Wimbledon 2013 was certainly a tournament to remember, as local favorite Andy Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry accomplished the feat in 1936.
The 2014 Wimbledon Championships begin in London on Monday in what promises to be another thrilling two weeks of the world’s best tennis. Let’s preview and predict how the game’s top contenders in Murray, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic—who have each won the tournament since 2010—will perform in the third Grand Slam of the year.
Murray’s Repeat Bid
There has not been a repeat champion at Wimbledon since Federer won all five tournaments between 2003 and 2007, and it is unlikely Murray will make history in 2014.
The Scotsman enters Wimbledon after being thoroughly embarrassed by Nadal in the semifinals of the French Open. Nadal won in straight sets and Murray only managed to win six games in the match.
The two-time major winner has certainly performed better on grass than he has on clay throughout his career. Not only did he win Wimbledon last year, but he also finished runner-up to Federer in 2012.
However, Murray has not been as sharp in 2014 as he has been in years past. At the AEGON Championships earlier this month, he defeated Paul-Henri Mathieu but was upset by Radek Stepanek in straight sets in the third round of the tournament.
Prediction: Murray will have to be much sharper than his recent performances have shown in order to win Wimbledon. While he has shown he is certainly capable of emerging victorious in London, I don’t expect it to happen this year. Expect Murray to lose in the semifinals.
Can Nadal Win His Second Major in a Row?
Nadal looked mighty impressive in Paris, losing just two sets in seven matches on his way to his ninth French Open title. But unlike Murray, Federer and Djokovic, clay is by far Nadal’s favorite surface.
On grass, Nadal has had a bit more trouble, especially of late. Although the 14-time major winner won Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, he has suffered early exits over the last two years.
In 2012, the world No. 1 shockingly lost in straight sets to Steve Darcis in the first round, while in 2012 the Spaniard didn’t fare much better, bowing out a round later to Lukas Rosol in five sets.
In addition to recent history not being on his side, Nadal also comes into the tournament after a second-round loss to Dustin Brown at the Gerry Weber Open in Germany—and, more importantly—with a bad back, as he told Tennis.com’s Kamakshi Tandon:
I don’t have a very bad feeling but I still feel the back a little bit. It’s something similar I had at the Australian Open. I have a little bit of an oedema in the bone in the back.
And I felt that during Roland Garros in the first round, especially in the second round it was worse. But it’s true that after the second round I was improving. Today is not the worst day but I feel that I need to improve, I need to rest a little bit. I need to improve a little bit to try to play well in Wimbledon.
Although Nadal played—and played well—with back issues in Paris, the more important issue is whether or not he will be able to generate powerful serves on grass, where players can change direction more quickly than on clay.
Per Tandon: "It’s a little bit more dangerous for me to change the directions. It’s difficult to create all the power with the back."
Prediction: Nadal hasn’t performed well on grass over the last couple years, especially in this tournament. Combined with back issues that could impact his serve, expect Nadal to lose early once again, this time in the fourth round.
Can Federer Get No. 18?
Roger Federer is a 17-time major winner, including seven Wimbledon titles. This particular tournament has been his bread and butter throughout his career, as he has dominated London’s Grand Slam over the last decade.
But at age 32, Federer’s skills have slowly declined. While he is still among the world’s best tennis players, his power and speed have gradually succumbed to father time. Federer has just one Wimbledon championship since 2009, although it did come recently in 2012.
Clay is by far his weakest surface, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise that he lost to Ernests Gulbis in the fourth round of the French Open. However, the former world No. 1 does enter Wimbledon with some momentum, as he won last week’s Gerry Weber Open.
Prediction: Federer once was the king of this tournament. If he is to capture his 18th major, Wimbledon is his best chance to do so. While I expect him to do quite well in 2014, I predict that Djokovic will be too daunting of a task and Federer will fall in the finals.
Djokovic’s Drought Will End
Novak Djokovic put forth a valiant effort in the final at Roland Garros but ultimately lost to Nadal in four sets. Incredibly—and frustratingly for Djokovic—losing in the finals of a Grand Slam has become a recent trend of sorts.
Not only did the Serbian finish runner-up in Paris, but he also finished second at last year’s U.S. Open (to Nadal) and at Wimbledon (to Murray).
It is fair to wonder if the world No. 2 will feel a bit of doubt creep in if he reaches yet another Grand Slam final. While reaching the final match on such a consistent basis is a tremendous accomplishment, that won’t be satisfying enough for the six-time major winner.
Prediction: Djokovic will be eager to avenge his straight-sets loss at Wimbledon a year ago and buck the trend of finishing second in recent majors. He has arguably played the most consistent tennis of the top contenders over the last couple years and I expect that reliability to show itself again in London. Look for him to play his best tennis of the season and win his second Wimbledon title and his first major since the 2013 Australian Open.
Follow Jesse Clark on Twitter: