With Wimbledon just around the corner, this preview looks at the conditions and contenders for glory in the coming fortnight. Will Roger Federer lift his ninth title at SW19?
Federer and the importance of the serve
In terms of court speed, Wimbledon is one of the quickest venues on the tennis calendar with 83.4% of service games being held across the last three years. While this is marginally down on the ATP grass-court mean figure of 84.1%, the fact that grass is so much quicker than other surfaces still ensures the court speed is extremely high.
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The effect of this is a huge benefit to servers in general and in particular those who boast a strong serve. Tiebreaks are also more likely than other surfaces. Grass court matches have had 0.22 tiebreaks per set across the last three years, compared to 0.21 indoors, 0.19 on outdoor hard courts and 0.16 on clay.
As Roger Federer, the tournament
While this combined figure is definitely in the elite-level bracket, it’s still evident that he’s relatively stronger on serve than return, and his performances in the Wimbledon warm-up events in Germany across the last couple of weeks have also illustrated this.
After the draw, there are three further players priced below 10.00*, with Novak Djokovic (5.91*) leading Rafa Nadal (7.56*) and Marin Cilic (7.98*), and four more players - Alexander Zverev, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro and Nick Kyrgios - are available at sub 20.00* prices.
The main question when looking at this group of contenders focuses on whether they have the consistency to challenge Federer during the latter stages. Previous research has illustrated that three metrics tend to be a pre-requisite to get to the latter stages of the men’s singles at Wimbledon.
Firstly, a very strong serve is a necessity - virtually all quarter-finalists across the last three years have consistent service hold percentage around 90% or greater on grass, and history has shown that this ability on serve is more relevant to a grass-court Grand Slam than being a superb returner.
In addition, the cream has usually risen to the top. Very few players seeded outside the top 10 have reached the latter stages in recent years, and anyone backing a random run from an unseeded player at a big price probably does need a reality check.
Furthermore, a strong historical record against top ten opposition is a huge positive when assessing likely Grand Slam contenders, given that a tournament winner will need to beat at least two - possibly more - top ten opponents to triumph.
Having established some filters for probable success at this year’s Wimbledon, it’s interesting to see which of these list of contenders fall by the wayside. The return-orientated Rafa Nadal hasn’t had an abundance of success on grass in recent years, and his service metrics on grass are not top ten level at all.
While he has a superb return game, this is frequently negated on grass - much more than on his preferred clay - and it could be argued that the similarly priced Cilic has more tools on grass to succeed, albeit with more of a struggle against
Cilic’s supporters will hope that his defeat of Novak Djokovic in the final at Queens Club last week will see this issue cease for the Croat. As for Djokovic himself, he also fits all the criteria based on 18-24 month grass data. The big question mark is whether Djokovic’s body will hold itself together for seven best of five-set matches.
Of the others, Zverev looks to have a chance. He has a relatively strong serve, and his 15-23 record against top 10 opposition is probably unrepresentative, given his rapid rise through the rankings. It wouldn’t be a shock if we this time next year this record was closer to a 50% win rate.
Del Potro also cannot be discounted when looking at these pre-requisites, but the Argentine has had injury issues, and has usually failed to step up against top-level opposition on grass (3-8 vs top 10 on the surface) and has a relatively difficult draw in the early rounds, while Murray and Kyrgios have had their fitness issues this year, to varying degrees.
Players at bigger prices who cannot be completely ruled out include Grigor Dimitrov, at 41.07*. The Bulgarian has an excellent record on grass and tends to do his best work on quicker surfaces.
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If the draw opens up for him then the big-serving Kevin Anderson should be respected, although with
It’s difficult to see any player outside this list push further than the quarter-finals, although the rapidly improving Borna Coric looks to have the most potential to do so. David Goffin’s serve isn’t
Gael Monfils hasn’t been fit for a long time, while his countryman, Richard Gasquet, has never thrived against the elite of the tennis world.
The man from Luxembourg, Gilles Muller, performed superbly at SW19 last season but is grossly out of form, while Kyle Edmund’s 2-17 record against top 10 opposition should dampen any discussion of success from British players after Andy Murray’s withdrawal.