Johannesburg - Given his current form, Roger Federer is the favourite to win the Wimbledon Championships, which start at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club in London on Monday.
However, Spain’s Rafael Nadal cannot be ruled out following his French Open victory last month over Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka, although the Paris match was on a clay surface, unlike Wimbledon’s grass courts.
And Nadal will enter Wimbledon without having played a competitive match on this surface in two years.
Plagued by injuries
Tennis connoisseurs are in for a treat, though, as this, the third grand slam of the year, could bring another clash of old nemeses in Federer, who turns 36 next month, and 31-year-old Nadal. Each player has bagged a Grand Slam trophy this year.
Defending champion and top seed Andy Murray will also be a player to watch.
Murray beat Canada’s Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6, 7-6 in last year’s final to win Wimbledon for the second time.
The other two-time Wimbledon winner, Nadal, was handed an early defeat at the tournament in 2015 by Dustin Brown – then ranked world number 102 – in the second round. And last year Nadal was plagued by injuries and missed the tournament.
Despite these setbacks, Nadal has recaptured his spark of a few years back. His victory at Roland Garros cemented his dominance on clay and marked his first major tournament win since the 2014 French Open. Fatigue from a heavy match load this year forced him out of the Aegon Championships, which took place at Queen’s Club a fortnight ago.
For Nadal and his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, the explanation for the dip in his performance on grass is simple: difficulty bending his knees enough for him to hit the surface’s low-bouncing balls with the force he once did.
Nadal’s long-time rival, seven-time Wimbledon champion Federer, fresh from winning his fourth title of the year at the Gerry Weber Open in Germany last Sunday, is still seen by many as the man to beat.
Career in crisis
After seeing him win the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open, Federer’s fans would have expected him to make a mark in Paris, but he decided to rest. Instead, the 18-time grand slam winner strategically focused on grass- and hard-court events ahead of Wimbledon and the US Open.
As for Novak Djokovic, the three-time Wimbledon champ returns to England with his career in crisis, having crashed to an embarrassing quarterfinal defeat against Austria’s Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros.
The 6-0 bagel handed to him in the third set was the first time he had suffered such an indignity in 12 years and he was accused of giving up as defeat became inevitable.
On the women’s side, the game is wide open and with former world top seed Serena Williams and the recently returned Maria Sharapova not playing this year, favourites such as Romania’s Simona Halep, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, Germany’s Angelique Kerber – currently the top seed – and Britain’s Johanna Konta are contenders for the title.
However, Kerber continues to disappoint in Grand Slams. In May, she became the first women’s top seed to lose in the first round at Roland Garros in the Open era.
Konta has only ever won one match in the main draw, beating Monica Puig Marchán last year before losing to 2014 finalist Genie Bouchard in the second round.
Her build-up to this year’s tournament began with a run to the Nottingham Open final, where she lost to world number 70 Donna Vekic, in her first grass-court event.
Halep has admitted that her shock loss to unseeded Jelena Ostapenko in the French Open still haunts her, but she hopes to bounce back. She has yet to win a grand slam, but having reached two finals already in her career, this could be a case of third time lucky.