Wimbledon 2017 Preview

Cheers mates! Wimby ’17 arrives just in time to fill the dog days of summer. Two weeks watching the best in the world go head-to-head on the grass is on tap; mornings of live tennis and afternoons of baseball for us in the States is a great way to pass a summer day. The field at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club this year is stacked for both the Men’s and Women’s draws… let’s get after it!

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Gentlemen’s Singles Draw

As noted in the French Open Preview, the Men’s draw at Roland Garros was lacking in drama with the tournament essentially Rafael Nadal’s to lose. A common take heading into Wimbledon is that this is Roger Federer’s to lose, and while it’s a valid argument that Fed is the most dangerous player of all time on the grass, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and most notably Rafa are all threats to prevent the Fed from claiming his eighth Wimbledon crown. Some of the other names to watch for include: Alexander Zverev who is poised to make his first major quarterfinal appearance (potential semi-finalist if the draw works out; Marin Cilic who has been peaking this Spring/Summer and has the chops to win a major; Stan Wawrinka who can never be dismissed at a slam (even one on grass where he’s not very good); and Tommy Haas… just kidding 39-yr old Tommy will likely be playing in his last Wimby and he’s cool so enjoy!

In seriousness though, from an outright handicapping perspective, the Men’s Singles draw is a two GOAT race….

 

Your Wimby ’17 Winner Pictured Above

2017 Roger Federer

Roger Federer is the most accomplished Men’s tennis player of all time holding 17 Grand Slam Titles including 7 Wimbledons. He broke his maiden at the Slam level here in 2003 beating Mark Philippoussis in straight-sets. Back then, challenger AZverev was 6-years old, World №1 in golf Tiger Woods was an eligible bachelor, the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years and Michael Phelps had yet to win a single Olympic medal (or take a bong hit, probably). In the 14 years since, Federer has dominated the sport of tennis, no more so than at this venue where year in, year out the fans have opined for one more title from the Great Swiss on the grass.

After winning 17 Grand Slam events between 2003 and 2012, the field caught up to Fed and the deluge of titles turned into a drought that lasted for 17 major events. As recently as Wimbledon 2016 when Federer was eliminated by up-and-coming Milos Raonic in the semifinals, many experts thought we would never see RF win that elusive 18th title. However, after rehabbing from an injury layoff that took him out of competition for the second half of 2016, Roger came back and won the Aussie Open in January (in an epic final against none other than Rafa Nadal) to claim №18.

 

What followed has been a shocking return to form; 2017 Federer has lost only two matches, both in relatively low-stakes situations. He supplemented his AO title with wins at the hard court Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami before taking a two month vacation to save his body from the wear and tear of the clay court season. Coming back to play on the grass tournaments in Germany, a rusty Fed lost to his old buddy Tommy Haas in Stuttgart before taking the Gerry Weber title in Halle, an event that saw him round into form without dropping a set, capped off with the demolition of the young Zverev 6–1, 6–3 in the Final.

Federer enters Wimby as the №3 seed behind 2016 Champ Andy Murray and 2015 Champ Novak Djokovic, however the consensus odds make Roger the favorite to win outright at around +225 (3.25 for you European lads). Federer clearly has a psychological edge over every young player in the field and the chances of an upset except to the hands of a select few is unlikely. In terms of form, his point construction and shot-making has been as good as ever although his serve has not been as lethal as it was prior to his spring recess, which is surprising playing on grass. The work done in the offseason with his coach Ivan Ljubicic to sure up his weaknesses and reduce errors on his backhand continues to keep Federer impregnable to the types of attack that brought him down the last few years.

The price is right at +225 to back Federer to win his 8th Wimbledon title which would move him out of his current tie with Pete Sampras and secure his place as the standalone greatest ever to play on grass.

The King of Clay

 

Rafa Nadal was absolutely spectacular on clay in 2017 capped by a superlative sweep at Roland Garros where the only thing he lost was more hair. It’s very hard to determine exactly how much better Rafa was than the next best player in the tournament but it was not close. Rafa took home La Decima without dropping a set and in fact never conceded more than 4 games in a set over the fortnight; his total time spent on court was the shortest ever for a major champion who played at least 18 sets by over an hour. Simply stated it was among if not the single most dominant performance ever played out on a tennis court.

Winning seven best of five matches without losing a set in a major is quite a feat and you may ask “has anyone ever done that before?” Well, yes, this makes the third such sweep for Rafa at Roland Garros and interestingly, after sweeping in 2008 and 2010, Rafa went on to win his two Wimbledon titles (including a 2008 upset over tournament favorite… you guessed it, Roger Federer). So if you’re keeping track at home, every time Rafa has swept the French he’s gone on to win Wimbledon, he’s only ever won Wimbledon after sweeping the French, and he swept the French this year. This is a long way of saying Rafa is in peak form, potentially the best of his life, and he presents a very real threat to stop Federer from winning this championship.

