The golden age of men’s tennis enters its greatest showcase today with the first round of Wimbledon.
Each of the top contenders — Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray — possesses the outstanding all-court ability to dominate the men’s game (if only the other three weren’t vying for each major title).
Last month, Nadal won out from among this crowd-pleasing crush of talent after the top four seeds reached the French Open semifinals, a rarity likely to recur on the lawns of the All England Club this month.
Wimbledon, tennis’ most prestigious title, is up for grabs, but it won’t be won because of one-dimensional play or competitive inadequacy across the net.
The men’s tournament winner will likely be the one of these four stars whose shots kick up the most chalk dust along the lines, who runs down every drop shot and topspin lob, and who finds a new gear amid adversity — outshining his rivals’ collective brilliance.
No. 1 Rafael Nadal
• Best Wimbledon finish: won, 2008, ’10
• Odds to win: 2/1
• R1: vs. Russell
In an age of top-level parity, Nadal has the only claim on dominance. The 25-year-old swept through the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year and is set up to repeat the rare feat. Nadal is not distinctly above the fray on grass, where his mental strength gets a sterner test than it does on clay. On his way to the final in each of his past four Wimbledons, he’s played six five-setters, winning five of them.
No. 2 Novak Djokovic
• Best Wimbledon finish: semifinal, 2007, ’10
• Odds to win: 11/4
• R1: vs. Chardy
Before his epic 43-match winning streak ended against Federer in Paris two weeks ago, Djokovic collected seven straight titles with a frighteningly consistent game plan that made the steady 24-year-old invincible against his top rivals — and he was hardly off his game in Paris. If Djokovic reaches the final, or Nadal fails to win the title, Djokovic will earn the No. 1 ranking and be back on track as this year’s hottest player.
No. 3 Roger Federer
• Best Wimbledon finish: won, 2003-07, ’09
• Odds to win: 2/1
• R1: vs. Kukushkin
Six weeks before he turns 30 and a year before his earliest suggested retirement deadline — after the 2012 London Games — Federer still appears hungry for the same treasure that his younger rivals seek. Last year saw the six-time champion dump a four-set quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych. This year, returning to his most natural surface, Federer is coming off a bravura final against Nadal at Roland Garros. But he recognizes the strength of the top four seeds. “I think that’s maybe something that’s a bit different than in the past, where maybe one of the top four guys wouldn’t feel so comfortable on grass,” Federer told reporters on Saturday. “But this year it seems like all of us are, which is a good thing.”
No. 4 Andy Murray
• Best Wimbledon finish: semifinal, 2009, ’10
• Odds to win: 5/1
• R1: vs. Gimeno-Traver
Murray’s warm-up victory at Queen’s Club last week, his second in three years, followed an unusually stout clay-court campaign for the 24-year-old Scot. Murray plays as elegantly as Federer on grass, but the three-time Grand Slam finalist also carries the crushing expectations of British fans pining for their first homegrown champion since Fred Perry in 1936. “I’m not looking anywhere past the first match,” Murray told reporters. “It’s not worth it.”