As the oldest tennis tournament in the world, the prestige of winning Wimbledon surpasses that of all other Grand Slams on the tennis calendar. Lifting the iconic trophy propels a player into the archives of history alongside the greats of the game, a goal that acts as both an incentive and a burden, even the most experienced athletes feeling the intense pressure it inspires.
As always, the defending champion and twice Wimbledon victor Rafael Nadal is a firm favourite, hoping to repeat for an astonishing third time the elusive French- Wimbledon Slam double. Tiredness from a busy schedule affected his performance in the warm-up tournament at Queens, ‘Rafa’ losing out to France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Semi-Finals. Even so, that defeat, although unwelcome, may have in fact been a blessing in disguise for Nadal, who was then able to take a well deserved break after securing some solid practice on the grass courts. His preparation for Wimbledon appears to have gone well as he sailed comfortably through his first round match against the American Michael Russell 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
Even with Nadal’s recent dominance, no one can forget that the fabled centre court lawns of SW19 have been the playground of only one player this last decade – Roger Federer. His six year winning streak has been the one of the most legendary stories of Wimbledon’s history to the extent that the two are now practically synonymous. Regaining his form after a few slow seasons, Federer is still consistently reaching tournament finals and wishes to include a seventh Wimbledon victory in his title list, thus equalling William Renshaw and Pete Sampras’ record. With such a well rounded game and wealth of experience, Federer is eager to prove his competitiveness as some begin to doubt the continuing longevity of his career.
However, this year’s championship does not revolve solely around Nadal and Federer, but also the fierce challenge posed by Novak Djokovic and home favourite Andy Murray. The headline story of the hard-court season has been without a doubt the imperious form of Djokovic. The Serbian has stormed through the past six months, notching up 41 consecutive wins before the infamous French Open Semi-Final against Roger Federer, the only man who has been able to defeat Djokovic this year. The form man of the top four with a 98% win average, Djokovic has had the most successful season of them all. Buoyed on by his run of victories, this year appears to be his best chance yet for a Wimbledon title. If he wins this Slam then Djokovic will become World No. 1, overtaking Rafael Nadal as he did to Roger Federer already this year to claim his current second place spot. If his effortless 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 win on Centre Court against Jeremy Chardy is anything to go by, Djokovic is in a very threatening position.
Although sometimes overlooked in the big competitions, Andy Murray’s game has also improved phenomenally this year. His impressive display at Queens (particularly his demolition of Andy Roddick in the Semis) proves his power as a player. His famous and ever versatile backhand remains his most potent weapon, although his overall game appears more rounded with greater consistency at the net. Considered one of the best returners on tour, Murray will not be frightened off the court by big servers like Croat Ivo Karlovic, allowing him time to settle into the rallies and score his cross court winners. The only one of the top four yet to win a Grand Slam, Murray appears to suffer at the big events leading many to claim that he lacks the necessary mental strength to close out matches under pressure.
His first round opponent Daniel Gimeno-Traver played a blinding first set which momentarily overpowered Murray as he tried to find his footing under the roof on centre court. With a little time to recover from initial frustration, Murray quickly began to up the pace, outclassing the Spaniard in the next three sets. With a 15 successive game rally, Murray goes into the second round with confidence. Providing he can maintain his cool, he has as much of a chance to clinch this championship as any of the other three top guys. Hopefully his home-support advantage will work in his favour, a luxury from which only he benefits.
Even though bookies, players and spectators alike believe it highly unlikely that the Semi-Finals will feature any player outside the top four, one must remember the unpredictability of such a sport as tennis. With a host of young players anxious to prove their worth and make an impression on the senior circuit, the draw is laden with dangerous players waiting to usurp the top seeds.
A prime example is the 20 year old Milos Raonic of Canada and his 150mph serve, who beat Marc Gicquel in straight sets to precede to the second round. His impressive performance at the Australian Open in which he reached the fourth round (dispatching the 22nd seeded Michaël Llodra as well as various other far more experienced players) earned Raonic a score of new fans, receiving accolades from high profile stars such as Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe; he is set to potentially play Rafael Nadal in the third round. As has already been seen in the early exits of Samantha Stosur and former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the women’s game, a high seeding and a reputation will not secure a victory alone in these initial rounds.
In what is considered by many to be the most competitive men’s field in the Open era (surpassing even the Borg, McEnroe and Connors rivalry of the seventies and early eighties), this year’s tournament is on track to being one of the greatest ever – a perfect way to celebrate 125 years of this classic sporting event.