As Andy Murray arrives at SW19 next week for the first time as the world number one, you’ll be hard pressed to find many that would back the Scotsman to defend his title. Or anyone else for that matter…
With a world number one out on his luck, a former three time champion bereft of confidence and 2017’s most in form player seemingly cursed on the grass of Wimbledon, it’s anybody’s guess who will reign triumphant when the pinnacle of grass court tennis arrives in London on July 3rd.
If my calculations are correct (and they may well not be) then the top two seeds are set to be Murray and Djokovic. Anyone casting a fleeting glance over the seeding structure would expect these two to therefore meet in another grand clash on the final day. But looks can be deceiving.
Murray at present has only a single title to his name in 2017, his current status as the world’s best largely down to his imperious form over the second half of last year. His recent form however has been wild and erratic, perfectly illustrated by his previous two tournaments. A grizzly five match winning streak on Parisian clay, often noted as his worst surface, followed by a limp opening round defeat to world number 90 Jordan Thompson on the grass court of Queens, commonly referred to as Murray’s court covering of choice.
Djokovic’s problems stem back further still, almost a year to the day. Having won the coveted Grand Slam after Roland-Garros 2016, he has looked anything but the player who has a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles to his name. Short of both inspiration and a backroom team, he has so far failed to convince that a fourth crown is within grasp. Numerically, the Scot and the Serb will be the players to beat. In reality they may be two of the first to be beaten. Both are extremely vulnerable.
But all is not lost. Murray, upon reaching his maiden final at Wimbledon back in 2012, lost in the opening round at Queens to Nicolas Mahut the fortnight beforehand- again in round one. While recent form can give some sort of guidance to how the draw might pan out, if the Andy Murray of 2016, or Djokovic circa. 2011-15 can turn up then there is nothing to stop either taking home another Wimbledon trophy (apart from the small fact that the trophy is literally never allowed to leave the premise of the grounds.)
It is also worth remembering that you can afford a mid-match wobble at the Slam tournaments, certainly in the earlier rounds. Matches are played over a best of five format and not the usual best of three. If Murray and Djokovic are struggling to find their rhythm as the tournament begins, longer matches could afford them the time to recapture their grass court mojo. Lets not forget that between them, they have won the last four Wimbledon titles.
So I suppose it’s natural that the player that is seen as having the slightest of edges coming into London is the last man to win the golden pineapple aside from Murray and Djokovic, Roger Federer. Aged 35, he is having the season of his life, playing only six tournaments but proving victorious in four of them, including a 9th victory at Halle. Does he have enough to play 7 grueling matches over the two weeks? He is after all closer to his Forties than his Thirties. Likely to be seeded 5th, he will probably face a slightly sterner test to reach the latter stages. Although if the Australian Open is anything to go by, seeded 17th, I don’t think that would phase him too much. That said, if his final three opponents were Murray, Nadal and Djokovic per say, I would begin to doubt he could pull that one off.
Speaking of which, Rafael Nadal is also surely in the mix but has had a torrid time at Wimbledon over the last half a decade, not making a single QF. Despite winning a 10th French Open title, he has no form on grass to suggest he can be considered the favorite at Wimbledon this year, even if he is statistically speaking the best player over the last six months. While his work ethic is second to none, realistically on the grass he has an outside chance at best.
Outside the ‘big four’, Stan Wawrinka will be searching for his career Grand Slam, while fan favorites Nick Kyrgios and Juan Martin Del Potro have got the ability to trouble the very best and beat them if they bring their A game.
Personally I think there’ll be a new champion this year at SW19. The current climate of mens tennis at the top of the game is just right for a new talent to take the title. Through a mixture of age and a horrific lack of confidence and form, the chance for a player away from the top tier of mens tennis to win Wimbledon in 2017 is a very real prospect.
One of the many sporting cliches churned out by commentators world wide is the acknowledgement that, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent.’ But if the form of the some of the games’ biggest players deserts them for another two weeks, that class will count for nothing.