Wimbledon 2011 is upon us. The draw is out, and it is time to evaluate who got lucky and who didn't.
For starters, the marathon men John Isner and Nicholas Mahut will square off in another first-round encounter. Another marathon? Probably not, but it could be fun for everyone but the two players. Let's not forget that Isner fell meagerly in the second round last year.
At the outset, one thing is clear in this year's Wimbledon: There are three favourites with one very hot dark horse coming in as fourth. Anyone outside of the top-four winning this Wimbledon would constitute a genuine surprise.
Let's take a look at the four different quarters.
Rafael Nadal's quarter
In the eternal debate among diehard Federer and Nadal fans, the draw is always intensely scrutinized. Who got lucky? This year, unless Nadal's man threats in his quarter lose early, it will be hard to argue that he has got anything but a tough draw.
His first two matches against Michael Russell and Pablo Andujar/Ryan Sweeting should spell anything but trouble. None of them has made it past the second round, and none possess weapons likely to trouble the Spanish favourite, though, Sweeting may do a little bit of damage with his serve.
In the third round lurks French Open quarter-finalist Fabio Fognini, veteran Tommy Haas, Gilles Muller or, most likely, Canadian hope and a dark horse with the bookies, Milos Raonic.
Milos Raonic has exactly the kind of game that can give Rafa fits: an unreturnable serve. The Spanish bull has often said he dislikes playing Isner, because he gets no rhythm. The ace leader on the men's tour will not give him many balls to play with.
Raonic was the hottest name on tour this year until everything started to revolve around Novak's streak. With a less than stellar clay season, the Canadian is flying under the radar again. Early in the year, he proved to be incredibly tough mentally and showed a champion's attitude in winning close matches.
But we should not kid ourselves. As tough as Raonic might look on paper, he's played exactly three ATP, challenger or ITF futures matches on grass, namely in Halle last week. He won two before losing to the man who almost beat Rafa at last year's Wimbledon, Philip Petzschner.
Does this look like a man capable of beating Rafa on his second favoured surface? Hardly. Then again, never say never.
The fourth round presents a potential match-up with the one guy none of the four top players wanted in their bracket—Juan Martin Del Potro. Again, this looks really tough, but we should not overestimate Delpo on grass.
Though being the fifth most favoured guy amongst the odd makers, Delpo has never proceeded past the second round of Wimbledon. Not even in his 2009 year, where he got to the quarters or better at every other Slam.
Don't get me wrong, Delpo is a tough fourth-round opponent, but more so on hard court or clay. On grass, the balls don't sit up in his striking zone, and the 1.98 meter tall Tandil native loses some of his height advantage. Nevertheless, his serve and impeccable groundstrokes makes him a player to fear on any surface.
The second most realistic fourth round Rafa opponent would be Giles Simon. But since both Delpo and Djoko beat him convincingly in exhibition matches this week, I would count on Delpo.
Potential quarterfinal opponents include Mardy Fish, Radek Stepanek, Fernando Verdasco and last year's finalist, Tomas Berdych. Berdych also fell to Petzschner in Halle this year and is yet to produce the form that saw him rise to a genuine Slam contender last year. He has the talent, but has he got the form? I doubt it.
Prediction: Rafa will make his way through to the semis with few bumps on the way, most notably by Delpo.
Dark horses: Fish, Raonic, Del Potro and Berdych.
Andy Murray's quarter
As in the French Open, Murray seems gifted with a relatively easy draw. He showed excellent form last week by winning Queens and if he is anywhere near that form, there should be no trouble for him in the first three rounds against players like Daniel Gimeno-Traver (first round), Tobias Kamke/Blaz Kavcic (second round) or Ivan Ljubicic/Marin Cilic (third round).
The real trouble starts in the fourth where he can meet the dangerous floaters Stan "The Man" Wawrinka or Frenchman Richard Gasguet, whose best Grand Slam result came at Wimbledon 2007, where he lost to Federer in the semis. Moreover, based on winning percentage, grass is Gasquet's best surface and given how well he just played on clay, the streaky Frenchman should not be counted out beforehand.
On a good day, Wawrinka, but especially Gasquet, can trouble anyone. But take down an Andy Murray in full flight? Unlikely.
While the Scotsman hasn't yet won a major title, he has never let truly his fans down at Wimbledon, reaching the quarters and two semis in the last three years.
Potential quarterfinal opponents includes Gael Monfils, Feliciano Lopez, Ivo Karlovic, Janko Tipsarevic and, most likely in my opinion, three-time Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick, the man who beat Murray in the 2009 semifinal.
Can he do that again just two years down the road? I would love for Roddick to win one more slam, but it ain't gonna happen. The top-four is a level beyond him, and though his Wimbledon credentials should not be taken lightly, I do not seem him making it to the semis.
Prediction: Murray will have three smooth rounds to get the crowd behind him before a potentially dangerous match-up with Gasquet followed by Roddick. Nevertheless, the Scotsman is ready for battle.
