Wimbledon 2017: Is the Narrative Any Different?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That seems to be the mantra when it comes to Grand Slams and Wimbledon has been no different. In spite of several high profile upsets in the past five years or so, the business end at the All-England Club still comes down to those familiar names: Federer. Murray. Djokovic. Just one time since 2003 has that not been the case and his name was Rafael Nadal in 2010. There will be plenty of talk again about the perceived vulnerability of both Djokovic and Murray, although Novak has done some good this week in Eastbourne to squash that with a run to the title.
There will be intrigue about Rafael Nadal in a season of resurgence for the Spaniard. One in which he is coming off his 10th French Open title and his record stands at a stout 43-6. One in which he has yet to play on grass and a career that has derailed at Wimbledon since his 2010 triumph and 2011 finals trip. In the past five years at the All-England Club, Rafa has lost in the first or second round in three of his four trips to London. And the the conversation will inevitably circle back around to the top dog, Roger Federer. He of the 18 career Grand Slam wins and the same man who turns 36 next month, yet arguably is playing the best tennis of his career in 2017.
That’s where the conversation starts. This preview starts focused more on the numbers, the seeds in particular. It gives insight into how top heavy Grand Slams usually are at the end of the day. The “outsiders” who crash the party at the end as unseeded players are few and far between. The seeds don’t all hold up of course and without much doubt even the top ten seeds will see an upset or two within the first few days. So let’s take a look at how the 32 seeds have done over the past five years at Wimbledon to give us some clues in our hunt for those upsets and the best bets to be around when the latest champion is crowned.
The Exodus Doesn’t Always Start Early
It has been three straight years at Wimbledon that a top ten seed has not lost in round one. After a run from 2010-2013 that saw six seeds in the top eleven lose in their openers, not a single seed within the top 16 seeds has been ousted in round one from 2014-2016. The highest seed to lose in round one a year ago was (17) Gael Monfils. In 2015, it was 19th seed Tommy Robredo who was the highest seed gone in round one and 2014’s earliest exit belonged to 18th seeded Fernando Verdasco.
In the last two years, only four seeds have been taken down in round one each year. In 2014 that number was six. The larger number of seeded upsets in round one was coming in the years between 2010-2013 when at least seven seeds went down in three of those four years. Twice, eight seeds were done in round one in that span. Interestingly, round two has been a bigger danger spot for top ten seeds in recent times. In three of the last four trips to the All-England Club, two top ten seeds have been dumped out in round two. The one year that missed that trend, 2014, three top 13 seeds lost in round two. So if you’re looking to hit big on an upset, round two is your better try.
Early Bird Specials
4. Rafael Nadal
Nadal simply has to be on this list because of his recent history at this event. Perhaps his rediscovered game in 2017 will be immune to a letdown here, but the surface still does not play to Rafa’s strengths. He opens with John Millman. The Aussie doesn’t seem to fit the heavy hitter who has taken Rafa down early at Wimbledon, but he’s played well here the last few years. In 2016, he made the third round and in 2015, he lost a tough five set match to Marcos Baghdatis in round two. If Nadal can’t find a rhythm in round one, Millman has the tools to push him.
Round two might be the bigger risk though with Donald Young or Denis Istomin waiting. Young hasn’t been great on grass, but he does have confidence after back-to-back quarterfinal runs at Queen’s Club and Eastbourne. Istomin’s big hitting, flat style looks to be the bigger threat, but he’s had trouble picking up wins really all year since his historic win over Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. That alone though will be red alert for Rafa. Nadal will like his 5-0 mark against Istomin, although their most competitive match came on grass at Queen’s Club in 2010 – the same year Rafa won Wimbledon.
5. Stan Wawrinka
A lot of attention will be paid to Wawrinka’s first round encounter with Daniil Medvedev and rightfully so. The Russian has been on a roll on grass this season with three straight quarterfinal or better finishes. Stan only played Queen’s Club and lost in his first match to Feliciano Lopez, but a lack of grass prep is not new for the Swiss. He rarely does well in the pre-Wimbledon buildup and grass is still his worst surface results-wise. To that point, he lost in round two at Wimbledon last year to Juan Martin Del Potro. That broke a string of two straight quarterfinal finishes which were preceeded by three first round losses in the previous four years. The “off” year was a second round exit.
Medvedev is likely to be a popular upset pick over Wawrinka by many and if his serve and shoulder hold up, it’s not unthinkable. If you’re going deeper and looking for that tricky round two that often is the bigger bite – it could be Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans. Haas will be playing in his final Wimbledon and what better way to say goodbye then with a big scalp of one of the premier players in tour? Haas owns two wins over Wawrinka in two tries, but none have come since 2014.