Nadal will be seeded №4 and has consensus odds around +500 (6.00) which is longer than one might expect given the fact that he was an unstoppable force just last month on clay. As you may know, clay is the slowest of the tennis surfaces while grass is the fastest and the challenges presented by court speed will limit Nadal’s effectiveness somewhat. There is always a chance that after accomplishing the career goals that Nadal accomplished this Spring he’ll have a letdown. Rafa is also coming off an injury-filled 2016 and has publicly stated his concern about the impact that playing on grass will have on his body. He withdrew from Queen’s last week, the one grass tune-up he had scheduled, so Round 1 will be his first look at a grass court since losing to Dustin Brown in the 2nd Round of Wimbledon 2015, two years ago. Finally, the odds fall well short of Roger’s because 2017 has been a turn of the tide in the “Fedal” rivalry. After years of coming up on the short end in their head-to-heads, 2017 has seen Federer the victor in all three hard court matches contested including the highest stakes match of the year, the Australian Open Final.

These are all legitimate reasons to be concerned about backing Nadal, however, at +500 this is the only other future worth considering in the outright market and it’s based entirely on the overwhelming domination that Rafa exhibited in April and May. The odds on an exact Federer-Nadal Final will absolutely make the card after the draw is released on Friday.

The Lesser of the Big Four

 

Poor Andy Murray and lost Novak Djokovic are in the midst of mid-career lows. Neither has played an inspiring tournament of tennis this calendar year and it appears as though the grind of running down Fed and Nadal has taken it’s toll and both appear ready to concede their places at the top of the ATP rankings with little resistance.

Hopefully Andy Murray will mount a rousing Title defense and make a run to the semis where we can rekindle his grass rivalry with Roger Federer. A more likely outcome seems to be a defeat at the hands of Marin Cilic or Alexander Zverev both of whom would be great looks to come out of the top quarter if they find themselves seeded there.

Djokovic on the other hand looks like he has no interest in playing at the highest level right now as evidenced by his complete fold-up job against Dominic Thiem in the French Open quarterfinals. Unfortunately for him, an extended break which would likely solve some of his issues is not a possibility given he is a prisoner to his new deal with Lacoste as the brand ambassador. As a result it feels likely we’ll see a challenger show up with their top form in the middle rounds and Nole will wave the white flag.

The odds for Murray and Djoker at +350 and +600, respectively, look like sucker bets and in each case sharp bettors will look for other potential players to come out of their quarters of the draw.

The Field

There will be many great matches out over the course of the two weeks we spend at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club but none of the other competitors that haven’t already been mentioned stand a particularly good chance at taking home the hardware.

Marin Cilic stands out from the field as he is in the finest form of his life, expecting his spectacular 2014 US Open Title. For whatever reason Cilic has been unable to win a single tiebreaker on grass in the lead-up tourneys, otherwise he would likely have two titles to his name in June. He’s not a historically bad tiebreaker player so the struggles could go either way; he could be due for some luck or this could be in his head. Regardless, the concensus odds at 18/1 are just a little too short to do much with because his ceiling is likely the Semis.

Alexander Zverev was a Round 1 bust at Roland Garros but rebounded nicely in his grass court matches this last month. He managed a 6–2 record with some gutsy wins and only the one bad loss to Federer in the Halle Final. A dream draw puts him in Nole’s quarter and Zverev makes a semifinal run to lose a 5-setter to Nadal. Again at 20/1 given his lack of success in best-of-five tennis there doesn’t appear to be a strong reason to back his future.

Other well know names like Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem are cross-offs because they have shown incredible poor form on grass over the years with neither performing above the level of an average player on this surface. Milos Raonic, last year’s runner-up, is a huge question mark; it’s completely unclear how healthy he is and his recent form has ranged from the un-exceptional to the outright atrocious so he is also worth steering clear of.

There are really no long shots to note but it would be a shame to move on without acknowledging the excellent grass performances by Giles Muller and Feliciano Lopez over the last few weeks. Both men won titles in very impressive fields with play that belied a toughness that neither competitor was known for. Muller has been a tiebreak winning machine and Lopez has been grinding out 3–set wins against players traditionally ranked above him. The Lopez victory at Queen’s Club in London was a particularly special moment for the 35-yr old Spaniard marking his first title at the 500-level on the ATP tour.

 

Well that wraps the outright preview for the Gentlemen’s Singles field. Coming up Thursday and Friday look for a few more posts touching on the Ladies Futures, Things to Know as a Casual Fan, and a short breakdown/analysis of the draw with a full futures card once we get a peek at the draw.

Cheers and enjoy The Championships!