When the year began, if either Greatest of All Time candidate among active tennis players figured to be favored at Wimbledon, it would have been Serena Williams, not Roger Federer.
But things happen. Pregnancy forced Williams off the tour this season after she won her 23rd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open at the start of the year, turning women’s tennis in a free-for-all. Then it became increasingly clear that Federer, who turns 36 in August, has some Grand Slam life left in him.
After winning the Australian Open for his 18th major title, then back-to-back hardcourt titles at Indian Wells and Miami, Federer skipped the entire clay-court season. He then returned for the grass-court schedule and won for the ninth time at Halle last week without dropping a set.
“There was a temptation to say it would be pretty hard to top what he did at Australia,” ESPN analyst John McEnroe said on a call with reporters to preview Wimbledon. “That would have been a heck of a time to say, ‘I just proved something miraculous.’ He seems to be the Six Million Dollar Man. He looks great physically. He’s rested.
“He’s one of the few guys that could make the decision to just not play the clay-court season, walk into Wimbledon and be the favorite. It’s an amazing story what we’ve seen so far this year in tennis with him and (French Open champion Rafael) Nadal, the way they’ve been playing.”
Said fellow ESPN analyst Pam Shriver, “I think on a grass court, your confidence of what you’ve done earlier in your career is such a huge help. He certainly is going to be my pick. I don’t see anybody else playing great tennis.”
Even though Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have not been at their best and grass is not Nadal’s best surface, there is little expectation that the decade-and-a-half hold on the title for those three and Federer will crack.
“I cannot see anybody outside (that group) beating three of those guys to win it, somebody having an amazing run,” ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said. “You’re probably in the 90th percentile, minimum, of one of those four guys winning.”
Added ESPN analyst Chris Evert, “It’s like a brick wall, I think, to get through those four players.”
Shriver said, “I agree it’s going to be one of the Big Four. I don’t think (Stan) Wawrinka on grass. It’s his worst surface. I can’t see him winning.”
The most intriguing story on the women’s side is Petra Kvitova, who returned to action at the French Open five months after suffering severe left hand injuries during a robbery at her home in the Czech Republic. She won a grass court tournament in Birmingham, England, last week.
“For her to win the tournament in Birmingham was awesome,” Evert said. “To me, she is the best grass court player that is playing at Wimbledon . . . She is the one that I think everybody has to look out for.
“So happy for her. I think that was such a scare that she went through, it’s made her appreciate the game a lot more. She’s certainly more relaxed. You can tell by her press conferences, the way she speaks, she’s just happy to be out there.”
One wild card in the wide-open women’s field is Serena Williams’ older sister, Venus, who is 37.
“I think Venus has as good a chance as anybody on the women’s side,” Shriver said. “If Venus can tap into her grass-court game where she uses the slice out wide on the deuce side, gets up 15-love almost every service game, uses her net play, she can be as good of a grass court player as there is out there.”