As the Wimbledon Championships start their second week, the real tennis begins. Here is the time when the lower ranked players have usually been dismissed, and the big guns are left. Four players have separated themselves from the rest so far this year: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Each have a legitimate shot.
Of the four, Nadal has the toughest road. If you were to compare the top four players, Nadal in fact has a nightmare of a road to the title. Today he will face Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open titlist. If he wins there, he potentially faces 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych. Then his reward will likely be a rematch with Andy Murray, then either Federer or Djokovic in the final.
Roger Federer will face Mikhail Youzhny next, who he is 10-0 against in his career, then either David Ferrer or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Only Tsonga has any real credentials on grass.
Djokovic will see journeyman and 19th seed Michael Llodra, and then unseeded Xavier Malisse or qualifier Bernard Tomic. Murray will face 17th seed Richard Gasquet, and then either of two unseeded players before facing the heavy artillery.
If you are Djokovic or Murray, you couldn't ask for much easier tasks heading into the final four.
For Nadal, who had to endure questions earlier this week as to whether he "was in decline" and his best years were behind him, this will be his chance to prove people wrong. When asked, Nadal seemed baffled by the question, and his face twisted into a fiery stare similar to the one seen when he smacks a monster forehand winner to close out a set. He will need that fire in the next few rounds.
For Federer, it will be a chance to recapture the magic. If he closes out his next two opponents quickly heading into the semifinals, he will be tough to beat.
For Murray, there is the opportunity to lift a load of expectations from his shoulders, to win a Slam on his home turf. The place will go crazy.
Djokovic will want to cement his place as an equal threat to Nadal and Federer. If you asked him, he would surely trade his victories over Nadal in lesser tournaments and much more for a win on the big stage in the finals at Roland Garros. Champions are ultimately measured by their Grand Slam titles, and failure there will be a big disappointment for Djokovic.
For Nadal's part, I'm sure he could care less about the No. 1 ranking as long as he keeps winning the Slams. Should he win Wimbledon, he will tie Borg for Slam titles, complete his third Channel Slam and send a demoralizing message to his opponents.