With the 2017 tennis season well over halfway, the players are transitioning off the back of the hectic clay court season onto the summer greens of the grass court season, in preparation for the third grand slam and, arguably, the pinnacle of the tennis calendar, the Wimbledon Championships, starting on Monday 3rd July.
With the final grass court pre-Wimbledon tournament wrapping up this weekend at the Aegon International in Eastbourne, we’ve taken a look at how the men’s season has been shaping up, the main contenders, and a few rising stars to keep your eye on.
Wimbledon 2017 Men’s Seeds
- Andy Murray
- Novak Djokovic
- Roger Federer
- Rafael Nadal
- Stan Wawrinka
- Milos Raonic
- Marin Cilic
- Dominic Thiem
- Kei Nishikori
- Alexander Zverev
The top seeds may look to favour Murray and Djokovic going into the championships next week, but they don’t tell the full story. The past 12 months has seen some massive upsets in fortunes and form for the top four seeds.
2016 was Murray’s most successful season to date, he ended the year world number one, won his second Wimbledon title and second Olympic gold medal, as well as 9 ATP tour titles including the World Tour Finals. However, his form in 2017 has seen a huge dip. He has just one title to his name, the Dubai Championships back in March where he beat Fernando Verdasco, 6-3, 6-2 in the final.
A disappointing Australian Open ended with defeat in the last 16 to Mischa Zverev, 5-7, 7-5, 2-6, 4-6. An elbow injury resulted in him missing the rest of the hard court tournaments and, upon return, his clay court results have been poor. He has managed just three last 16 finishes and two semi finals, including a loss to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open. Clay has always been Andy’s weakest surface, with only 3 of his 45 ATP titles coming on clay, and after recently returning from injury, these results may be disappointing, but they are not worrying.
However, he does seem to be suffering from a lack of aggression and fight and more unforced errors seem to be creeping into his game at present. He was put out in the first round at Queen’s Club last week, an event he usually loves having won there 6 times previously. So with wavering confidence and poor results, the world number one enters Wimbledon with a huge question marks over the defence of his title. A possible hip injury worry in this week’s training practise is also a slight concern ahead of Monday. But with the huge advantage of the home crowd and the two week euphoria that seems to surround the UK during Wimbledon, don’t write him off just yet.
Djokovic is having a smiliarly poor season, this time last year the world number two held all four majors in the game, having finally won the French Open he compled the ‘Calendar Slam’ for the first time since Rod Laver in 1969. Fast forward twelve months and he holds none.
The change in results in unfathomable, considering his incredible form throughout 2016. The combination of his quick movement, brutal forehand, immense defence capabilities in long rallies, and never say die attitude made Novak look almost unbeatable at times.
But a slower end to 2016 where he was beaten in the final of the US Open and ATP Tours Final respectively, appears to have snowballed into 2017 after a shock second round exit in the Australian Open. Since then his form has been patchy, making only one final, where he lost to Alexander Zverev in the Italian Open. His mental strength and ground strokes have become much more penetrable and he has simply been easier to beat – a line that would have been unthinkable this time last year.
However on the plus side, he seemed to find his grass court footing in Eastbourne this week, reaching this weekend’s final where he faces the enigmatic Gael Monfils. Win or loss, it is the perfect preparation for Wimbledon and will give him a much needed confidence boost. It’s something he desperately needs if he is to be successful once again in SW-19.
Approaching 36, many pundits and fans seemed to write Federer off last year. He was plagued again with a knee injury for the second half of the season and didn’t compete in another tournament after losing to Milos Raonic in 5 sets at last year’s Wimbledon semi final.
But 2017 has seen an almost unprecedented revival in form. Entering the Australian Open in January with no competitive game time in several months, and having not won a Grand Slam in five years, he played like a man with no fear, hitting his serves and forehands with more authority than ever and had added a much improved backhand to his already impressive armoury. Beating his long time arch rival Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam final for the first time in ten years appeared to have rid him of his demons that had haunted him when facing Nadal in previous years – his 6-2 loss record in Grand Slams against Nadal speaks for itself.
