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Wimbledon Men's Preview: Can anyone stop the Big 3 at the Big W?
A closer look at Djokovic’s, Federer’s, and Nadal’s varyingly-difficult paths to the title.
Published Jun 28, 2019
View the entire men's bracket at our Wimbledon tournament page.
Tennis isn’t run out of the offices of the All England Club the way it once was, but Wimbledon can still throw a little of its old weight around. This year, the tournament unilaterally reversed the seedings of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer—Rafa went from No. 2 to No. 3, and Roger went from No. 3 to No. 2. Wimbledon is the only tournament that reserves the right to deviate from the rankings when it makes its seeds, which are based on a formula that the club has devised to measure a player’s grass-court skills. Once upon a time, when grass was an outlier surface that heavily favored huge servers and heavily disadvantaged baseliners, the idea made sense. But those days are over—while Federer has won Wimbledon eight times, Nadal has won it twice, and he nearly reached the final again last year. More important, the players don’t have a say in how the tournament’s self-created system works; it’s time to give them one, if they want it.
With that minor controversy behind us, we can move on to greener pastures—a first look at the men’s draw.
The last time we saw Novak Djokovic, he was stalking out of Court Philippe Chatrier in exasperation, having lost a two-day, five-set semifinal to Dominic Thiem. But if you think that will hurt his chances at Wimbledon, you should probably think again. Djokovic has made a specialty of taking disappointment at Roland Garros and turning it into redemption at Wimbledon; he’s done it four times, including last year. The only time he won in Paris, in 2016, he went out early in London.
Djokovic’s draw shouldn’t hurt his chances at a fifth Wimbledon title. While he starts against Philipp Kohlschreiber, who beat him at Indian Wells in March, the first seed he could face is his countryman Dusan Lajovic. For now, all eyes will be on a potential quarterfinal between Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas. If Tsitsipas makes it, that is. David Goffin, who reached the final in Halle; Daniil Medvedev, who reached the semifinals at Queen’s Club; home favorite Kyle Edmund; and Ivo Karlovic are all on Tsitsy’s side of this section.
First-round matches to watch:
—Djokovic vs. Kohlschreiber
—Tsitsipas vs. Thomas Fabbiano, who reached the semifinals in Eastbourne this week
—Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. fellow Canadian and former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Vasek Pospisil
With no member of the Big 3 looming, this quarter qualifies as the land of opportunity in the men’s draw. And it opens up even more when you see who the top two seeds are: Kevin Anderson, the runner-up from last year who has been sidelined for much of 2019; and Alexander Zverev, who is still looking to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal.
Who might take advantage of this opening? Stan Wawrinka, a two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and Milos Raonic, the 2016 finalist, are two names that jump out; unfortunately for them, they’re slated to play each other in the third round. The same could go for Karen Khachanov and Roberto Bautista Agut; the Russian and the Spaniard are also set to the meet in the third round. How about Benoit Paire? The Frenchman is on-the-record as a Wimbledon hater, but he has been to the fourth round there, and he has been playing some of the best tennis of his career this year.
Player of Interest: Reilly Opelka. In theory, this monster server could be a nightmare on grass. Wawrinka may have to face him in the second round.
If Nadal didn’t like his seeding demotion—and he didn’t—he’s not going to like his draw, either. In particular, the opponent he could face in the second round: Nick Kyrgios. Aside from getting under Rafa’s skin, the Aussie beat him at Wimbledon in 2014, and again earlier this year in Acapulco. That said, Kyrgios has a potentially tricky first-rounder to get through, against his countryman Jordan Thompson, who is ranked just two spots behind him and has played well in Turkey this week. Kyrgios and Thompson have never played a tour match against each other.
If Nadal does go out early, who might be ready to take his semifinal spot? Thiem is the second-highest seed here, but he’s just 5-5 at Wimbledon, and he has a very tough opener against 2017 semifinalist Sam Querrey, who has looked sharp again this week in Eastbourne. That could leave an opening for Marin Cilic. The 2017 finalist has had a bad year, but if he’s going to break out of his slump anywhere, Wimbledon would seem the likely place.
First-round matches to watch: Thiem vs. Querrey; Fabio Fognini vs. Frances Tiafoe; Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Bernard Tomic; Kyrgios vs. Thompson; Ciic vs. Adrian Mannarino
While Nadal has a bumpy-looking path to the semifinals, Federer’s seems to be a smooth one, at least on paper. The eight-time champ, who just won his 10th title in Halle, will start against 87th-ranked Lloyd Harris of South Africa, and the three seeds in his half of this section are Lucas Pouille, Diego Schwartzman and Borna Coric—none of whom would seem to present major challenges to Federer on grass right now. The same goes for the second seed in this quarter, Kei Nishikori, who has reached just one Wimbledon quarterfinal in 10 tries. The one player who would seem to pose a test, 2018 semifinalist John Isner, hasn’t played at all since April, when he suffered a stress fracture in his foot against Federer in the Miami final.
Players of Interest:
—Jan-Lennard Struff. The towering German in just 3-6 at Wimbledon, and he’s buried deep in the draw here, but he’s been on the verge of a breakout in 2019, and his heavy artillery game could present problems to anyone on grass.
—Taylor Fritz: Another spring-long European adventure has paid dividends for the young Californian. He recorded quality wins over Guido Pella and Hubert Hurkacz in Eastbourne this week. Now he’ll go up against 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych.
First-round matches to watch: Isner vs. Casper Ruud; Pouille vs. Richard Gasquet; Fritz vs. Berdych
Semifinals: Djokovic d. Wawrinka; Federer d. Cilic
Final: Djokovic d. Federer