For the last few years, all talk of Wimbledon used to begin and end with Roger Federer and his dominance on the green lawns of Centre Court. But after going 0-2 in Grand Slams and only grabbing two small titles (Estoril, Halle) so far this season, pundits and fans alike are saying his reign at The All-England Club could take a big hit by the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and a host of other capable grass-loving ballers. Let's take a look!
“Roger Federer is done.” That seems to be the mantra these days after the Swiss was obliterated by Rafael Nadal in the French Open final 2 weeks ago. But let’s face the facts: The world no. 1 lost on his least favored surface to arguably the best clay-court baller EVER playing his A+ game, so full credit to Rafa. But, Wimbledon and Fed go together like the ubiquitous (and apparently outrageously priced) strawberries + cream at The All-England Club and he owns a staggering 59 straight matches on the grass - nothing to sneeze at Bjorn Borg! A sixth consecutive Wimbledon championship is not out of the question for the world no. 1, no matter what the haters say.
Rafael Nadal is riding some serious momentum after crushing Fed for his fourth consecutive Roland Garros crown. A finalist the last 2 years at The All-England Club, the Mallorcan Matador won his first grass-court title ever when he defeated Andy Roddick then Novak Djokovic in a thrilling Queen’s Club final, becoming the first Spaniard in 36 years to accomplish the feat. Rafa has transitioned from clay to grass with near perfection this year and made subtle but smart adjustments to his game for the surface including a stronger serve, flatter forehand and closer baseline stance. All of these elements together make himself a strong favorite for the title, becoming the first man to accomplish the "double" since Bjorn Borg in 1980.
Though Novak Djokovic gave up big leads in that Queen’s Club loss to Rafa, the Serb served notice that after only three years ever playing on the green stuff, his game is well-suited for the surface: his strokes are flat, his game athletic and his competitiveness is second to none. A semifinal loser the last two years to Rafa, the trash-talking Aussie Open champ will be keen to take the next step towards a second Grand Slam this year and continue his march towards the top ranking. But the 21-year old ended up in the top half of the draw with a Federer semifinal looming - could it be deja vu for Nole?
The world of Andy Roddick has been quiet since his injury withdrawal (shoulder) from the Rome semifinals. But the American baller reappeared last week at Queen’s Club looking recovered but short of match play, falling to Rafa in the quarterfinals. A-Rod can take solace in the fact that he's beaten the top three ballers in the world this year, snapping a 11-match losing streak to Fed, and made the finals of Wimbledon in 2005 and 2006 on the back of his trademark powerful serve. No one would be surprised if A-Rod made it deep in the draw this year but what's surprising is his seeding at no. 6 this year below Nikolay Davydenko (4) and David Ferrer (5). Fortunately for A-Rod, though, the draw gods were smiling on him today with Kolya and James Blake the highest seeds in his section.
I have a “tough love” approach towards my darkhorse pick Richard Gasquet. I’m fighting myself even as I write this preview since I’ve been hyper-critical of the Frenchie baller this year. But his colorful game seems to come alive on the grass, particularly that ethereal backhand down the line. How can anyone forget watching that shot pick away at A-Rod’s hopes, and his 2 set lead, in last year’s epic quarterfinal win for Richard? Moreover, the 22-year old recently brought in Guillaume Peyrea as coach which will hopefully bring a refreshed approach. Richard has been due for a major breakthrough and there’s no place like Wimbledon to make that happen.
Also, keep and eye out for the lass from Latvia, Ernests Gulbis. The big-swinging baller with the lovely locks is in Rafa's section of the draw and could meet the Spaniard in the second round. With his big serve and power groundies, Ernests could trouble the French Open champ particularly this early in the tourney. And, if he gets past Rafa anything could happen for him.
Click here for the full men's draw.
(image via Getty)