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The Drive for nine: 2018 Wimbledon men’s preview

Roger Federer

The so-called “Big Four” have been very stingy in terms of allowing others to win prestigious events over the years. Nowhere has that been truer than Wimbledon. The last time someone with a last name other than Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray won the event was 2002. Before examining whether or not that trend continues, here are some intriguing openers.

(26) Denis Shapovalov vs. Jérémy Chardy– Shapovalov is a 19-year-old lefty Canadian shot maker who has risen about 200 ranking spots since the end of 2016. He has yet to become a consistent threat at the majors, but has all the tools to do so. Chardy is a big hitting streaky Frenchman. The 31-year-old has enough firepower to be dangerous on all surfaces.

(6) Grigor Dimitrov vs. Stan Wawrinka Dimitrov’s game style has always drawn comparisons to Roger Federer. Thus, his best results have come on grass. The former Wimbledon semifinalist will be looking to kick-start a somewhat disappointing year. Even though knee injuries have derailed Wawrinka’s career, his Bulgarian opponent cannot be happy about drawing a three-time major winner in his opener.

(30) Fernando Verdasco vs. Frances Tiafoe- Tiafoe is the most intriguing prospect in American men’s tennis. He has already won his first career tour-level title and achieved a new career-high ranking this year. He gets a tough, but winnable opener against a veteran Spanish lefty here. Verdasco has been to at least the fourth round at every major.

Predictions:

Top half:  Top seed and defending champion Roger Federer is hunting an unprecedented ninth Wimbledon title. The list of players that have a realistic shot at beating him at the All England Club this or any other year is short. However, the Swiss legend may have to run into one of those players in the first week.  (16) Borna Ćorić of Croatia defeated Federer in the finals of Halle a little over a week ago. Beating Federer in a best-of-five-sets format at Wimbledon is a whole different ballgame, but not many players walk on to a grass court with much belief against the greatest of all time. Should they meet in the fourth round, Ćorić will have that box checked.

Despite his loss in Halle, Federer has won 19 of his last 20 matches on grass. It is hard to find many other realistic challengers for him at this event, especially early on. Federer’s path to the semis is littered with big servers like eighth seed Kevin Anderson of South Africa and Ivo Karlovic who is a member of the highly exclusive 10,000 ace club. Unfortunately for them, Federer is perhaps the best of all time when it comes to dealing with big servers.

marin cilic
Photo: express.co.uk

(3) Marin Čilić is the likely semifinal opponent for Federer in this half. He is one of the least talked about great players ever. He has reached at least the final at three of the four majors, including this one last year. He is fresh off defeating a resurgent Novak Djokovic to win the title at Queens Club and never seems to have a bad week.

You can never fully discount other seeds with firepower like John Isner, but this half is set to build towards Federer vs. Čilić. Čilić is a much better player than his body allowed him to show in last year’s final. Expect a tight match, but the same result.

Semifinal prediction: Federer d. Čilić

Bottom half:

This half is far more open. Home crowd favorite and two-time champ Andy Murray has withdrawn after saying he came back too soon from hip surgery. The two names everyone is going to gravitate towards in this part of the draw are (2) Rafael Nadal and (12) Novak Djokovic. The more things change the more they stay the same.

However, Nadal has not played an official event since winning the French Open. He has also not gone beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon since 2011. Nadal’s grit has won him two Wimbledon titles, but grass has always been tough on both his game and body. The good news is he is surrounded by players who like him, are more comfortable on clay, at least in the early rounds.

Djokovic is a three-time Wimbledon winner who had his best event in a long time at Queens Club. The only thing that should give anyone pause about picking him to make a deep run here is even with his improved recent results, he is still losing to players he should not be. His French Open loss to Marco Cecchinato is an example. Nothing is a certainty for Djokovic at the moment, but his movement could be the difference, especially if the grass gets slick.

With (7) Dominic Thiem basically a clay court specialist at this point in his Grand Slam career, and (4) Alexander Zverev dealing with an injury, (5) Juan Martin del Potro is the biggest threat to a Nadal/Djokovic semi in this half.

Rafa Nadal
Photo: cnn.com

The big-hitting Argentine is an all court player and a possible quarterfinal opponent for Nadal. He has five wins over the Spaniard, which is five more than most. There were questions about his fitness at the French Open, he reached the semis. He is one of few players who can overpower Nadal to do the same at Wimbledon.

Semifinal prediction: Djokovic d. Del Potro

Championship match: Federer d. Djokovic

Wimbledon begins Monday at 6 AM ET. The ESPN family of networks has exclusive television rights in America. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for all kinds of Wimbledon related content over the next two weeks. You can do so below.

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