Assuming you slept through the midnight broadcasts of the Australian Open in January, and were too preoccupied with the agony and the ecstasy that was the NBA Playoffs to pay attention to the French Open at the end of May, the tennis season starts for you on Monday, as the world’s oldest and most entertaining tennis tournament begins.
The Championships, Wimbledon begins on June 27, and both of the top seeds in the men’s and women’s draws, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, respectively, will look to defend their titles. Wimbledon means early morning ESPN broadcasts. It means frequent B-roll shots of bowls of strawberries and cream with doubles teams dressed in all white hitting in the distance. It means American tennis fans spending their July 4th holiday watching a fundamentally British sport played on a British court under the rules of a governing body based in Britain, and eventually ends up in said fans wishing they were in Britain on said day to watch said sport.
Most of all, Wimbledon means that we get to watch some good tennis. Here’s a look at the top three players in the men’s draw to keep an eye on this tournament:
The Favorite – No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Serbia
Save your arguments for another time: Novak Djokovic is the best player in the world right now. In just the past two years, he’s won six Grand Slam titles and twelve singles titles. With three of his twelve career Grand Slam titles won at Wimbledon, it’s no surprise that he’s the favorite coming into the tournament. Djokovic hasn’t lost at Wimbledon since Andy Murray beat him in the 2013 finals match.
Consistency is Djokovic’s biggest strength, and it shows in his statistics from this season so far. He’s won 73% of his first serve points and 87% of his service games in 2016, and in his entire career, he’s an astonishing 640-27 when he wins the first set.
The key, put simply, for Djokovic this tournament will be all about capitalizing. He needs to capitalize on the first serve. Djokovic landed his serve in on the first try 70% of the time in his matches on grass last year, and that led to another Wimbledon title and one of the most dominant overall seasons in tennis history. He did not play in any tournaments on grass between Roland Garros and now, and career-wise, he hasn’t favored playing on grass (a record of 67-15 compared to 479-89 on hard court and 176-43 on clay).
In short, the real shocker of this tournament will be if Novak Djokovic doesn’t win. How could that happen? See below.
The Not-So-Dark Horse – No. 2 Andy Murray, Great Britain
If there’s one guy who has really been dealt the short end of the stick in men’s tennis, it’s Andy Murray.
In the eleven years since Murray went pro in 2005, Novak Djokovic has won twelve Grand Slams. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have won thirteen each. In that eleven-year time span, Andy Murray has won two.
The New York Times wrote in June that Andy Murray’s greatest misfortune was that he’s the same age as Djokovic, and I don’t disagree. If Andy Murray played in a different era, at a time when he wasn’t playing alongside three of the greatest players–one of whom will go down as the greatest of all time (whom that will be is a discussion for another day)–in tennis history, he would have a lot more than two Grand Slam titles by now.
As an anonymous figure once wrote, you can’t change your past. You can, though, change your future, and that’s exactly what Murray will be looking to do at Wimbledon this year. Murray did win at Wimbledon in 2013 in a three-setter against Djokovic, but he hasn’t made it back to the finals since then. This year, though, he’s is back with coach Ivan Lendl, who guided him to his 2012 U.S. Open and 2013 Wimbledon wins. Lendl is said to have helped Murray’s maturity on and off the court, and that showed in Murray’s most recent win on grass last week at the AEGON Championships in London. With Federer, the former grass court king, recovering from an injury-stricken first half of the season and not playing at the top of his game, and the home-turf advantage on his side, this year’s tournament will be Murray’s best chance to defeat Djokovic and collect his third Grand Slam.
The Underdog – No. 3 Roger Federer, Switzerland
Roger Federer? Underdog? When was the last time those three words were used in the same sentence?
(Disclaimer: An advanced Google search provided a Tennis Grandstand story from January 2012, and a Boston.com story from 2006, both of which did use “Roger Federer” and “underdog” in the same sentence.)
Here’s the plain and simple truth: Roger Federer hasn’t had a great 2016. He’s only played 22 matches this season (at this time last year, he had played 40). The last Grand Slam final he advanced to was at the 2015 U.S. Open Final, in which he lost to Djokovic 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 4-6. This year, he’s only played a Big Four (Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Nadal) opponent once (Djokovic in the semifinal of the Australian Open; Federer lost 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3), and his only win against a top-ten ranked player came in the Australian quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych. Federer has battled a knee injury, a stomach virus and a bad back that forced him to pull out of the French Open, all in the last six months.
That all being said, he’s still Roger Federer.
He’s still the guy who wins 87% of his matches on grass, and holds a career record of 147-22 in matches played on grass courts. Injury-stricken or not, he’s still the player who has seven Wimbledon titles, and has advanced to the final at Wimbledon ten times. He made it to the semi-finals of the both the Mercedes Cup and the Gerry Weber Open earlier this month, so his game is still there. And, if we are witnessing the beginning of the end of what has been a remarkable, eighteen-year-and-counting career for Federer (as ESPN.com says it might be), what better way to start the send-off then with a title at the place where he won his first Grand Slam in 2003.
Conclusion: it’s Roger Federer. Would you really be surprised?