The trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic has had an unprecedented stranglehold on the top of men's tennis for years. One of those three players has won 28 of the past 29 Grand Slam tournaments, and in all likelihood when the trophy is hoisted this year at Wimbledon on July 8 it will be by one of those men.
However, as Juan Martin del Potro showed at the 2009 U.S. Open it is at least possible for another player to sneak in and steal a Grand Slam while the trio of terror isn't looking, and here are a few players with a puncher's chance of staging an upset and emerging victorious from the All England Tennis Club.
It may seem sort of ridiculous to label the fourth-ranked player in the world a "dark horse," but once you take another glance at that 28-of-29 statistic it doesn't seem quite so silly any more.
The 25-year-old Scotsman, who will have the home crowd firmly on his side as he tries to become the first player from the UK to win Wimbledon since 1936, advanced as far as the semifinals at Wimbledon the past three years.
Murray has an uphill climb ahead of him in 2012, though, as he landed on the same side of the draw as Nadal, whom he has lost to in 13 in of their 18 matchups. Murray isn't even looking that far ahead, however, as a first-round matchup with Nikolay Davydenko is his focus right now, according to the BBC. Murray said:
"It's always a tough match when you play against big servers. It can be quite mentally challenging playing against them because you can't really lose focus on your own serve, even if it's just for a few points."
With that said, if Murray could somehow work his way into the finals and his ailing back holds up, his career mark of 13-15 against Federer and Djokovic would seem to give him a decent shot at sending the United Kingdom into a frenzy of Murray-mania.
Wimbledon's sixth seed this year, 26-year-old Tomas Berdych reached the finals at Wimbledon in 2010, falling to Nadal in straight sets. The big-hitting Czech defeated Djokovic and Federer in London that year, and Mark Philippoussis (himself a Wimbledon finalist in 2003), thinks Berdych has the potential to make some noise in this year's tournament, according to The Daily Mail:
"Berdych can go deep. He’s got a strong game but can he beat the big guys in the semis? Is he capable of beating them in a big match? He hasn’t done it so far but he’s a dark horse."
The issue with Berdych has never been talent as much as it has consistency, as he'll look fantastic in one match and then faceplant in the next. Berdych will have to play the best two weeks of tennis of his career to pull off what would be a titanic upset, though. Just as in 2010, the way the draw breaks down, all Berdych has to do is potentially beat Djokovic, then Federer, then Nadal.
If there's a true dark horse at Wimbledon, a lower-seeded player capable of making the sort of run that could shock the tennis world, it's likely 19-year-old Australian Bernard Tomic. Many have labeled the youngster the "next big thing" in men's tennis, and not just because he's 6'4".
Tomic advanced to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon a year ago. There's no denying that he's a talented player capable of playing championship-caliber tennis, especially on grass, where his ability to play very low angles with his forehand is accentuated.
With that said, the idea of a fresh-faced kid such as Tomic beating first Nadal in the semifinals and then Federer or Djokovic in the finals is a tough pill for many to swallow. Former pro Pat Cash, who lifted the trophy in London in 1987, believes that Tomic may exceed last year's surprising run, but as Cash relayed to The Edge, it will likely be by just one match:
''It will be a few years for a title but for a giant kill … well, this could come any time, so that could see him as a surprise semi-finalist. He'll have his work cut out, but I think he can beat Fish, and Tsonga has a bad finger, so you never know,''
As I said earlier, the odds of any player not named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic winning Wimbledon this year aren't very good. With that said, all it takes is one upset to open the door for another, and perhaps if a few lower-ranked players can play big matches in London the stage can be set for a bit of the spice of variety to be served in this year's tournament