Novak Djokovic overwhelming favourite to go level with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal-Sports News , Justnewsday

By | June 26, 2021

Novak Djokovic overwhelming favourite to go level with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal-Sports News , Justnewsday

Novak Djokovic is a strong favourite to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon. But there are couple of challengers that could derail his plans to go level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Slams.

Wimbledon returns after two years with the men’s field looking different in terms of what the ‘rest’ offer but overall, not much is different. To put things in perspective: since 2004, only seven men outside the ‘Big 3’ (Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal) have won Grand Slams. At Wimbledon, no one other than the ‘Big 4’ (also including Andy Murray) have won since 2003. Equally damning is the fact that only one non-Big 4 player has won a set in the final in this period (Andy Roddick).

There’s been some knocking on the door by the ‘rest’ since the 2019 Wimbledon when Djokovic clinched a win from the brink of defeat over Federer. Daniil Medvedev has reached two Slam finals and is the second seed for this edition; Dominic Thiem has won a Slam at 2020 US Open; at the same final, Alexander Zverev, the fourth seed, threw his momentum away to go home with the runner-up trophy and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the third seed, reached a major final too. Among the top-10 in the world, only Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini and Roberto Bautista Agut have not made a Slam final.

If the ‘rest’ are not necessarily making a mark, the ‘Big 3’ haven’t been unscathed in this period, either. Nadal is not playing Wimbledon and Olympics after a tough semi-final loss at French Open and little time to recover for the grass-court season. Federer comes in after withdrawing from his fourth-round match at Roland Garros having gone under the knife twice for his knee. Only Djokovic comes unscathed and full of momentum. He got the better of Nadal on clay in Paris, a monumental feat, and twice came from two sets down to win the title. His 19th Grand Slam title. One more and he goes level with Federer, Nadal. For reference: a decade ago, after Wimbledon, Djokovic was on 3 Slam titles, Nadal on 10 and Federer on 16. For the Serb, the only issues have been off the court.

Usually, Wimbledon gets a three-week window for tune-up tournaments but with French Open getting rescheduled, that window was reduced to a fortnight and doesn’t give much time to form an impression of player form. But what can be said with certainty is that defending champion Djokovic, the top seed, is an overwhelming favourite.

The champion’s corner – Novak Djokovic

Djokovic beat Nadal at French Open for just the third defeat for the Spaniard on red clay in Paris. In a classic contest with an unforgettable third set, the Serb came from a set down to win. In other matches, he came from two sets down to beat Lorenzo Musetti and Tsitsipas in the final. The momentum is completely with the defending champion Djokovic.

It is not just the shot-making and skills that are going in Djokovic’s favour, the mental toughness is too. The wins over Nadal, Musetti and Tsitsipas is ample proof of that. With wins at the Australian Open and then at French Open, Djokovic is on course for a Golden Slam – winning all four majors and Olympic gold in one calendar year – something he came close to achieving in 2016.

Placed in the top half of the draw, Djokovic starts against 19-year-old wildcard Jack Draper. The Briton beat Jannik Sinner and Alexander Bublik at Queen’s in what were his first and second singles wins on the ATP Tour. Now the big-serving Draper has the chance to test one of the best returners in the sport.

Djokovic’s potential path to a possible 20th Slam could see him face 2018 Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson in the second round, Rublev in the quarters, Tsitsipas in the semi-finals and one of Federer, Medvedev and Zverev in the final.

If the rest of the pack are looking for a ray of hope, history provides one. The only other time he won the French Open (in 2016), Djokovic was beaten at Wimbledon in the first week by Sam Querrey. The odds of that feat being repeated by someone, though, look very slim.

Like the 2020 US Open, when he was disqualified for accidentally hitting a line judge, this is Djokovic’s to lose.

Challenger Corner 1: Stefanos Tsitsipas

It is tough to say where Tsitsipas is mentally. The French Open final defeat would have stuck with him and there is good reason to. He was two sets to the good and looked headed to a first-ever Slam title on a surface that he’s become exceptional on. But he came up short or Djokovic upped the level, and the Greek couldn’t sustain.

But his run to the final could inspire him to go for more and instil the belief that he can go deep at majors. After a strong show on clay, grass offers a different challenge for him.

His record at Wimbledon is 3-3 and hasn’t played any of the tune-ups to give a reason that could improve. And he would need to be switched on from the word go with a tough first round against Frances Tiafoe who won the ATP Challenger in Nottingham on grass.

Challenger Corner 2: Daniil Medvedev

Daniil Medvedev said he hated clay and went on to reach the quarter-finals at French Open. His relationship with grass isn’t confidence-inspiring either. He has a career 5-3 at Wimbledon and never gone past the third round. But if there is one player that adapts brilliantly to the surface, it is the Russian.

His early preparation suggests he is embracing grass too. In Mallorca, he beat Casper Ruud, Pablo Carreno Busta and then Sam Querrey in the final to win the title.

“I like that my game is unorthodox in a way. I guess you could say I prefer to be one in 100 rather than like the other 99,” the Russian said in Mallorca. “On clay even if I’m feeling good I need to adapt my game, I need to adapt my movement. On grass it’s different, I feel that I can play kind of automatically. Just the way I play, maybe play flatter than I play, so it’s more convenient for me to play on grass. It takes me time to get used to the grass but now I feel happy with some wins.”

“If I play my best tennis I’m capable of going really far, and to cause a danger to the biggest names, I just need to gain confidence and go with the flow.”

He has a tough first round in Jan-Lennard Struff and finds himself in the same quarter as Federer.

Challenger Corner 3: Roger Federer

Eight-time champion Federer called Wimbledon the “huge goal”. He was clear that SW19 was his main goal when recovering from the knee surgeries. It was made clear when he withdrew from French Open to give his body time to recover.

In the warm-up event in Halle, he wasn’t at his best in the surprise loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime. He then took two-and-a-half hours to appear for the press conference, far longer than normal, in order to “not say the wrong things”. He admitted to getting “negative” during the course of the defeat.

Now, coming in at 39-years-old, a mindboggling feat on its own, Federer is optimistic about his chances. And Paris gave a glimpse of what makes him different: the desire to win. Clay isn’t his best surface and yet the Swiss pushed and strived to win – even with a match finishing past midnight.

“I know if I get rolling, I get into the second week, which is the goal here right now, that I get stronger and stronger as every match goes by, I believe it’s very much possible.

I come here feeling mentally strong rather than the last set I played in Halle, which was clearly not the standard I like,” he said in the pre-tournament press conference.

Challenger Corner 4: And the rest

There are quite a few men who could pose a threat to Djokovic if it comes to it. Placed in the third quarter, Matteo Berrettini and Alexander Zverev are strong challengers. Berrettini comes on the back of a title in Queen’s and Zverev having made a semi-final run at the French Open. But at Wimbledon, neither holds an impressive record, having never progressed past the fourth round.

Andy Murray is a more sentimental challenger than a real one to be fair. Two-time champion Murray finds himself in the second quarter – same as Tsitsipas – and starts against Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Nick Kyrgios, playing outside Australia for the first time in two years, John Isner and Reilly Opelka are some others that stick out from the draw.

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