Roger Federer - can he defeat the Djoker? (Image: AFP Leon Nea)

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With Wimbledon just a week away, it’s time to have a look at some of the contenders and challengers for the most prestigious title in tennis.

This year’s men’s field is very open, given the mixed form of each of the Big Four. Nadal has been unstoppable since returning from injury, Djokovic has been shaky this year, Federer hasn’t had a good season by his standards and of course Andy Murray will be hungry to go one further after last year’s final disappointment.

First, let’s preview the Big Four and their chances of triumphing at the All England Club this year.

THE CONTENDERS

Rafael Nadal

Wimbledon history

Best result: Champion (2008, 2010)
Last year’s result: Second round

Current world ranking: 5
Australian Open result: Did not play
French Open result: Champion
Titles this year to date: Brasil, Acapulco, Indian Wells, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, French Open

Rafael Nadal has shown over the last four months that he is the man to beat, and that his comeback from a seven-month lay-off has been more than successful, claiming seven titles in the process. But the big question will be: can he make the smooth transition to grass, after such a dominant clay court season?

Last year, Nadal entered the 2012 Wimbledon Championships with hopes high for a third title at the All England Club, having come off his seventh French Open title and seemingly ending Novak Djokovic’s dominance on the circuit.

However, last year the Spaniard suffered his equal-earliest exit at any Grand Slam tournament when Lukas Rosol stunned him in the second round, in five sets. What tennis fans didn’t know was that after that defeat, Nadal would no longer serve a ball in anger for the remainder of the year.

Continuing knee injuries, first sustained in 2009 when Nadal temporarily lost his French Open invincibility to Robin Soderling, spelt the end of the Spaniard for the year. He was forced to concede the defence of his Olympic gold medal which he won in Beijing in 2008, and had to miss the remainder of the season to rest his knees.

But he has come back in the best possible fashion and he has recorded one of the most dominant starts to a season ever seen in men’s tennis, even rivalling that of Novak Djokovic’s start to the season in 2011.

Nadal can continue his impressive comeback at Wimbledon, but if he is to do so, he may have to face one of Djokovic, Federer or Murray in the quarter-finals. Also, he’ll have to overcome a very long hoodoo – no non-top three seed has claimed the title at SW19 since Roger Federer (fourth) claimed his first title in 2003.

Prediction: Big call, but he’ll be the champion this year.

Novak Djokovic

Wimbledon history

Best result: Champion (2011)
Last year’s result: Semi-finals

Current world ranking: 1
Australian Open result: Champion
French Open result: Semi-finals
Titles this year to date: Australian Open, Dubai and Monte-Carlo

Novak Djokovic has struggled to play up to the standards he has set over the last two years, despite successfully defending his Australian Open title and claiming his biggest career clay court title at the Monte Carlo Masters in April earlier this year.

The Serb’s otherwise frustrating clay court season concluded with a heartbreaking semi-final loss to Nadal in Paris, and there is no doubt he would love to bounce back at the All England Club as he fights to protect his World No. 1 ranking.

Djokovic has chosen not to play any lead-up events on grass as he seeks a second title at the All England Club, which he left in 2011 with not only his first trophy but also the World No. 1 ranking.

That year, Djokovic benefited from Roger Federer’s quarter-final exit to finally reach his first final at Wimbledon, which he would win by defeating defending champion Rafael Nadal in four sets. This was the crowning moment of Djokovic’s career and it continued what would eventually be one of the most dominant seasons in the history of men’s tennis.

Last year, Djokovic not only lost his title defence but also the World No. 1 ranking, to Roger Federer in the semi-finals. It must be noted though that Djokovic had never met Federer on grass till that point, and had just beaten him in straight sets at Roland Garros en route to reaching the final. But in the end, it was Federer’s grass court record which was the telling story.

As for his chances at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic should at least reach the semi-finals again, and is guaranteed not to face Andy Murray until the final. But if he lands one of Federer or Nadal in the semi-finals (or the latter in the quarter-finals), then he could be in for a challenge.

Prediction: Semi-finals

Roger Federer

Wimbledon history

Best result: Champion (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012)
Last year’s result: Champion

Current world ranking: 3
Australian Open result: Semi-finals
French Open result: Quarter-finals
Titles this year to date: Halle

Roger Federer recently ended his longest title drought by winning the tournament in Halle, that title coming 10 months after his triumph at Cincinnati in 2012 (where he did not lose his serve throughout the entire tournament).

This year’s edition of the Championships marks a decade since his first Grand Slam title and the lure of potentially winning a record breaking eighth title at SW19, exactly a decade since his first title, would be fitting, given he will be 32 in August.

But this will mark the first time since 2002 in which the defending champion has not been seeded first. On that occasion, Goran Ivanisevic, the famous 2001 champion who won it as a wildcard entry, decided not to participate.

Roger Federer’s record at the All England Club speaks for itself. He has won seven titles, equal to Pete Sampras, and has the chance this year to take another record off him by winning an eighth title here. Already, he has broken two original Sampras records: most weeks at World No. 1, and most Grand Slam titles held by a man.

Additionally, Sampras was never able to win the French Open, let alone reach the final.

Federer has not had the best start to the season he would have wished for, but last week’s title win in Halle may suggest that Federer always likes to save his best form for Wimbledon. And why wouldn’t he?

As for his chances this year, he will be the defending champion but he could face Rafael Nadal as early as the quarter-finals. Federer has not beaten Nadal at any Grand Slam tournament since the 2007 Wimbledon final.

If he does avoid Nadal in his half, then you can bet on him saluting at SW19 for an eighth time.

