With the UK weather taking a turn for the better, and the days becoming longer and warmer, the focus of British sports is switching from football and rugby to the more genteel pursuits of the summer. Arguably the biggest event in the British summer sporting calendar is Wimbledon, and fans of Pimm’s and lemonade, and strawberries and cream will be counting down the days until the grass court grand slam returns to SW19. With less than two months to go before the big event, we look at the top contenders for the men’s singles crown and give our judgment on who looks most likely to be victorious come the final on 12th July.
Current world number one Novak Djokovic will come into this year’s championship as defending champion having beaten Roger Federer in five sets. The 27-year-old has so far notched eight grand slam wins in his career, and the victory at Wimbledon 2014 was his second triumph in SW19. His previous win came in 2011 when he defeated defending champion Rafael Nadal in the final. Djokovic will be full of confidence going in to this year’s championship having already won the first Grand Slam of 2015, defeating Andy Murray in four sets at the final of the Australian Open back in February.
Djokovic is the complete player, his cool temperament, big serve, fitness and ability to produce the most punishing ground strokes sets him above some of his rivals. At a time when men’s singles tennis is arguably the strongest it has ever been, Djokovic is on top of the world and he deserves his place amongst the Wimbledon favourites. If he is in the mood at the end of June, it will take a huge effort from one of his rivals to prevent him from picking up another grand slam win. Currently on a run of three straight tournament wins, and having lost just two singles matches in 2015, Djokovic looks like he will, once again, be the man to beat at Wimbledon.
Despite being 33 years of age, Switzerland’s Roger Federer remains an enduring presence at the top of the world rankings and he continues to make his mark on tournaments, winning two of his last four events, including defeating Novak Djokovic in the final of the ATP Dubai Duty Free Championships in March. Federer is a class act. His suave, sophisticated look is complemented by his graceful style of play. Like Djokovic, he makes very few mistakes and exudes an ice-cold exterior even in the most pressurised of situations.
Having burst on to the world scene over 15 years ago, Federer won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003, defeating big serving Australian Mark Philippoussis in the final. Having won that final in straight sets, Federer began a love affair with the London crowds and the grass courts, winning four straight titles (defeating both Andy Roddick and Rafael Nadal twice). Federer has claimed seven Wimbledon titles in total, with his other wins coming in 2009 and 2012, and he also won the Australian Open on four occasions, the French Open once and the US Open five times. His total of 17 Grand Slam wins is the most ever by a men’s singles champion (three more than Pete Sampras and Rafael Nadal) but he has not won a major since his success at Wimbledon in 2012. If Federer is to add to his tally then he must do it soon as time is not on his side. If he were to win, he would be the third oldest men’s singles Grand Slam winner in history, behind Ken Rosewall and Andres Gimeno. It would take a very special effort for Federer to pick up another Grand Slam this year, but he is a very special player and he should not be discounted.
Once again, Scotland’s Andy Murray will be the crowd’s favourite. The 27-year-old has captured the imagination of the Wimbledon crowds ever since he took the reins as Britain’s top ranked men’s singles player from Tim Henman in the mid 2000s. Unlike Henman, who battled so hard throughout a period dominated by Pete Sampras, Murray can boast Grand Slam titles including the US Open and Wimbledon, winning the titles in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Murray also defeated Roger Federer in the final of the 2012 Olympics at Wimbledon and has shown that he has the temperament to win in the big events. Prior to winning the US Open, Murray had reached four Grand Slam finals but had failed to win a single one and was coming to be seen as something of a choker. Thankfully for British tennis fans, Murray has shed that tag and has proved that he is more than capable of living with the best players in the world.
Murray has enjoyed a successful year so far in 2015, both personally and professionally, having reached the final of the Australian Open and married his long-term partner Kim Sears. Murray may have lost in the Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic but he has continued to show solid form since and he credited his recent unlikely win on clay over Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Open to the stability that marriage has brought him. Sometimes petulant on court, and visibly frustrated when things go against him, Murray is at his best when he is focused on the job in hand and when he looks happy in himself. The victory in Madrid was Murray’s first over Nadal on clay and it will fill him with confidence for the summer to come. Having suffered a number of injury setbacks in recent years, including a back problem which forced his withdrawal from the 2013 French Open, Murray now looks to have returned to full fitness and he will be ready for Wimbledon. Having failed to make it past the quarter-finals for the first time since 2008 last year, Murray will be desperate to make a mark at 2015 and he will be in with a great shout of regaining his title.
