Wimbledon 2017 Preview The Favorites Murray Djokovic Nadal Cilic Raonic

Wimbledon 2017

Photo courtesy of Vestionline.com

Roger Federer is the stand out contender at this year’s Wimbledon championships, but a few players in the background will be ready to get on their feet and take the trophy should the Swiss fall down.

Andy Murray, Champion 2013, 2016

The top seed and defending champion enters Wimbledon as the joint favorite alongside Roger Federer despite being upset by lucky loser Jordan Thompson in his AEGON championships opener, pulling out of his Hurlingham exhibition on June 27th with a sore hip, looking out of sorts in his Wimbledon practice sessions, and reaching just one tournament semi-final since winning Dubai in early March.

That favored status comes partly because of where Murray reached that semi-final- Roland Garros. Murray may have gone 5-4 in the clay season, but he won five best of five setters in Paris, beating players of the quality of Martin Klizan, Juan Martin del Potro, Karen Khachanov and Kei Nishikori, despite not playing his best, particularly in the early stages of matches.

That ability to win when having a bad day, to find his form when it matters, is why Murray is No.1 and why he has made 21 semi-finals of 45 slams played and, on a surface like grass, on which few players have the vital variety, touch and movement woven so seemlessly into their tennis DNA, and Murray is one of the most blessed of those few, Murray will be favored to fight his way to the business end of the event and take what ever opportunities, be it a worn down, resigned opponent (Novak Djokovic) or a first time slam finalist whose big weapon his own strength is perfectly designed to negate (Milos Raonic), land in his hard-fought-for way.

The big question is, with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal playing so well right now, if Murray can play better than another opponent playing great tennis late in a Grand Slam, something the defending champion managed to do at stages of his 2012 final versus Roger Federer, and which he did in the final stages of his 2012 US Open final versus Novak Djokovic. The world No.1 does not look healthy enough to do so, but if Federer and Nadal are upset, he may not need to answer that question, not needing to be at 100% full health to defend his title in a sport where success is not so much about being the best but, as Murray knows only too well, more about being ‘just’ better than the rest.

Murray’s draw: Murray will want to avoid a slow start if he meets Dustin Brown in the second round. The German’s big serve and first strike tennis is dangerous in the first week on Grass, as Rafa Nadal can tell you from his 2015 upset at Brown’s hands, and if Murray is playing passive tennis, the Scot may get much longer to prepare for the US Open than anyone anticipated.

Nick Kyrgios will be another grass court test in the round of 16. Murray leads Kyrgios 5-0, but he did lose to him in the Hopman Cup on fast hard courts and Kyrgios, like Brown, has the game to upset a struggling top seed.

Rafa Nadal, Champion 2008, 2010

Nadal, ranked second in the world and the race to London leader, is seeded fourth, his ’15 last sixteen and ’16 second round losses haunting him when the seeds were calculated.

Not that Nadal will be hiding under the court covers trying to escape the ghosts of his recent early upsets once this Wimbledon starts. Instead, the Spaniard should be full of confidence and ready to banish those defeats to the distant past where they belong, having already shown to great effect on his run to this season’s Australian Open final that he can earn plenty of short points on his serve and flatten out his forehand on fast surfaces.

Those recent memories and ones of successful Championships past should give Nadal plenty of hope of capturing a second slam this season. After all, when Nadal does survive the first week, when the courts are  faster before the grass is worn down, then the two time champion (’08, ’10) and three time runner-up (’06, ’07, ’11) thrives, the Spaniard always, bar 2014 when Nick Kyrgios beat him, contending for the trophy.

Nadal’s draw: John Millman, ranked 137 and who has played three Grass lead in events, in round one and potentially Denis Istomin in the second round, the Uzbeki player’s unorthodox game doing for Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, could be tricky obstacles for Nadal to clear in the first week.

Milos Raonic, runner-up 2016

Raonic’s appearance in last season’s Wimbledon final was another false start in a stop and start career. The sixth seed seemed to have his big breakthrough, coming from two sets to one down and winning a fourth set tiebreaker versus Federer in the last four, and putting in a respectable appearance in the final for a first timer, only to once again fall through the cracks that beset so many of today’s young players, this one the crack of bones and joints, Raonic’s wrist, knee, and hamstring all bothering him in the last year, the Canadian dropping from a career high of No.3, earned at the WTF finals where the Raonic engine got going again, reaching the semis and challenging Murray in one of the matches of the season, only to splutter and fall to his current ranking of seven.

So what will it be, stop or start, this Wimbledon for Raonic who lost his AEGON championships opener to Thanasi Kokkinakis, a player who had won one match in an ATP main draw in 22 months?

Raonic’s draw:  Raonic is going to have to start  particularly well if he is going to equal or better his 2016 performance.  The Canadian faces Jan-Lennard Struff, ranked 50, in round one, the German a tough competitor who is 1-2 on Grass this season, and lost both matches to Lucas Pouille in three sets. If Raonic gets through his opener, then a  potential draw awaits with Nicholas Mahut in round two, Sascha Zverev in the last sixteen, Roger Federer in the last eight. Novak Djokovic in the semis, and Murray in the final.

