Wimbledon 2021 men’s draw: Novak Djokovic eyes record-equalling 20th Major
With Nadal and Thiem missing, who poses the biggest threat to the defending champion?
And so, after two years, it is back to the site of one of Roger Federer’s most unhappy defeats, at the hands of the man who is poised to capture almost every record that the Swiss has stacked up in the 22 years since he played his first Major main draw in 1999.
World No1 Novak Djokovic, who saved two match points on his way to sealing a marathon five-set victory in the 2019 final, has already caught and overtaken Federer’s record tally of weeks at No1, and should he win his sixth Wimbledon title, he will draw level with the record 20 Majors held by Federer and Rafael Nadal.
He is level with Nadal in Masters titles, and is the only man to have won all nine Masters titles, a feat he repeated after tennis resumed following the coronavirus five-month close-down.
Djokovic has made no secret of his wish to claim all the big tennis accolades, and as he heads to Wimbledon to defend his title, he is the odds-on favourite to take another step towards that aim: He has, after all, already won the Australian and French Opens, and he could even manage this year what neither of his great rivals has done. Only Rod Laver has won the calendar Grand Slam in the Open era, and Djokovic could be the second.
The road to final Sunday has certainly been cleared of a few obstacles. Nadal pulled out following his body-sapping efforts against Djokovic in the Roland Garros semis, and one of the few Major champions in the draw, 2020’s US Open winner, Dominic Thiem, has also pulled out with a wrist injury.
The all-time Wimbledon champion Federer, for his part, still looked well off his championship form in losing in the Halle second round less than a fortnight ago. It was, indeed, only his fourth event since last year’s Australian Open and two bouts of knee surgery, and he has managed just five wins in eight played in 2021. So his stamina and match-sharpness for the rigours of best-of-five tennis must be in question, even leaving aside his fast-approaching 40th birthday—and those 22 seasons of elite competition.
Andy Murray, the only other Wimbledon champion in the draw, and playing for the first time at the All England Club since 2017, is similarly lacking match-sharpness, following two long absences for hip surgery. And his plans for 2021 were knocked back first by contracting Covid, then by picking up a groin injury.
So who will be the biggest challengers to Djokovic’s aspirations?
Perhaps top of the pile is world No4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has stacked up big winning numbers this season including his first Masters title in Monte-Carlo, plus the Lyon title, the Acapulco and Barcelona finals, and the Australian semis, where he beat Nadal in five sets.
The young Greek’s physical durability, the all-court variety in his one-handed game, and his growing mental confidence have seen him battle through some long matches, not least his five-set semi win over Alexander Zverev and then five-set final loss to Djokovic at Roland Garros.
It is certainly easy to see his game translating well to grass, too, and the same may be said of world No2 Daniil Medvedev, who has been in a race to claim the No1 ranking this season, and could challenge again at Wimbledon.
He is currently in the semis on the grass of Mallorca, and made an unexpectedly strong run on Paris’s clay—far from his favourite surface—and that after ending 2020 with the Paris Masters and ATP Finals titles, and beginning 2021 with the ATP Cup and the runner-up trophy in Australia, where he was another victim of the Djokovic juggernaut.
With Nadal and Thiem out, the fourth man seeded to make the semis is Zverev, whose breakthrough season of 2017/18 seems to have come back from a dip in form and confidence to take an upward turn. His first Major final at the US Open last September, a semi run at Roland Garros, a fourth Masters title in Madrid last month, and the Acapulco title prove the point, though his record on grass is perhaps less glittering.
There are, of course, relatively few grass tournaments on which to make a mark, but another big and big-hitting man to do so last week was No7 seed Matteo Berrettini, who won the Queen’s title. The Italian, one of four among the men’s seeds, looked every inch a grass player with his formidable serve, forehand and probing sliced backhand.
But that is not to discount his compatriots. The youngest seed, teenager Jannik Sinner, playing his first Wimbledon, won the Great Ocean Road Open in Melbourne and made the final of the Miami Masters.
Sinner is one of a handful of young players who have the potential to be giant killers: Denis Shapovalov, Casper Ruud, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Halle champion Ugo Humbert— are all 22 or younger.
