It is the Sunday before Wimbledon. Yet you and I can envision more than a few storylines that could unfold over the two weeks on the grassy courts at the All-England Championships.
In the men’s section, the top four seeds each have designs on the title.
Will it be Rafael Nadal, last-man-standing, on July 3, 2011 making it a treble of French Open and Wimbledon crowns in the same season, emulating his 2008 and 2010 feats—further etching in stone comparisons to the marvellous Bjorn Borg?
Or will it be Roger Federer, clinching an unprecedented 17th Grand Slam, forcing detractors to eat their words? His promise “Let’s talk in six months” take on ominous undertones given his bravura performance at the French Open in Paris.
Perhaps , Novak Djokovic, recharged and reinvigorated after a well-deserved break, freed from the pressures of continuing a streak unseen in men’s tennis since John McEnroe, will seize the moment and centre stage.
Is Andy Murray able and willing to deny his mental frailties and produce two weeks of sublime tennis? A second title at Queen’s ensconces him as one of the more serious challengers—game ankle or not. Right said, Fred?
Tomas Berdych followed up his 2010 French Open semi-final with a run to the final only to succumb to Rafael Nadal in straight sets. A repeat seems less likely this time around. Tomas, alas, is not the only one who doubts.
Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga exposed Rafael Nadal at Queen's this year in the quarter-final. The Spaniard cannot be considered a dead cert for the title. Tsonga is capable of upsetting anyone on his day. Recall his clinical disposal of the Mallorcan at the 2008 Australian Open. Fit and fighting, this Ali-lookalike can sting.
Robin Soderling could not match his 2009 and 2010 French Open final appearances losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal in the quarters in May.Soderling's best finish at Wimbledon came last year, exiting in the quarter-finals. Can he further his cause at Wimbledon?
2009 US Open champion, Juan Martin Del Potro, has it in him to surprise anyone on his day.However, Del Potro's worst results in majors have come at Wimbledon with second round exits in 2007,2008 and 2009.The Argentinean has won one tournament this year, the Estoril Open on clay. Can he unshackle mind, body and spirit and take a huge swing at re-establishing himself in the top echelons of the game?
Other contenders to keep an eye on include Mardy Fish,Stanislas Wawrinka,Richard Gasquet,Michael Llodra, Marin Cilic,David Nalbandian, Milos Raonic and Marcos Baghdatis. They are each capable of upsetting the very best.
Milos Raonic is my dark horse for the tournament. He will have to knock out Rafael Nadal in the third round to make real progress.
Installed Favourite: Rafael Nadal.
Top Quarter or Rafael Nadal’s Quarter
Ask any top player why they slug it out throughout the year for ATP points and you will discover that it’s the rankings that decide seedings at tournaments. Every player wishes to be seeded as high as possible especially at the majors.
The higher the ranking, the lesser the possibility of meeting a tough opponent in the earlier rounds. Less gruelling matches up-front means that a player is still fresh—not battle-weary and scarred—during the second phase or business end of the tournament.
That’s why so much interest centred on whether Roger Federer would be seeded ahead of Novak Djokovic this year at Wimbledon. The men’s draw threw up no surprises. Seedings mimicked ATP rankings.
Let’s take a look at what awaits Rafael Nadal in his side of the draw.
The No.1 seed takes on American Michael Russell in the first round.Russell is best known for holding match-point against eventual champion Gustavo Kuerten at the 2001 French Open in the 4th round. The 33-year-old is not expected to trouble the champion but is expected to produce his best on court.
Up next, it could be either compatriot Pablo Andujar or another American Ryan Sweeting—for the Spaniard.
Milos Raonic looms large in the third round. The big-serving Canadian could prove more than a handful for the top seed.
In the fourth round, 2009 US Open champion, Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, ranked 24, is the obstacle to be weathered by the champion.
Should the Mallorcan crush all comers, a repeat of last year’s final is on the cards with No. 6 seed, Tomas Berdych, expected to blaze through his side for this match-up. A possibly less dangerous opponent in the quarters is American Mardy Fish.
It is not going to be easy for Rafael Nadal. But then, we all know how adversity brings out the best in him. His French Open victory this year is testament to his never-say-die spirit.
Winner: Rafael Nadal
Second Quarter or Andy Murray Section
A victory at Queen’s—his second—means that the Scot is on a high. He faces Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver in the first round.Gimeno-Traver is currently ranked 56 and his best result in a major is a third round finish at the 2010 US Open.
In the second round, Murray could face either German Tomas Kamke or Slovakian Blaz Kavcic. Marin Cilic lurks in the third round should he triumph over fellow Croatian Ivan Ljubicic and either of Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky or Great Britian’s Daniel Cox.
Frenchman Richard Gasquet or Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka are possible opponents in the fourth round. They are both mean grass-court exponents.
Murray is slated to meet Andy Roddick in the quarter-finals, a repeat of this year’s semi-final at Queens.
Roddick will have to navigate through possibly Ivo Karlovic,Janko Tipsarevic or Gael Monfils in the fourth round for a chance at revenge.
Top Dog: Andy Murray.
Third Quarter or Roger Federer’s Draw
Roger Federer encounters Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin in the first round. A tricky encounter in the third round against Argentinean David Nalbandian is on the cards. Nalbandian lost the 2002 final to Australian Lleyton Hewitt.
Federer’s fourth round opponent could be either Russian Mikhail Youzhny—seeded 18th—or marathon man John Isner. Indian tennis fans will hope that Somdev Devvarman makes an impression and encounters the maestro instead. He will have to beat Youzhny and John Isner—for that to happen.
The Swiss is seeded to meet either Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or No. 7 David Ferrer in the quarters.
Grigor Dimitrov and Ivan Dodig could spring surprises on Tsonga and Ferrer respectively
Top Dog: Roger Federer
Bottom Quarter or Novak Djokovic’s Quarter
The Djoker takes on Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the first round.South African Kevin Anderson is next on the anvil. (Indian tennis fans will remember the antipodean for his marathon Davis Cup match against Somdev Devvarman.)
Marcos Baghdatis will have to eliminate American James Blake in the first round to keep his date with the Serbian in the third round.
Michael Llodra or fellow countryman Viktor Troicki could be Nole’s fourth round opponent unless James Ward decides to take to Wimbledon as he took to Queens— this year.
Robin Soderling meets Germany’s Philipp Petzschner in the first round.
In the second, it could be former champion, Lleyton Hewitt or Japanese Kei Nishikori for the Swede. Nikolay Davydenko is a serious hurdle in the third.
Florian Mayer, Jurgen Lelzer, Ernest Gulbis or Xavier Malisse are all possible opponents in the round-of-16.
Man Through: Novak Djokovic
Quote of the day: In great affairs men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small things they show themselves as they are. – Nicholas Chamfort