Rafa and co. out to upset the apple cart at Wimbledon

Published by Matt Trollope

Rafael Nadal practises at Wimbledon ahead of the 2018 Championships. He arrives at the All England Club having played no lead-up events on grass. (Getty Images)
Roger Federer may be the clear favourite for Wimbledon among the pundits, but Rafael Nadal, Nick Kyrgios and Kei Nishikori have other ideas.

It’s been almost two years since a player not named Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal has won a Grand Slam title.

And the pair’s dominance has become so routine that it’s hard to bet against them when they play on their best surfaces at their favourite events.

In 2017, Nadal cleaned everyone up during the clay-court season and finished it with a flourish by not dropping a set en route to the Roland Garros title. A few weeks later on grass, Federer won the Halle title and then stormed through the draw at Wimbledon. He didn’t drop a set at either tournament.

This year, it’s been exactly the same story. Nadal dominated on clay and again won at Roland Garros, this time relinquishing just one set. On to the grass, and it’s again Federer who’s dominating the conversation after winning in Stuttgart and advancing to the Halle final.

He’s again the clear favourite for Wimbledon.

“You want to make this a fun conversation, and disagree (about favourites), and (say) Roger’s time is ending, but you go down this list (of seeds) and realistically, and who do you pick over Roger Federer?” tennis reporter Jon Wertheim wondered aloud on the Beyond the Baseline podcast.

“It will be a considerable upset if Roger Federer doesn’t win this event.”

Yet according to other players in the Wimbledon draw, Federer’s favouritism is not quite so clear cut.

“Expectations are always high,” said second seed Nadal. “I am not here to play the tournament; I am here to try to have a good results, of course.”

It makes sense Nadal would speak in such confident tones; the Spaniard has won three of the last five Grand Slam tournaments played.

Yet his recent record at the All England Club doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Since reaching the final in 2011, he’s failed to pass the fourth round in five subsequent visits. He arrived for the second straight year without an official tune-up match on grass and admits he’s a little unsure how his game stacks up on the slick surface.

“Is true that is one of these events that you arrive here and you really don’t have the previous feeling of how you feel, how you are playing, how you are not playing,” he said.

“One year (I won Wimbledon) I won on Queen’s, played five matches. The other year (I won Wimbledon) the maximum I played was three matches on Queen’s. Even with three matches, you arrive here and you really don’t know very well. Is an event that you need to find your confidence during the tournament and during the practice the week before.”

Kei Nishikori is one who believes Nadal will find that form and confidence. “(I) think Roger and Rafa (are the favourites), those two is a little different level this year. That’s for sure,” he said.

Yet the Japanese star doesn’t believe Nadal, or Federer, are a lock for the title.

“You know, Cilic is playing good. He can be really tough opponent on grass. He did well last year, too. I mean, Dimi (Grigor Dimitrov) is also good player. I’m sure it’s going to be tough tournament because, you know, Stan is not seeded, and Djokovic is not top 10 seeded, I guess, so… it’s going to be interesting tournament.”

Nick Kyrgios agrees.

The big-serving Aussie told a small gathering of media on Saturday he felt the men’s tournament was relatively open.

“I don’t think there’s a clear favourite,” he said. “I mean, Roger’s obviously is probably the favourite but there’s a lot of guys who do damage here for sure. I think Cilic has got a great shot. He’s playing really well.

“I think there’s a lot of dark horses. A guy that hasn’t lost many matches – Chardy is playing unbelievable, he’s unseeded. Feliciano (Lopez) is unseeded. Obviously Novak had a good week at Queen’s. Raonic’s dangerous; any big server’s dangerous if they’re finding their range from the back of the court. Rafa’s won here before. It’s his least preferred surface but he’s confident here. Dimitrov (too).

“There’s so many guys who can really make it far. I don’t know how Andy’s feeling physically. I still think he can make a big impact here. I honestly think he’s going to go all out here and make a run.

“There’s a lot of threats.”

Kyrgios is one of them. The world No.19 reached back-to-back semifinals in Stuttgart – where he almost beat Federer – and at Queen’s Club, the most grass-court matches he’s won leading into Wimbledon since 2014.

Healthy at last and serving up storm, Kyrgios is brimming with belief.

“I’ve never really won many matches before Wimbledon so to come in this time playing two solid weeks against tough opponents, that’s probably the best I’ve ever felt about my game coming on the grass,” he said.

“Out of the four (majors) I think it’s my best shot. Just putting it together over two weeks isn’t something I’ve done before. And it’s not something many people have done – there’s always the select few who can do it.

“Hopefully, you never know, in two weeks’ time it could be my breakthrough.”

The conversation around the men’s event is suddenly seeming a whole lot more fun.

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