Yet for all the quality among this young band of players, it would take a brave tennis fan to bet against Djokovic. He plays the youngest Briton in the draw, teenager Jack Draper, a former junior runner-up at Wimbledon but making his first main-draw appearance.
Djokovic’s eighth has a good share of qualifiers, and his big tests will likely not start until the quarters where he could meet for the first time one of the strongest performers of the last six months, No7 seed Andrey Rublev—though the Russian shares a segment with Sinner.
Tsitsipas, who is scheduled for another run-in with Djokovic, this time in the semis, has arguably the trickier quarter, with Frances Tiafoe first, and the likes of Dan Evans and Alex de Minaur— both nimble and adept on grass—later. Come the quarters, and he could face the uber-fit and resilient No8 seed Roberto Bautista Agut, though Shapovalov is also here, plus the unseeded Murray, who is in a tough opener against Nikoloz Basilashvili, winner of two titles this year and semi-finalist in Halle.
Zverev’s is a section packed with a number of those young challengers—and the German is only 24 himself. His first seed is Taylor Fritz, and his next could be Auger-Aliassime or Humbert—though with the unpredictable Nick Kyrgios here, too. Come the fourth round, and there is Ruud, unseeded Kei Nishikori, the hugely improved Aslan Karatsev, with that impressive Italian Berrettini lined up for the quarters.
And what of Federer? He has fallen in Medvedev’s quarter, with the quirky lefthander, Adrian Mannarino up first—a man who can count Wimbledon as his best Major. The Swiss could face fellow veteran single-hander Richard Gasquet next, then Queen’s runner-up Cam Norrie as his first seed. He could come up against Eastbourne finalist and No23 seed in Round 4.
Medvedev has picked up a dangerous draw, with Jan-Lennard Struff, who beat him in the first round in Halle, as his opener. The 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who has made a big impression on clay this year, could come up in Round 2, with former champion Marin Cilic is the Russian’s first seed. With the likes of Italian Lorenzo Musetti and Alexander Bublik also lurking here, the No2 seed will have to work hard to reach the quarters.
Previous champions in draw: Roger Federer (8), Novak Djokovic (5), Andy Murray (2)
Previous additional finalists in draw: Marin Cilic, Kevin Anderson
Withdrawals of potential seeds
No3 Rafael Nadal
No5 Dominic Thiem
No15 David Goffin
No22 Milos Raonic
No30 Stan Wawrinka
NB also: Borna Coric, Kyle Edmund
Top half, first quarter
No1 Novak Djokovic: R1 Jack Draper; R2 Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera/Anderson; 1st seed No30 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina; R4 No17 Cristian Garin/No13 Gael Monfils; QF No9 Diego Schwartzman/No19 Sinner/No26 Fabio Fognini/No5 Rublev
Top half, second quarter
No3 Stefanos Tsitsipas: R1 Tiafoe; R2 Roberto Carballes Baena/Vasek Pospisil; 1st seed No25 Karen Khachanov; R4 No22 Evans/No15 de Minaur; QF No10 Shapovalov/No24 Basilashvili/No27 Reilly Opelka/No8 Bautsita Agut
Bottom half, third quarter
No4 Alexander Zverev: R1 Tallon Griekspoor; R2 Tennys Sandgren/Norbert Gombos; 1st seed No31 Fritz; R4 No21 Humbert/Auger-Aliassime; QF No12 Ruud/No20 Karatsev/No28 John Isner/No7 Berrettini
Bottom half, fourth quarter
No2 Daniil Medvedev: R1 Struff; R2 Alcaraz/Tommy Paul; 1st seed No32 Cilic; R4 No18 Grigor Dimitrov/No14 Hubert Hurkacz; QF No11 Pablo Carreno Busta/No23 Sonego/No29 Norrie/No6 Federer
Notable first round matches
Schwartzman vs Benoit Paire
Sinner vs Fucsovics
Tsitsipas vs Tiafoe
Evans vs Feliciano Lopez
Shapovalov vs Philipp Kohlschreiber
Basilashvili vs Murray
Humbert vs Kyrgios
Hurkacz vs Musetti
Medvedev vs Struff