out at The Boodles this week:
“I have fantastic memories from the England fans. I also played great battles in Wimbledon a few years ago when I reached semi-finals against Djokovic, and when I lost in the semis against Roger at the Olympic Games.”
But what of returning former champion Andy Murray?
It has been a long, long road back to fitness for two-time former Wimbledon and five-time Queen’s champion Andy Murray. Indeed his last match was right here, a quarter-final loss, until Queen’s last week.
Now back from hip surgery and pain-free, he is working to regain his match-sharpness, and made a good start in a difficult opener against Kyrgios at Queen’s. He then won his first match in a year against Stan Wawrinka in Eastbourne, before losing to the Edmund.
However, the draw has done the 156-ranked Briton no favours, with Paire in the first round, then Chardy or Shapovalov in the second. All before del Potro—and if Murray survives that far? Nadal in the quarters, Djokovic in the semis, Federer in the final.
Is it time for the young generation?
Sascha Zverev has won three titles from five Masters finals in little more than a year, and has twice reached the final on Halle’s grass. Is he ready to step up at Major level? The No4 seed certainly has the tools and the intelligence.
Kyrgios proved his worth on grass long ago when he reached the quarters at Wimbledon while still a teenager. Maturity took longer to come, but this year, after missing time through injury, his desire has been sharpened, along with his game. He pushed Federer to the max in Stuttgart, beat Murray, Edmund and Lopez at Queen’s—and pressed Cilic hard too. He twice hit 32 aces along the way—and his huge serve is just one string to his bow. He and Zverev are drawn to meet in the fourth round.
Take note of 21-year-old Borna Coric, too, who beat Federer to win in Halle last week: He is a well-rounded player with an outstanding work ethic and attitude, and is seeded here for the first time. He could, in fact, meet Federer again in the fourth round.
Then there are two exciting single-handers who have broken new ground this year: Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas, both 19 years old, both seeded for the first time, and most experts expect a good showing from the charismatic tennis of both.
The facts and figures
Grass champions this year: Federer, Coric, Cilic, Richard Gasquet
Grass finalists this year: Federer, Raonic, Chardy, Djokovic, Adrian Mannarino, Lukas Lacko, Damir Dzumhur, Mischa Zverev [two finals yet to be contested]
Grand Slam champions in main draw: Federer (20), Nadal (17), Djokovic (12), Murray (3) [NB all Wimbledon champions], Wawrinka (3), Cilic (1), del Potro (1)
Oldest, Ivo Karlovic, 39
Youngest, Shapovalov (19)
Britons in draw, and first opponents:
Edmund vs Alex Bolt
Murray vs Paire
Liam Broady vs Raonic
Cameron Norrie vs Aljaz Bedene
Jay Clarke vs Gulbis
Missing injured: Pablo Andujar, Roberto Bautista Agut, Tomas Berdych, Hyeon Chung, Yen-Hsun Lu, Andrey Rublev, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, Viktor Troicki, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Draw, top half
R1 Dusan Lajovic
R2 Lacko or Benjamin Bonzi
R3 First seed Leonardo Mayer (32)
R4 Seeds are Mannarino (22) and Coric (16)
QF Seeds are Querrey (11), Gasquet (23), Philipp Kohlschrieber (25), Kevin Anderson (8)
SF Cilic and Dimitrov top seeds
R1 Yoshihito Nishioka
R2 Guido Pella or Jason Kubler
R3 First seed Filip Krajinovic (28)
R4 Seeds are Lucas Pouille (17) and Raonic (13)
QF Seeds are John Isner (9), Pablo Carreno Busta (20), Tsitsipas (31), Dimitrov (6)
SF Federer and Anderson top seeds
Draw, bottom half
R1 James Duckworth
R2 Taylor Fritz or Lorenzo Sonego
R3 First seed Dzumhur (27)
R4 Seeds are Kyrgios (15) and Kei Nishikori (27)
QF Seeds are Dominic Thiem (7), Verdasco (30), Edmund (21), Djokovic (12)
SF del Potro and Nadal top seeds
R1 Dudi Sela
R2 Kukushkin or Vasek Pospisil
R3 First seed Marco Cecchinato (29)
R4 Seeds are Fabio Fognini (19) and Diego Schwartzman (14)
QF Seeds are del Potro (5), Shapovalov (26), Jack Sock (18), David Goffin (10)
SF Thiem and Zverev top seeds