– All active American men’s tennis players have a combined ONE major title.
– The highest ranked American is 9th in the world, and he is a 29-year old that no one has ever heard of (Mardy Fish).
– The highest-ranked American under the age of 28 is Sam Querrey at #40.
Because of the historic low in which American men’s tennis is mired right now, most of the country is completely blind to the fact that we are enjoying one of the most interesting eras of tennis in a very long time. In fact, I would argue that 2011 may be the most intriguing and interesting year of men’s tennis in my lifetime of fandom. And, Wimbledon, which starts today, may be the most intriguing tournament of what could be an epic season of tennis.
The reason to get interested in men’s tennis right now is obvious – the Big Four. As deep as the talent goes right now, the top of the men’s rankings is ripe with storyline after storyline, and the next two weeks at the hallowed grounds of the All-England Club should be absolutely fascinating!
After Rafael Nadal held on to his #1 ranking, by taking his record-tying 6th French Open title, I sent a text to the Lead BSB Tennis Correspondent, Alexi, that simply said “So…who’s the favorite now at Wimbledon?” It was a simple question that drew upon an incredibly complex array of factors entering the 135th Championships at Wimbledon. Let’s take a look at the four reasons (in reverse order of how I would have answered the question) why this normally simple and mundane question does not have such an elementary answer this year.
4). Andy Murray
The last British male to win the singles’ title at their own heralded championship was Fred Perry in 1936. But, now they have serious hopes of possibly breaking that heart-wrenching drought with their Scottish hero, Andy Murray. However, as good as Murray has played and as serious of a contender he will likely be for many years to come, it still remains to be seen if he has the mental toughness to ever get it done. He has made it to three major championships, but has not won a single set in any of them. He has proven almost incapable of dealing with big-pressure moments, and Andy Murray in a Wimbledon final is probably a more pressure-packed moment than any player could possibly have, considering history and the fervor of tennis in the UK. Because of all of this – and the fact that he is number 4 in the world and grass is not his best surface – Murray is clearly the #4 favorite to win the title this year. But, just the fact that he’s Scottish and in the conversation adds greatly to the intrigue that these next two weeks will deliver.
3). Rafael Nadal
The #1 player in the world, who has already completed a career Grand Slam at the mere age of 25,
is coming off a dominating performance in Paris to record his 6th French Open and 10th career Grand Slam title. He is the #1 seed and has already won this tournament twice. So, how is he the 3rd most likely to win it this year? Well, I have no idea – and I am the one that made these rankings. See, THIS is why this tournament is going to be so great! The separation between the top 3 players on this surface, coming into this tournament is razor thin. I have Nadal #3 not because of anything he can’t do (or hasn’t done), but just because I think that one of the other guys is playing slightly better tennis and one of the other guys is slightly better on this surface. Would I bet against Rafa? Hell no. And, for the record, that Lead Tennis Correspondent I referred to above, he replied to my simple question with a simple answer, “I guess it’s gotta be Rafa.” And, this from the biggest Federer fan I know.
2). Novak Djokovic
John McEnroe won 43 straight matches to open the 1984 tennis season, which still stands as the longest winning streak to open a season. Djokovic was 42-0 this year entering his semifinal match against Roger Federer at the French Open last month. Beaten by the great Federer left Novak one short of McEnroe’s record to open a season and only four shy of the overall match winning streak of Guillermo Villas in the summer of 1977. Needless to say, the Djoker has been playing, far and away, the best tennis in the world. If Djokovic had beaten Federer – win or lose in the finals to Nadal – he would enter this tournament #1 in the world and, probably, a somewhat clear favorite to take down his first Wimbledon title. But, he didn’t. So, despite playing undoubtably the best tennis in the world right now and enjoying a much-improved grass game, Djokovic has still never won this tournament, while some other guy has won it, oh, SIX times.
1). Roger Federer
It is strange to me that saying “Roger Federer is the favorite to win Wimbledon this year” would
probably be greeted – by actual tennis fans – as a “bold statement.” But, with Djokovic’s play this year and Nadal’s youth and health, the general consensus is that The Federer – the #3 seed – is probably the #3 choice for this title. But, I saw something in the old champ at Roland Garros this year. He looks, to me, like he has said to himself, “alright, Roger, let’s put together one last great season before forever relinquishing the world #1 to the ‘next generation’.” And, with Wimbledon being his best surface, you have to believe that he is revved up and ready to make a run at a 17th major title next week. I am not yet ready to throw dirt on the greatest player to ever play. Let us, for one last time, treat this legend as the pre-tournament favorite – not for sentimental reasons, but for logical, emotionless, actual tennis reasons.
