London - Twelve months after shutting down his season in the
wake of a devastating semi-final defeat, Roger Federer returns to Wimbledon as
favourite to capture a record-breaking eighth title and become the tournament's
The evergreen Swiss superstar, who turns 36 in August, has
stunned the critics who wrote him off as yesterday's man when he went down to
Milos Raonic in five gruelling sets on Centre Court in 2016.
The loss forced him off tour for the remainder of the year
to rest a knee injury, leaving his Grand Slam title count on 17 where it had
been since 2012.
Fast forward a year and Federer is poised to break the tie
for seven Wimbledon titles he shares with Pete Sampras and take his career
tally at the majors to 19.
With eternal rivals Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in slumps
of varying lengths and degrees of seriousness, and Rafael Nadal fretting over
whether or not his knees will bear the stress of grass courts, it is Federer in
the box seat.
Federer, who captured a fifth Australian Open in January,
will go into Wimbledon buoyed by a ninth title on the grass of Halle.
His final demolition of Alexander Zverev, 15 years his
junior and a player seen as his natural heir, came just a week after he marked
his return from a 10-week break by losing in the first round in Stuttgart.
It was his first defeat in an opening round on his favourite
surface since his shock loss to Mario Ancic at Wimbledon in 2002.
However, Federer believes his Stuttgart setback came at the
right time ahead of Wimbledon.
"I was doubting myself a little bit, I must admit,
because losing in the opening round for the first time in 15 years on grass was
always going to shake me a little bit and it did," said Federer who has
lost just two matches all year.
"So I'm happy to react right away and remind myself I
actually can play well on grass."
For tennis storylines of 2017, Federer shares top billing
with Nadal after the Spaniard defied the doubters to win a 10th French Open.
That took him to 15 Grand Slam titles, one ahead of Sampras
and just three behind Federer.
But for Nadal, Wimbledon has always been bittersweet.
He was champion in 2008 - where he beat Federer in a final
widely regarded as the greatest ever played - and 2010 as well as finishing
runner-up in 2006, 2007 and 2011.
Injury forced him to skip Wimbledon in 2009 and 2016 while
the years 2012-2015 saw him lose to Lukas Rosol (world ranked 100), Steve
Darcis (135), Nick Kyrgios (144) and Dustin Brown (102).
A fourth round run in 2014 represents his best recent
Nadal admits that if he suffers a new problem with his knees
on the Wimbledon grass, where the lower bounce of the ball piles more pressure
on the legs and joints, then his visit to London may again be short-lived.
"If I have pain in the knees, then I know from
experience that it's almost impossible," said the 31-year-old.
Defending champion Murray is fresh off a first round exit at
Queen's at the hands of Australian world number 90 Jordan Thompson.
The world number one, who was also Wimbledon champion in
2013, has failed to get past the second round in three of his last four
Short of grass court exposure, Murray headed to the
luxurious surroundings of the Hurlingham Club in west London for an exhibition
Equally desperate for game time is Djokovic, the three-time
Wimbledon champion who travelled to Eastbourne hoping the sea air might breathe
life into a career which is in freefall.
The Serb was on top of the world just over 12 months ago
when he arrived at Wimbledon with all four Grand Slams in his possession.
However, a third round loss to Sam Querrey set him on a
slide which has been more or less constant ever since.
His ranking has slipped from one to four and he's parted
with coaches Boris Becker and Marian Vajda.
The jury is still out on his decision to hire Andre Agassi
while his quarter-final loss at Roland Garros to Dominic Thiem was his first in
straight sets at the majors in four years.
The 6-0 'bagel' handed to him in the third set by the young
Austrian was the first time he had suffered such an indignity in 12 years.
"All the top players go through this. I have to get
through it and learn the lessons and come back stronger. It's a big challenge
but I am up for it," said the 30-year-old Serb.