Before Friday’s draw the tennis world knew that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would be in opposite halves, despite neither being among the top two seeds. Federer, this year’s Australian Open champion and current World No 5, is seeded third for Wimbledon, while Nadal, the French Open winner and current World No 2, is seeded fourth.
Wimbledon, which deploys a unique seeding system taking into account the performances on the surface over the past couple of years — maybe Roland Garros should do the same — in addition to the world rankings, confirmed the seeding on Wednesday.
What followed was a surge in anticipation for yet another Fedal installment at SW19 nine years after the duo played what many believe is the greatest tennis match of all time. Federer and Nadal have each won a major, two ATP 1000 and one ATP 500 titles each this year and faced off in the memorable Australian Open final in January this year.
Of course the tennis world gets excited about any potential Federer-Nadal matchup, let alone the Wimbledon final. In 2013, the duo was seeded to meet in the quarters — both were out by the second round.
Even so, while Federer seems primed for a record breaking eighth Wimbledon title, considering his sweep on the hard courts this year and his win in Halle on grass, talking up Nadal as a potential finalist is definitely premature.
While Nadal made five consecutive finals between 2006 and 2011 — winning in 2008 and 2010, and being injured for 2009 — his results at Wimbledon since 2012 read: second round, first round, fourth round, second round, absent.
The Spaniard has struggled in the earlier rounds, when the grass is quicker, even when he was making the final year in, year out. In 2006, qualifier Robert Kendrick was two sets to love up against Nadal in the second round and in 2007 the then unheralded Robin Soderling took him to 7-5 in the final set in the third round. In the 2010, the year he won his second Wimbledon title, Nadal was 2-1 down in both his second and third round matches against Robin Haase and Philipp Petzschner.
So the first week is going to be crucial for Nadal, especially with Denis Istomin — the Uzbek who knocked Novak Djokovic out in the second round in Australia — looming in the second for the Spaniard. Gilles Muller and Marin Cilic — a dark horse for the tournament — could be potential opponents for Nadal in the fourth round and the quarters, and both are perfectly adept on grass.
Federer’s first challenge would be the tricky Alexandr Dolgopolov, and could face Bernard Tomic or Mischa Zverev in the third round. He could face 2014 semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov — often called Baby Federer — in the fourth round with a potential blockbuster contest against Milos Raonic or Alexander Zverev — both of whom beat Federer on grass last year, and are definitely outsiders for Wimbledon — in the quarters.
Federer is drawn in the same half as Djokovic, who could play Juan Martin Del Potro in a mammoth third round clash. Djokovic and Del Potro played the longest men’s Wimbledon semifinal in 2013, with the Serb edging it 7-5, 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 after four hours and 43 minutes. Should the second seed clear that hurdle he could have another challenging task in the fourth where Queen’s champion Feliciano Lopez might loom.
Djokovic has the up and coming Dominic Thiem in his quarter, who beat the Serb at the same stage at Roland Garros. Thiem, however, is yet to prove his grass prowess and might struggle to make it that far at Wimbledon.
Defending Wimbledon Champion and still world number 1 Andy Murray is in the same half as Nadal, and the same quarter as fifth seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, who beat him in the French Open semifinal. The Murray-Wawrinka quarter has quite a few banana skins, with the likes of Nick Kyrgios, Fabio Fognini, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Sam Querrey all in this section of the draw.
Murray’s first round Queen’s exit doesn’t bode too well for his preparation, but he should be happy with his draw. After avoiding for Djokovic and Federer in his half, and the likes of Raonic and Cilic not in his quarter, the Scott has time to build his way into the tournament.
Grass is by far the least preferred surface for Wawrinka and Fognini — Murray’s potential third round opponent — which further helps the World No 1. A fourth round clash against the flamboyant Kyrgios could be tricky, but if Murray has three wins under his belt he can outdo the Australian, especially mentally. The route to the semifinal is perhaps the easiest for Murray, among the top four.
Joining Nadal in the big names who could fall in the first week are Djokovic and Wawrinka. The Serb has been out of sorts since completing the career Grand Slam last summer, while the Swiss’ movement is significantly hampered on grass and might not last till the high-profile quarter matchup against Murray.
The bookies have Federer as the firm favourite followed by Murray, and a Murray-Federer final would be the strong bet following Friday’s draw.
But in addition to Murray himself capitulating early, there are other factors that could forestall that final matchup.
Raonic who beat Federer in the semifinal last year would look to do the same in the quarter this year. If Nadal falls early, Cilic might not just be the favourite to progress from that quarter, but the Croat would feel he could go all the way to the final. And of course if the French Open champion makes it to the second week, he would start sniffing at his sixth Wimbledon final.
What majority of the tennis world and most of the neutrals want is that Fedal final. If it does happen, Federer would be the favourite, especially after beating Nadal thrice this year including the finals of the Australian Open and Miami.
But Nadal is never the same player before and after the clay swing. The confidence he gains from winning the French has resulted in five Wimbledon finals and two trophies. If he’s there in the second week, the Spaniard would fancy his chances against anyone — including Federer in the final.