Novak Djokovic, Champion 2011, 2014, 2015

Djokovic stayed away from the ATP 500 events in Halle and Queens, opting instead to take a wild card into the ATP 250 Eastbourne tournament as the top seed (second seed is wild card Gael Monfils), a smart move on his part, allowing him to get valuable match practice versus good grass court players such as Vasek Pospisil who he beat in his opener, the talented Danii Medvedev in the last four, and Gael Monfils in the final.

Djokovic needs all the practice he can get, and any confidence he can gain, from his title win at Eastbourne after his last eight Roland Garros loss to Dominic Thiem in which the defending champion relinquished the last of his slam titles, losing the third set by a bagel, seemingly giving up the ghost and appearing alarmingly ghoulish at the same time, a phantom of the player who just a year before had so spiritedly won the only slam to elude him.

A year on from the collapse that has seen him drop to fourth in the rankings, though his 2015 win sees him seeded second, Djokovic only has third round points to defend, which seems an easy task on paper, but could be, if the memory of that Thiem Roland Garros loss, and all the other tough defeats he has suffered since losing to Sam Querrey as the top seed in last year’s third round, come back to haunt him.

Djokovic’s draw: Djokovic is lucky he got so much match practice in Eastbourne because he will have to be ready from the first ball versus the dangerous Martin Klizan in the first round, who even if he cannot get the upset, is going to give the three time champ something of a fright.

A possible match versus del Potro in the last 32 will be one of the first week highlights for sure, the two usually producing a competitive match, one of the most famous of those played in the 2013 Wimbledon semis.

Marin Cilic, Quarter-finalist 2014, 2015, 2016

You never know what you are going to get with Marin Cilic at a slam. The Croat, the 2014 US Open champ, can be upset in the first round, go deep into the second week, or even, as he did in New York, a rare event in today’s game for players other than the Big Four and Stan Wawrinka, win the whole thing.

Cilic, for what it’s worth, comes into Wimbledon in encouraging form, a Roland Garros quarter-finalist, a run which means he has reached the last eight at every slam, and the AEGON championships runner-up, just losing to Feliciano Lopez in a third set tiebreaker.

Such losses by the smallest of margins are typical of Cilic whose game itself is typically either on or off and can switch from one to the other from one point to the next.

That erratic nature might go a little way to explaining why Cilic is a different beast in best of five setters than he is in best of three. His best of three record over the ATP 1000 events is 84-77 (78 events played) and his best of five sets at slams is 84-35 (36 events played). With more time to recover from his lapses and to tune into and prolong his purple patches, slams are where Cilic is making his legacy, and the seventh seed has been to three Wimbledon quarter-finals in a row now (21-9).

Last year, Cilic led Roger Federer by two sets to love and had match point before losing the contest. Losing after leading and seemingly being in control is as much a feature of Cilic’s career as world beating exhibition like performances, and such extremes are what make Cilic who he is, for better or for worse, and what make him so dangerous.

If Cilic does get a strong enough grip on his game in SW19, and keeps hold of it, it would not be too much of a surprise to see him holding the trophy- the 28 year old is one of only seven slam champs on the tour, and he is the youngest of them all, which, in a game in which the slam champs keep slam-winning, suggests there is likely be more slam silverware to come for this member of that very exclusive club.

Cilic’s draw: Cilic got a tough first week draw with Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round, Florian Mayer, potentially, in round two, and Steve Johnson in round three, but if Cilic can carry his form into SW19, he is a better Grass court player than all of them and should make it through to round four where he is drawn to face Kei Nishikori and then the last eight where he is scheduled to meet Rafa Nadal.

Nick Kyrgios, Quarter-finalist 2014, Last sixteen 2015, 2016

Nick Kyrgios had to pull out of the AEGON champs with a hip injury, another physical setback for the 20th seed who has also suffered knee and shoulder injuries, but he will play Wimbledon whether or not he has fully recovered, the tournament the scene of some of his greatest wins, and biggest controversies, and the one he is expected one day to lift the trophy at.

Kyrgios’ draw: A potential third rounder with Lucas Pouille should be very entertaining, the winner going on to test a seemingly, at this point anyway, vulnerable Murray in the last sixteen.

Alexander Zverev, Last 32 2016

Sascha Zverev stepped it up this clay season, taking the Rome trophy, but he took quite a fall in his very next tournament when the dangerous Fernando Verdasco upset him in the Roland Garros first round.

That fall did not keep Zverev on his knees for long, though. This Grass season, Zverev made another run to the Halle final, only stopped by an on song Federer, and after what befell him in Paris, Zverev will be better mentally prepared to handle a letdown at Wimbledon and fight back if one of his opponents, like Verdasco did, is able to exploit one of his weaknesses- his height and his play around the net.

Zverev has plenty of ammunition to fight with- a big serve, smart point construction and biting backhand- and if he can keep his cool, stay on his game and make them play his way, his rivals might never get the chance to unravel him.

Zverev’s draw: Zverev has drawn one of only two players to defeat Roger Federer all season, 96th ranked Evgeny Donskoy in his openerRobin Haase or Frances Tiafoe in round two, Jack Sock in round three, and Roger Federer in round four.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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