While there are four players that seem a level above the rest of the world, the top three have probably all separated themselves from Andy Murray a little bit, as well. That means that the 1-seed earned by Rafa really pays off because Federer and Djokovic are lined up in the semis again here in Wimbledon. Let’s take a look at the draws, starting with the third-round, assuming none of these guys loses to an unseeded player:
- 3rd Round –> #31 Milos Raonic – the Russian-Canadian, who is playing decent tennis, but should be absolutely no match for the world’s #1.
- Round of 16 –> #15 Gilles Simon/#24 Juan Martin Del Potro – actually nothing easy here in the Round of 16, as both players are supremely talented, however neither excels on grass. Simon is playing the best tennis of his career now that he’s finally healthy and Del Potro is slowly recovering from an injury that derailed his quest to the top after winning last year’s US Open
- Quarterfinals –> #6 Tomas Berdych/#10 Mardy Fish/#21 Fernando Verdasco/#25 Juan-Ignacio Chela – Berdych will always be terrifying, particularly on this surface. And, Verdasco – one of Rafa’s best friends who has beaten him before in a Grand Slam – is never a good draw. But, if it’s either Fish or Chela, I don’t see Rafa having too much trouble. As for as a QF draw, this could have been a lot worse.
- 3rd Round –> #27 Marin Cilic – This could also be the big-serving Ivan Ljubicic, but either way, this will be no walkover 3rd round match. Murray will have to come to play from the start against whichever big-serving Croats most likely lines up here in the 3rd round.
- Round of 16 –> #14 Stanislas Wawrinka/#17 Richard Gasquet – Murray will probably be rooting for an early upset of Wawrinka because Gasquet is not that scary here on grass. He’s a grizzled vet with a head for the game, but will most likely be overpowered by Wawrinka in the 3rd round and, if not, should bow out to Murray. Stan, on the other hand, might really pose a threat to Murray, as he has a big game and has a lot of big-match experience under his belt. He also seems to play well on the faster surfaces, despite not possessing a killer serve.
- Quarterfinals –> #8 Andy Roddick/#9 Gael Monfils/#23 Janko Tipsarevic/#30 Tomaz Bellucci – While it seems, by just the numbers, that Murray caught a break here with the 8-seed in his quadrant, but when that 8-seed is Andy Roddick and is coupled with an elitely talented 9-seed in Monfils. Murray will need his best stuff to even reach the dream Final Four that we had at Roland Garros.
- 3rd Round –> #28 David Nalbandian – This is fascinating! While, admittedly, David Nalbandian is not the same player he has been in the past, his “rivalry” with Federer is phenomenal. Through this amazing run of Federer, no one in the world not named Rafa has given Federer more trouble than this pesky Argentine. Nalbandian has won 8 of the 18 matches they have played and is not scared of The Federer. In fact, these two guys clearly do not like each other with a personal rivalry dating back to their days in the juniors. This could be really interesting.
- Round of 16 –> #16 Nicolas Almagro/#18 Mikhail Youzhny – As tough as the 3rd round draw was for Roger, this Round of 16 draw is not nearly as bad. Almagro is not much of a threat to Federer on grass, and Youzhny is still recovering from an injury, though he has been playing better as of late. This shouldn’t be too much of a speed bump for the 6-time champ.
- Quarterfinals –> #7 David Ferrer/#12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/#22 Alexandr Dogopolov/#26 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez – You can never hope for an easy quarterfinal match, and this draw is no different. If it’s Ferrer, Federer may not be in jeopardy of losing the match, but he may be in jeopardy of needing every ounce of energy, which could carryover to a potential semifinal tilt with Djokovic. If it’s Tsonga, he is in danger of losing, but he also might move on without breaking a sweat. And, watch for the young Ukrainian, Dogopolov, who has a TON of game, which was on display in Australia this year when he beat Tsonga and Soderling to reach the semis, where he gave Murray a real fight.
- 3rd Round –> #32 Marcos Baghdatis – Baghdatis, who plays a fascinating first-round match against James Blake probably doesn’t have the game left to push Djokovic in any way. But, I guess there is a chance because, when focused and healthy, he is as good as there is. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen all that often.
- Round of 16 –> #13 Viktor Troicki/#19 Michael Llodra – An interesting draw here because Djokovic and Troicki are really close friends and countrymen. I think that a personal closeness usually favors the higher-ranked player in the majors, for psychological reasons that I am not qualified to elaborate on. I don’t expect Llodra to make any noise here.
- Quarterfinals –> #5 Robin Soderling/#11 Jurgen Melzer/#20 Florian Mayer/#29 Nikolay Davydenko – Djokovic almost assuredly got the worst quarterfinal draw, by seed and in actualilty. Robin Soderling may be closer to making it a “Big Five” than many people realize. He is a legit threat and should make for a phenomenal quarterfinal here.