We know Haas had the big upset of Federer in Stuttgart to start the grass court season this summer, but some of that has to be attributed to Roger’s lengthy downtime. Still, there will be confidence from that and he has not looked over matched in any of his grass court matches in the past few weeks. The Belgian qualifier Bemelmans also shouldn’t be glazed over. He is competent and experienced on this surface. Keep the Stanimal on upset alert for two rounds at least.
7. Marin Cilic
Cilic has been in good form on grass this summer with a 6-2 record, including a finals loss at Queen’s Club to Feliciano Lopez. The draw however puts Cilic on this list. The Croat has Philipp Kohlschreiber to open with in round one. Cilic is 6-3 against the German, but Kohlschreiber won their most recent meeting in 2016 indoors at Rotterdam. Kohlschreiber has been a threat on this surface, but mostly in the German-based tournaments. At Wimbledon, he hasn’t been past round two since a quarterfinal run in 2012.
So again, round two could be more dangerous with Viktor Troicki or Florian Mayer waiting. Cilic is 6-5 against Troicki, but the Serb has taken both grass court meetings (2015). Cilic and Mayer have split four career meetings. The lone grass court clash came at Wimbledon in round one in 2010 with Mayer winning in straight sets. Cilic will earn anything he gets in London.
8. Dominic Thiem
The Austrian belongs on this list because he’s still over scheduling and he’s still a questionable threat on grass. At Wimbledon, he’s yet to get beyond the second round. This year, he’s got a tough opener against Vasek Pospisil. The one-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist scored a few wins during the grass build-up tournaments and will be hoping that his confidence carries over. He should feel reasonably good, having beaten Thiem in their only career meeting. That came on clay in 2015 in Munich, a surface that suits Thiem much more so than Pospisil.
If Thiem survives round one, he could be in better shape to set a personal best at Wimbledon. His second round opponent would be either Nicolas Jarry or Gilles Simon. He’s 5-2 against Simon, having beaten the Frenchman four straight times. Jarry is in his first main draw at Wimbledon and still searching for his maiden Grand Slam win.
9. Kei Nishikori
Mr.Fragile heads into another Slam with injury questions after retiring in Halle with a back injury. It’s become customary for Kei as it was his third straight season bailing out of the Gerry Weber Open due to back issues. That’s been a bad sign for Nishikori who ultimately retired each of the past two years at Wimbledon. Last year he did manage to get to the fourth round, but 2014 saw him duck out in round two. It was a rib problem that got him in 2016 and a calf problem in 2015. Likely, both stemmed from the back issue that took him down in Halle before Wimbledon.
Round one may not be the issue for Nishikori either with Italian Marco Cecchinato up first. This will be Cecchinato’s first match on grass and doesn’t suit his game well. He’s better on clay and even hard courts where he can use his speed to defend. If Nishikori isn’t hurting still, I doubt round one is his exit point. Round two however will be a test. He’ll face either Julien Benneteau or Sergiy Stakhovsky. Stakhovky has beaten Nishikori twice, but both meetings were back in 2011. Nishikori took down Benneteau in four sets last year at Wimbledon and is 4-1 against him.I’d put Nishikori on the lighter side of the upset potential, but you have to monitor him due to the injury history.
Other Seeds On Upset Alert
20. Nick Kyrgios
Lingering hip and shoulder issues keep Kyrgios in the early upset watch in London. He did play at the Boodles exhibition after retiring at Queen’s Club against Donald Young with the hip as the problem. He beat Kohlschreiber 6-4, 6-4 at Boodles, so perhaps he’s going to be fine. NK matches up against Pierre-Hugues Herbert in round one. PHH might be better known for his doubles play, but that is part of what makes him dangerous – his volleying skills. If Hugues-Herbert serves well to match Kyrgios, his serve and volley style can challenge Kyrgios to provide his best tennis to win.
21. Ivo Karlovic
Aljaz Bedene battles Karlovic in round one. The Brit has three wins over the #21 seed with two coming via retirement. Karlovic is a pretty good serve and volley guy on grass and he did make the Ricoh Open final this season. If Karlovic channels his form from earlier this summer on grass then he should be fine, but it’s been an inconsistent season. That means Bedene might have a shot.
23. John Isner
Taylor Fritz is the competition in round one. With Isner, you know anyone who can serve big is going to have a shot to keep the match close and perhaps steal some sets. Isner has not looked very strong this summer, so Fritz could get himself his maiden Grand Slam win if he can bring his serve consistently. It was popping in qualis, so the #NextGen (barf) could become the #NOWGen with a win over Isner.
