Viewpoint: What's on the line at Wimbledon
Does Wimbledon feel a bit marginalized this year? I can understand if you think it does.
Any chances of a Grand Slam were dashed at the French Open, the Olympics are looming—and are being contested at the same venue as Wimbledon—and we just experienced the most anticipated chapter in the Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic rivalry. After four consecutive major final meetings, what more can they give us?
But the All England Club always delivers. There's only one Centre Court—even if the term is liberally used around the world—and Wimbledon's tradition usually brings out some of the season's best tennis. If the two weeks after Roland Garros are a hangover from Parisian excess, the fortnight that follows is when you are ready to drink again—but Pimm's this time; hold the Bordeaux.
There's also the fact that the men's champion, no matter who it is, will produce quite a story. (There are many interesting developments that can emanate from the women's tournament, but I don't believe it's universal.) That's because the four possible champs—Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Everyone Else—are such distinct entities and have so much to play for.
If he wins: He's dominating tennis like Federer did in his prime.
It would pain Federer fans to compare their man to Djokovic, but if the Serb wins Wimbledon, his year-and-a-half-long reign would undoubtedly feel familiar. It's essentially like Federer's 2006 and 2007 seasons: Cede the clay to Nadal, and win everything else. I think that's a trade-off Djokovic is willing to make.
If Djokovic's 2011 was like Federer's 2006, that's a good omen for Nole's 2012, which shares some similarities to Fed's 2007: It was far from flawless, but most of the big titles went his way. Djokovic has thrived as world No. 1; a Wimbledon title defense would only further validate his authority and rightfully put him in legendary conversation.
If he wins: Roger's Grand Slam record is in danger.
I first heard these whispers after Nadal beat Federer for the 2009 Australian Open. Then talk of it ratcheted up after Rafa's three-Slam season in 2010. When Nadal reached double-digit majors at the 2011 French Open, we weren't reaching any longer—he was just six titles away from Federer's 16.
But if Nadal, who currently owns 11 Grand Slam singles titles, wins his 12th in a few weeks' time, it would be a stretch to say that the Spaniard won't eventually surpass the Swiss—presuming Federer's total remains at 16. Nadal just turned 26, and he's won at least one major title in each of the last eight years. What's another four? And that's barring any multi-Slam campaigns.
If he wins: A legacy-changing moment.
With a win, he would tie Pete Sampras' record of seven Wimbledon titles and extend his record number of Grand Slam singles titles to 17. He would put himself in a real position to reclaim the No. 1 ranking and end any lingering suspicions of decline. If Federer, almost 31, can rise above an in-form Djokovic and Nadal, the man must still be reckoned with. Unless he doesn't want to be reckoned with anymore.
I don't expect Federer to quit after this season, but a major victory after years of misses would recall Pete Sampras' farewell title run at the 2002 U.S. Open. The then-31-year-old American insisted he had a Slam left in him, and Federer has consistently reminded us—with his play and in the press room—that he still plays title-contending tennis. The parallels make for interesting parlor talk, if nothing else.
If someone besides Djokovic, Nadal, or Federer wins: The Big Three can be beaten.
Period. The Nole-Rafa-Fed trio has been so dominant at majors for so long—they have combined to win 28 of the last 29—that it would be borderline shocking to see anyone else prevail.
This is particularly true at Wimbledon, a tournament which rarely sees surprise victors. In all likelihood, a non-Big-Three champion would need to beat two of the three to win it all, which hasn't been done since Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open. There's a reason we keep harkening back to that monumental event.
There are also significant personal achievements at stake. Andy Murray can end his and Great Britain's title drought at the Slams, but consider what a second Slam might mean for del Potro, or how differently we'd think of Tomas Berdych or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga if they won their first.
And if Milos Raonic breaks through at Wimbledon—or Andy Roddick improbably wins the whole thing, after so much heartbreak—that could be the most fascinating story of them all.
Originally published on ESPN.com.