Prediction: Final

Andy Murray

Wimbledon history

Best result: Finalist (2012)
Last year’s result: Finalist

Current world ranking: 2
Australian Open result: Finalist
French Open result: Did not play
Titles this year to date: Brisbane, Miami, Queen’s

For Andy Murray, this year’s edition of the Championships will be all about trying to finally become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win Wimbledon.

Last year, he was able to take the next step forward after a hat-trick of semi-final losses, though that was aided by the early exits of Lleyton Hewitt, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick, the only three active men to have reached the final at SW19, in his half.

Roddick could have so easily stopped Murray in the quarter-finals last year; instead, Murray knocked off David Ferrer, Roddick’s conqueror, in the final eight. Likewise, Nadal could have ended Murray’s hopes in the semi-final stage for the third year running, but Lukas Rosol stopped Nadal in the second round.

But this is not to take away from the successes that Andy Murray has enjoyed on grass over the last 12 months. While he went on to lose to Roger Federer in the four-set final, he would later gain his revenge by swamping him in the gold medal match at the London Olympics for the loss of just seven games.

This season, Murray has continued to impress – he successfully defended the title in Brisbane, and went on to make the final of the Australian Open, losing in four sets to Novak Djokovic.

He has also picked up a second crown in Miami, and just last week made a successful return from a back injury by winning a third title at Queen’s. This title win proves that he is well over the injury which forced him to miss the French Open.

But this year, Murray’s Wimbledon chances may hinge on which quarter Rafael Nadal gets assigned to. As Nadal will be the fifth seed, he could potentially draw one of Federer, Djokovic and Murray in the quarter-finals, and given the form that Nadal has shown in the last four months, the Scot’s Wimbledon chances could end in the quarter-finals.

Nevertheless, he will be very hungry to go one better this year, but to do that he may have to overturn a poor record against Nadal on grass, if they draw each other before the final – the Spaniard has won all three of their meetings on the surface.

Prediction: Semi-finals

Now, here are some of the challengers that are expected to feature late in the tournament:

THE CHALLENGERS

David Ferrer

Wimbledon history

Best result: Quarter-finals (2012)
Last year’s result: Quarter-finals

Current world ranking: 4
Australian Open result: Semi-finals
French Open result: Finalist
Titles this year to date: Auckland, Buenos Aires

David Ferrer’s run to the French Open final earlier this month shows just how far he has come in the past decade.

But the challenge for the Spaniard will now be whether he can make the successful transition from clay to grass.

Ferrer is a proven grass court player, his second grass title in the Netherlands preceding his run to the quarter-finals at the All England Club last year. En route, he took out Andy Roddick (in what would be the American’s final Wimbledon) and Juan Martin del Potro in the preliminary rounds.

Ferrer could still face Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals at SW19 – the pair have never met on grass.

Prediction: Quarter-finals

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Wimbledon history

Best result: Semi-finals (2011, 2012)
Last year’s result: Semi-finals

Current world ranking: 7
Australian Open result: Quarter-finals
French Open result: Semi-finals
Titles this year to date: Marseille

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should not dwell on his latest failed attempt to reach the final at his home Grand Slam. He should be proud of his run to the semi-finals, though, where he took out Roger Federer in straight sets.

And so far, Tsonga has not failed as he makes the transition from clay to grass. The Frenchman reached the semi-finals at Queen’s, but fell to eventual champion Andy Murray there in three sets.

The challenge for Tsonga this year will be whether he can take another step forward and reach the Wimbledon final. To do that, however, he’ll have to face possibly one of Djokovic, Federer or Murray in the quarter-finals, but he is guaranteed to avoid Rafael Nadal until the semi-finals.

Prediction: Quarter-finals

Tomas Berdych

Wimbledon history

Best result: Finalist (2010)
Last year’s result: First round

Current world ranking: 6
Australian Open result: Quarter-finals
French Open result: First round
Titles this year to date: None

Tomas Berdych’s first round loss at Roland Garros to local favourite Gael Monfils continues to highlight his terrible inconsistency at Grand Slam tournaments.

This comes on the back of a quarter-final in Australia, where he took Novak Djokovic to four sets, and the semi-finals at last year’s US Open, where he pushed eventual champion Andy Murray also to four sets.

Berdych put his French Open disappointment behind him by reaching the quarter-finals at Queen’s, losing only to defending champion Marin Cilic.

It’s been three years since the Czech made the final at SW19 and it’s unlikely he’ll reach another one, unless he can put in a power game that can bring down Federer and Djokovic, just like what happened in 2010.

All he can hope for now is a strong run at Wimbledon, which would all but bury the failures of Paris.

Prediction: Quarter-finals

Juan Martin del Potro

Wimbledon history

Best result: Fourth round (2011, 2012)
Last year’s result: Fourth round

Current world ranking: 8
Australian Open result: Third round
French Open result: Did not play
Titles this year to date: Rotterdam

The former US Open champion is back up again, having been forced to miss most of the clay court season due to illness.

So far he has shown no signs of rustiness, as evidenced by his run to the quarter-finals at Queen’s, where he was stopped by grass court expert Lleyton Hewitt in three sets.

He may have never reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon but he did win the bronze medal at the Olympics, defeating Novak Djokovic in that play-off after pushing Roger Federer to 19-17 in the final set in the preceding semi-final.

A first quarter-final at the All England Club would see him reach at least the quarter-finals at each of the four Grand Slam tournaments. He could face one of Gasquet, Wawrinka, Cilic or Nishikori in the fourth round, but shouldn’t be threatened there.

Prediction: Quarter-finals

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