Canada’s Milos Raonic has been on the rise for a number of years now and, at 24, he looks ready to take the next step and challenge the big names who have dominated men’s singles tennis for the last decade. A tall, rangy man, Raonic’s strength lies in his serve and he is an advocate of the ‘chip and charge’ approach, forcing his opponents on to the back foot and ending points early rather than becoming involved in a tactical battle. Originally from the former Yugoslavia, Raonic played his first match as a professional back in 2007 and has enjoyed a slow and steady rise since then, making his Grand Slam debut at the US Open in 2010. Having ended that year ranked 156 in the world, Raonic continued to work with coach Galo Blanco. He rose through the rankings to end the next four years ranked 31, 13, 11 and 8 respectively. In recent times, Raonic has come under the guidance of Ivan Ljubicic and Riccardo Piatti – he is currently ranked four in the world, his highest ever ranking.
Raonic’s game is well-suited to the fast grass courts of Wimbledon. They help him to make the most of his serve and pacey forehand, and his best ever Grand Slam result came at the London tournament last year. In defeating Kei Nishikori and Nick Kyrgios to reach the semi-final, Raonic became the first Canadian man to reach the last four of a grand slam since Robert Powell in 1908. Unfortunately this was as good as it got for Raonic, who found himself up against an inspired Roger Federer in the semi-final and bowed out in straight sets. Despite the disappointing nature of the defeat, it will have given Raonic a taste for the big time and will give him the confidence that he can progress again this year. Since that defeat, Raonic has reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and reached the final of the 2015 Brisbane International. He will be confident of remaining in the draw at Wimbledon until the latter stages. It may be too soon for Raonic to win at Wimbledon but, if he can overcome a foot problem which is reported to be keeping him out of the French Open, he could be a good shout for a final place.
At 29 years old there may not be too many more opportunities for Tomas Berdych to make his mark on the biggest stage in tennis. The big-hitting Czech player has grown up in the professional ranks alongside the likes of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic but has often found himself living in their shadows and has struggled to make the step up to Grand Slam contention. Currently ranked number five in the world, his highest ever ranking, Berdych has been one of the most consistent, if unspectacular, performers on the tour since turning professional in 2002. The 6ft 5inch right hander has amassed over $20m in prize money so far and has finished each of the last seven years ranked inside the top 20. Despite this, his only major final came back in 2010 when he defeated both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to reach the final two at Wimbledon. Berdych was beaten by Rafael Nadal in the final and, from that point until now, he has looked destined never to win that elusive Grand Slam.
In his eight events so far this year, Berdych has never failed to make it past the quarter-finals, reaching four semi-finals and three finals (losing in these to David Ferrer, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic). In his most recent outing, Berdych was defeated in the semi-finals of the Madrid Open by Rafael Nadal. Since 2010, Berdych has reached the semi-finals of three Grand Slam tournaments, including the 2015 Australian Open, and he will be pleased with his form ahead of Wimbledon. Berdych has proved in the past that he has what it takes to beat the top players but he will need to put an unprecedented run together if he is to challenge at Wimbledon. There is no doubting his ability but Berdych must keep his concentration up for the full two weeks if he is to win his first Grand Slam. A Wimbledon victory is not beyond Berdych but at this stage it looks like a real outside shot.
No run down of the Wimbledon men’s contenders would be complete without mentioning Rafael Nadal. At 28 years old the Spaniard has won everything there is to win in tennis and is just three Grand Slam wins behind Roger Federer’s record of 17. With his favourite event, the French Open, to come before Wimbledon, he may be just two wins behind the Swiss player when the grass court season kicks off. Strong, energetic, and courageous, Nadal has won Wimbledon twice and reached the final three times but in the last three years he has failed to make it beyond round four. Last year he was defeated by Nick Kyrgios. Injury and illness have blighted Nadal’s last few seasons and even brought talk of a potential retirement but he is now beginning to look back to his best. Nadal may have recently been beaten in the final of the Madrid Open by Andy Murray, and may have dropped down to seventh in the world rankings but don’t let that fool you, he is still a class act. In 2015 to date, Nadal’s only tournament win came at the Argentina Open. But he has recorded victories over David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych this year and will arrive at Wimbledon ready to put up a real fight. A third Wimbledon title may prove to be beyond him this year but it is hard to see Nadal not remaining in the draw until the closing stages.