He went on to win two more events at Indian Wells and the Miami Open, beating Nadal twice again in the process. The great man rolled back the years and played with a confidence and conviction he hadn’t shown in years, as well as his usual poise and finesse. A mid season break during the clay court season followed, perhaps to preserve his body for the grass court season (easily his best surface) or through fear he could lose the confidence he had built up – Facing Nadal on clay is never going to be an easy task.
A return to the grass resulted in a shock first round defeat in Stuttgart to Tommy Haas of Germany, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6. However he soon bounced back in Halle, his most prolific tournament to date, emphatically beating Alexander Zverev in the final, 6-1, 6-3 and securing his 9th title in the process. Having won four of the six tournaments he has entered in 2017 including his recent victory on grass, Federer is undoubtedly one of the favourites going into Wimbledon.
“The Beast of Barcelona” has had a very similar 2017 season to Federer in terms of his success and revival in form compared to the previous year. Nadal has had multiple knee problems throughout his career, due to the physicality in his game, and they have become more and more frequent in recent years. He spent the latter part of last season on the side lines and entered the Australian Open with cautious hope of finding some form. Similar to Federer, he steadily improved as the tournament went on until the two met again in the final and the tennis world stopped to appreciate a moment many thought would never come again. He played his part in a magnificent final and both players were seen at the pinnacle of the sport again. His good form continued and although two further defeats from Federer were to follow, he was only getting warmed up for his blessed holy ground, the red clay. In five clay court tournaments entered, he reached 4 finals and won 3, including his 10th French Open title at Roland Garros, an unprecedented feat in the men’s game, cementing his name as the greatest clay court player of all time. When Nadal is on his game on clay, there is no one better and he proved that once again in brutal and stunning fashion this season.
To stop the risk of burn out and injury, he has entered no grass events going into Wimbledon, neglecting his usual stint at Queen’s. A risky manoeuvre, especially as Nadal can take time to grow into tournaments and has had shock early exits in Wimbledon before; his 2012 second round defeat to world number 100 Lukas Rosol being the most notable. But with the scintillating form he has shown the past couple of months, he will be going into Wimbledon with his usual steely belief and determination. He is without doubt a major favourite to claim yet another crown.
Best of the rest
The Big 4 have dominated the sport’s major titles for the past 12 years. Since 2005, there have been 50 grand slam events and only six have been won by men outside of these four. It is quite incredible and illustrates the consistency and raw talent they possess.
Stan Wawrinka has been the most successful winning every title bar Wimbledon. Expect him to reach the latter parts of the tournament, but as grass seems to be his weakest surface, it would take a huge effort from him to get beyond the quarter or semi finals.
If anyone can break into the stronghold, the most likely would have to be Milos Raonic, last year’s Wimbledon finalist. The Swede with a huge serve backs up his big hitting with great all round court play, his game is well suited to grass as he likes to keep points short and has proved he can deliver on the big stage. He has reached two finals this year, but if he wants to reach another one or even go one better this year, he will need to put in the performance of his life.
A real up and comer but absolute punt of an outsider would be 22 year old Australian, Nick Kyrgios. On his day, he can beat anyone with his massive serve and undeniable power that pushed Roger Federer very close earlier this year in the Miami Open, narrowly losing 6-7, 7-6, 6-7. Unfortunately, these performances haven’t been consistent enough for him to mount any real challenge in a Grand Slam as of yet. But he certainly has the ability and if things start to click for him, he could be a real danger in the future.
Wimbledon Champion outright 2017 odds ( Paddy Power)
- Roger Federer 9/4
- Rafael Nadal 9/2
- Andy Murray 5/1
- Novak Djokovic 6/1
- Milos Raonic 18/1
- Nick Kyrgios 33/1
Will the two masters in Federer or Nadal continue their inspired 2017 form or will Murray and Djokovic finally stamp some authority in this campaign? Or could one of the chasing pack break through and establish themselves as a new force on the tour? Whatever happens, tennis fans should just bask and enjoy the truly golden era of tennis they are witnessing.