Dark horses: Roddick, Gasquet and Wawrinka.
Roger Federer's quarter:
As with the other top seeds, Federer is unlikely to be pushed in the early rounds. Mikhail Kukushkin from Kasakhstan is his first opponent, and Adrian Mannarino is the next, but he likely won't trouble the mighty Swiss.
In the third round he could meet potential old time rival, David Nalbandian. When Nalbandian plays at his capabilities, he can beat anyone, which is evidenced by his 8-10 record against Roger and 2-2 against Nadal.
Federer could hardly have wished for a worse third round opponent. Nevertheless, the Argentine is as ancient as the Maestro himself and hasn't done much damage at Wimbledon in recent years. It's a tough third round, but Federer should prevail.
The fourth round could offer up big-serving John Isner or Mikhail Youhzny, who's had anything but a successful year thus far. While Rafa has a problem with the big servers, Federer normally always find a way to break the likes of Isner, Karlovic or Roddick or simply beat them at their own game in the tiebreak.
Federer should, at the very least, be safe until the quarters, where is he seeded to meet the worst grass player in the top eight, David Ferrer, but is more likely to meet one of the biggest dark horses in the tournament, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Tsonga took Nadal out in Queens and gave Murray all he could handle in a close fought final ending with Murray winning a mere four points more than the flamboyant Frenchman. Tsonga made the quarters at last year's Wimbledon, and he could spell trouble for the six-time champion if he's on his game.
That said, I'm still going with the safe bet considering how well Federer played throughout the French Open.
Prediction: Federer, potentially losing sets on the way though to Nalbandian, Isner and Tsonga.
Dark horses: Tsonga, Isner, Nalbandian, Ferrer
Novak Djokovic's quarter
The Djoker was coined "the man who has forgotten how to lose" but soon became the forgotten man as Rafa and Roger stole the show at the French Open. The significance of just how well Novak has played this year is beginning to resurface, and this is the reason why he is almost as hot a bookie favourite as Fedal, who shares the last eight titles between them.
Of the four top seeds, Djokovic faces the toughest second clash with big-serving Kevin Anderson. But having a big serve isn't exactly enough to trouble the best returner in the world. Before that, he has to go through Jeremy Chardy.
The third round could involve having to go through Marcus Baghdatis or American sentimental favourite, James Blake. Whoever awaits the Djoker, I can't see them making a dent in his armour.
In the fourth, James Ward, Michael Llodra or most likely fellow Serbian, Victor Troicki, will await Nole. Can they beat him? No.
On to the quarters. The Swedish Robin Söderling is seeded to meet Djoko. But he has the toughest first round of any of the top seeds, when he squares of with Halle finalist Philipp Petzschner. Whether it will be Söderling, Davydenko, Hewitt, Gulbis or Melzer standing across the net, I do not see why Djokovic shouldn't be able to book his place in the semis.
Prediction: Novak Djokovic sails smoothly into the semis.
Dark horses: Söderling, Petzschner, Gulbis, Hewitt
Rafael Nadal vs. Andy Murray
Rafa leads Murray 11-4 and 2-0 at Wimbledon, both of them in straights. Is there any good reason to bet against the Spaniard? He has to like facing Murray rather than 6-time champion Federer. Nevertheless, Murray is no walkover as he proved when he fought Rafa hard at the French despite ankle troubles.
Is it finally Andy Murray's time? The heart and all of Britain says yes, but the head says no. Nevertheless, if he can reproduce the level with which he dispatched Roddick in one hour at Queens, anything is possible.
But why bet against the defending champion? Hmm. I don't know, but there needs to be one surprise right?
Murray in five, despite all odds.
Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer
Novak must be sick and tired of it by now. Why does he always have to play Roger at the Slams? Why couldn't he draw Murray at the French or at Wimbledon? Well, then we couldn't have a Fedal final now, could we?
Make no mistake. Novak's level hasn't dropped one bit despite losing to Federer at the French. Then again, Federer has only lost two matches at Wimbledon since 2002! Few considered Federer to be favoured prior to their French Open encounter, but he run away with it in the end.
By all means, Federer is the most accomplished grass player of the two. If Novak can be said to have a weak surface, grass would be it as he is yet to win a tournament on the surface.
Because of this and because Federer just proved that he has the tools to win against Novak, I give Federer a tiny edge. But as with the other semi, the match can go either way.
Federer in four.
Final: Federer vs. Murray
Provided these two men get that far, they would both be sentimental favourites. I would love for Murray to win it and get the monkey off his back, but I would also love for Federer to equal Sampras and prove that he can still win Slams approaching 30.
I have to give the edge to Federer giving Murray's weak Slam final history. Then again, it has to end at some point.
Nevertheless, I give the match to Federer, but Murray will have a small consolation price. The match will go to four sets and Murray will thereby have proven that he does not need to lose each and every set he plays in the slam finals.