An initial glance down the Wimbledon men’s draw reveals two things: (1) for the first time in 12 months, all of the game’s big names—Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin Del Potro—are present and accounted for; and (2) not all of them seem ready to threaten for the title just yet. Here’s a look ahead at how brightly those stars might shine, and who might come along to dim them.
In his two Wimbledon tune-up events, in Stuttgart and Halle, Federer reached two finals and won one of them. Yet he spent much of his time in Halle struggling to find a feel for the ball. Will that matter at Wimbledon? I’m going to say no, primarily because of the scoring format, and the psychological effect it has on Federer and his opponents. Going from best-of-three to best-of-five helps Federer settle in, and makes it harder for his opponents to believe they can maintain a winning level of play against him for three entire sets.
That said, there are players in Federer’s draw who could threaten him. His first opponent, Dusan Lajovic, is a talented ball-striker who took Alexander Zverev to a fifth set at the French Open. One of his potential third-round opponents, Ivo Karlovic, is never an easy out. His fourth-round opponent might be Borna Coric, who beat him last week in Halle. One of his possible quarterfinal opponents, Kevin Anderson, has pushed Djokovic to the limit at Wimbledon in the past. Another, Sam Querrey, has beaten both Djokovic and Murray there. A third, Richard Gasquet, just win a grass-court event.
Dark Horses: Coric, Querrey, Gasquet and Gilles Muller, a grass-court specialist who upset Nadal at Wimbledon last year
First-round match to watch: Gasquet vs. Gael Monfils
Strokes of Genius trailer, presented by Humana
Can we pencil Marin Cilic into the semifinals? For many years, this would have been an outlandish question, but all the signs right now say yes. Cilic reached the final at Wimbledon last year, and two years ago he nearly beat Federer in the quarterfinals. He also reached the final of the last non-clay major, the Australian Open, and he’s coming off one of the best wins of his career, at Queen's Club, in which he saved a match point to record just his second career win over Djokovic in the final. That has to a be a confidence booster for a guy who has spent his career firmly in the shadow of the Big 4.
Now Cilic has been given a seemingly manageable path to another Wimbledon semi. The second-highest seed in his quarter is Grigor Dimitrov, and the first seed he could face is Filip Krajinovic. That’s not to say there aren’t players to watch here, most prominently 2016 finalist Milos Raonic, No. 9 seed John Isner and No. 17 seed Lucas Pouille. But Cilic has made himself the most reliable among all of them.
First-round match to watch: Dimitrov vs. Wawrinka
Before the French Open, much of the chatter concerned Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, and their chances of making a breakthrough for the youth brigade. With Federer and Murray active again at Wimbledon, there’s much less ink space left for the German and the Austrian. Rightfully so: neither has made it past the fourth round at SW19. Still, as the top two seeds in this section, they have a chance to rectify that over the next two weeks.
In between Thiem and Zverev are two other names of note: Djokovic (who is in Thiem’s half) and Nick Kyrgios (who is in Zverev’s). Anything seems possible, from an early defeat to a title run, for Djokovic at the moment. Last week, he played well enough to win Queen’s, but didn’t quite have the confidence to close it out against Cilic in the final. It’s hard to say what, if any, affect that will have on Djokovic this week. Either way, he’ll start against Tennys Sandgren, and could face Kyle Edmund in the third round. As for Kyrgios, would you favor him in a third-rounder against Kei Nishikori?
First-round matches to watch: Fernando Verdasco vs. Frances Tiafoe, David Ferrer vs. Karen Khachanov
The biggest question of the men’s event comes at the very bottom of the draw. What do we think of Nadal’s chances? His recent Wimbledon struggles have been well-documented; since 2011, he has failed to reach the quarterfinals, and his defeats have come at the hands of much-lower-ranked players. That could obviously happen again, but looking at his draw, no one jumps out as a doomsday threat.
If form holds, his path will take him through Dudi Sela, Vasek Pospisil or Mikhail Kukushkin, Mischa Zverev, Diego Schwartzman, and del Potro. Of those players, Zverev, with his left-handed serve and net-rushing skills, has the most obvious chance to take Nadal out of his game. But Rafa gained some confidence with his three wins at the All England Club last year. As he said after his 15-13-in-the-fifth-set loss to Gilles Muller, he felt ready to do “important things” at Wimbledon again in 2017. Maybe he’ll get to do them this year.
Dark Horses: Mischa Zverev and Feliciano Lopez, who could trouble Delpo in the second round
First-round match to watch: Murray vs. Benoit Paire
Semifinals: Federer d. Cilic; Nadal d. Djokovic
Final: Federer d. Nadal
A LANDMARK DOCUMENTARY DURING THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS EVENT IN SPORTS, CELEBRATING THE UNPARALLELED FEDERER-NADAL RIVALRY AND 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE GREATEST MATCH EVER PLAYED.
In association with All England Lawn & Tennis Club, Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment and Amblin Television. Directed by Andrew Douglas.