25. Albert Ramos-Vinolas
The Spaniard made the third round at Wimbledon last year for the first time, but grass is still obviously not his best surface. Couple that with a tough opening match-up against Jordan Thompson and ARV could be sent packing early. Thompson scored his biggest career win in upsetting Andy Murray at Queen’s Club this year. He also made a Challenger final on grass, so he appears to be growing with his game on grass. That means he is dangerous and will arrive confident
27. Mischa Zverev
A repeat of this past week’s match in Eastbourne where Tomic easily worked past Zverev 6-3, 6-3. A lot of people still back Zverev as a game changer on this surface because of his serve and volley tactics, but he has really struggled to win on grass in non-German tournaments. This is his first trip back to the main draw at Wimbledon since 2011. Tomic hasn’t lost in the opening round here since 2012. It may be tough to beat the same player two weeks in a row, but it’s also a big confidence builder to have easily beaten that same player. Keep an eye on this one.
29. Juan Martin Del Potro
No grass prep for Del Potro due to a nagging groin injury which is a little bit troublesome. He starts with Thanasi Kokkinakis which might be a good thing. Even though Kokkinakis scored an impressive upset of Raonic at Queen’s Club, his consistency still isn’t quite there due to some nagging soreness from shoulder issues. In a best of three, the Aussie might have a chance to stick it to DelPo with his serve. In a best of five, I think it’s going to be difficult as long as Del Potro is fit. Now if DelPo isn’t 100 percent fit either, then this is a war of attrition that could go the distance and go to either guy.
31. Fernando Verdasco
This is mostly match-up based with Kevin Anderson as his first round foe. Anderson hasn’t done much to inspire confidence in 2017, but his big serving style can do damage on grass. Verdasco leads to head-to-head 3-2, but it was Anderson winning against him on grass last year. The Spaniard has not been able to escape the opening round two of the last three years and will be pressed to play consistently to win this year.
Our seed history chart shows that there have been a few outsiders crashing the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in recent history. Last year was the first time since 2012 that seeds comprised all eight quarterfinal slots. In five of the last seven years, at least one unseeded player has made it to the quarterfinals. That has been the stopping point however with no unseeded players advancing farther since 2008 when both Marat Safin and Rainier Schuettler did the trick.
It’s difficult to pluck an unseeded player out of the draw who might make noise simply because of the large field and multiple scenarios that usually have to happen in order for the unseeded player to move on. Still, we can identify the spots in the draw that MIGHT present chances to some. Here’s a look at each quarter and potential scenarios to see non-seeds advance deep through the tournament.
Stan Wawrinka’s half of the quarter offers some opportunity for the unseeded players. It starts with Wawrinka’s opener against Daniil Medvedev. A second round opponent would be Tommy Haas or Ruben Bemelmans. Haas is playing in his final Wimbledon and he’s been competitive on grass this season, including the famous win over Federer in Stuttgart. The other seeds here also don’t arrive with a ton of confidence.
(12) Tsonga went 1-1 at Queen’s Club and lost in round one at the French Open, his first Grand Slam R1 exit since 2007. (24) Querrey stunned by making his first Slam quarterfinal here last year, including the shock win over Djokovic. This year, he went 2-2 in the grass build-up. That’s not a negative as he didn’t do a ton right before Wimbledon last year either. (31) Verdasco draws a tough assignment with Kevin Anderson in round one as I talked about above. Anderson won their only grass court match last year in Nottingham.
Wawrinka and Verdasco’s portion of this quarter could open up with an early upset and that looks the likeliest route for an unseeded player to make a run.
Nadal’s quarter for me is the one that looks more likely to open up. The top seeds all have questions from Nadal’s recent struggles at Wimbledon to Nishikori’s health to Cilic’s match-ups. It might not necessarily be a non-seed who surprises here as one of the lower seeds, #30 Karen Khachanov, could be one to watch. The Russian is still green on the green, making his Wimbledon main draw debut this year. Still, he showed his strength in Halle with a semifinal run and could be a threat regardless of whether Nadal is able to find success or not.
The bottom half of the corner with Nishikori and Cilic looks like it’s one early upset from opening up for the right taker. The Viktor Troicki-Florian Mayer winner could be a non-seed to contend with, but also pay attention to a lower seed like (25) Steve Johnson. He’d probably need Cilic to lose early to have a realistic shot at making a deep run.
This is the one where most won’t see a non-seed making the quarterfinals with Federer and Raonic as the lead seeds. Toss in that the unseeded players who might offer the most trouble like Bernard Tomic or Robin Haase are stuck with very difficult routes to success. They’d likely need multiple upsets and in this quarter, that’s a longer shot than others.
The top half of this quarter with 8th seeded Dominic Thiem looks like the speed bump spot. Thiem opens with Vasek Pospisil who presents a challenge right away. If Thiem survives though, he faces easier matches after that. The bottom half has a strong seeded field led by Djokovic, Gael Monfils, Feliciano Lopez and Juan Martin Del Potro. It seems unlikely this part of the draw produces an unseeded quarterfinalist.
Deep Impact: Qualifiers & Wild Cards
Qualifiers and wild cards have a good recent history at Wimbledon of finding the middle rounds of the tournament. Every year since 2011, at least one qualifier has managed to get to round three. That has been the cutoff point for qualifiers. The last two years, qualifiers have gone just 6-10 in round one matches. Those numbers were on the winning side of the ledger in 2012 (10-6) and 2013 (9-7), but have seen qualifiers with a losing round one record in three straight seasons.
Wild cards have traditionally done more damage than qualifiers. They have made some big runs with two of those coming in the past three years. In 2015, American wild card Denis Kudla surprised by getting to the fourth round and the year before, it was Aussie Nick Kyrgios who claimed a quarterfinal slot as a wild card. Overall, wild card entries have seen at least one spot in the round of 32 in three of the past five years. Last year was a low for wild cards with just a 1-5 mark in round one. They had been 8-8 in the previous two years in 2014 and 2015.
So, let’s hunt down this year’s candidates to do a little damage from the quali field as well as the wild card entries. Wild cards look a bit harder to see making noise this year, but I spy at least one who you can root for to put a scare into some higher ranked players.
(WC) Tommy Haas
That is the 39-year-old German, who is giving it one last go at the All-England Club, where he has only played once since 2014. The German made one big run at Wimbledon with a semifinal finish in 2009, but otherwise has been a bit mediocre here mostly. Still, he’s in the part of the draw where he could benefit from an upset of Stan Wawrinka in round one by Daniil Medvedev. Even if Wawrinka doesn’t lose, Haas could still like his chances of getting to round three against the Swiss who has lost in round one or two in five of the last seven years here. He has to beat Bemelmans first though and the Belgian is no slouch on this surface.
(Q) Lukas Rosol
The Czech is a long time removed from his 15 minutes when he beat Rafael Nadal in round two back in 2012. Still, he’s been a tough out at Wimbledon for years and may finally have some confidence coming into the week after running through qualis. He has a winnable opener against Henri Laaksonen who has never won a main draw grass match at this level. A win for Rosol and he’d see either 16th seed Gilles Muller or wild card Martin Fucsovics. Don’t assume it will be Muller who has lost in round one at Wimbledon four times in nine trips. Even if it is, Muller has only made the third round twice at this tournament and Rosol’s game matches his fairly well.
*Keep an eye on (WC) Martin Fucsovics. I’m not as enamored with his ability to spring a round one upset against Muller, but he won a grass Challenger and will bring some confidence to that match-up.
(Q) Sergiy Stakhovsky
It seems like we’re revisiting all the “biggest upsets of the decade at Wimbledon” here doesn’t it? Stakhovsky has never been able to follow up his colossal upset of Roger Federer in 2013, but like Rosol, he’s typically been a difficult out. He opens against fellow-qualifier Juliean Benneteau who he is 3-1 against. A win would get Stak a look at 9th seed Kei Nishikori who he is 2-0 against, albeit both wins came years ago and don’t have much bearing now. Still, Nishikori is a health question again and Stakhovsky can hit big and still knows how to serve and volley on this surface. He’ll be a threat if he makes it to round two to get a round deeper or more with Bautista Agut as the other seed in the area.
*Don’t discount Benneteau if he wins. His numbers aren’t great against Nishikori, but he’s been pretty good on grass this summer.
(Q) Andrey Rublev
The 19-year-old Russian picked a good time to get on a roll on grass. The Russian scored his first main draw wins on the surface in Halle beating Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Mikhail Youzhny, before falling to Khachanov in three. He was solid in qualis and goes against qualifier Stefano Travaglia who is also making his main draw debut at Wimbledon. A win could get Rublev another match against Ramos-Vinolas with a reasonable shot to get to round three.
(Q) Taylor Fritz
The American has a first round “showdown” with 23rd seed John Isner and it’s easy to see that one could come down to a few key points in tiebreaks if Fritz matches Isner’s serve. He may not even have to be perfect with Isner looking less than solid in his losses to Cilic and Gasquet on grass this summer. Isner barely got past Dusan Lajovic in three sets at Eastbourne to get his lone grass court win this year. An upset by Fritz and he’s set up well for a legit shot at round three with either Dudi Sela or Marcel Granollers waiting in round two.
Is that enough information? For today, yes. Don’t fret though as I’ll be breaking down the entire men’s draw quarter-by-quarter as well with my whimsical predictions. So be sure to keep following @tennispig or subscribe to the blog, so you don’t miss a word on Wimbledon.