By Mike McIntyre
Get ready for Breakfast at Wimbledon folks! The All-England Club is set to begin play Monday and in the men's draw there will be 125 players vying to win the title for the very first time. Only Roger Federer (7), Novak Djokovic (3) and Andy Murray (1) have emerged as Wimbledon champions in years past. While young players like Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic, David Goffin and Nick Kyrgios are making big strides on the ATP World Tour, it is still almost a virtual lock that a repeat winner will emerge once again here in 2016. With that being said, let's take a closer look at the draw and the Wimbledon Odds for this year.
If it ain't broken, don't fix it. Such is the mentality of switching from clay to grass for world No. 1 Novak Djokovic who has not played a Wimbledon warm-up event on grass since Queen's Club in 2010. Clearly it has been working for the recent Roland Garros winner who has won the past two Wimbledon's and made the finals in 2013 as well. How will Novak transition to grass this year? His draw is pretty favorable until a potential meet-up with Federer in the semi-finals. Although with Fed being injured for much of the year how can we realistically expect the seven-time champion to endure multiple best-of-five set matches here this year? Djokovic opens with local long-shot James Ward and then plays the winner between Kyle Edmund/Adrian Mannarino. Easy start, let's be honest. Then he could face either Lukas Rosol who took out Rafa Nadal here in 2012 or Sam Querrey the American veteran. Neither of those players inspires any fear. His first true grass court opponent would be in the round of sixteen should he face the tricky Philipp Kohlscreiber. Still, Novak has beaten the 32 year old German seven times in-a-row including last year at this very event in the first round. A quarter-final encounter with Canadian Milos Raonic would be fun although likely still routine for Novak who has beaten John McEnroe's new charge all seven times they have played and only ever lost one set to the big-serving Raonic. Djokovic has proven to be shaky in at least one match each year at Wimbledon in recent memory. Last year he recovered from being two sets down to Kevin Anderson and in 2014 he needed five sets to defeat Marin Cilic. Will someone be able to offer him that type of resistance this year?
Look for David Goffin to potentially provide some sparks in this section of the draw, although his career record at Wimbledon is a meager 5-4. He's got two potential matches against big-servers with Anderson and Raonic looking likely in the third and fourth rounds but has shown steady improvement over the past year so he could be ready to go deep here on the grass.
Any other year and it would be a foregone conclusion that we would pick Federer to emerge out of his section of the draw. This year is not like other years however as the world No. 3 has gone 16-6 up to this point of 2016. By his own admission he is looking to turn his season around but without a lot of match play it is tough to bank on him to find his form over the grueling best-of-five set format. He says his body is ready after playing in Halle and Stuttgart but those were best-of-three matches which is an entirely different story. Hopefully Federer is able to play as well as he possibly can given the time off. There can't be too many more Wimbledon's left in him regardless of how he fares this year but his fans are desperately hoping that he can add title No. 8 here before he calls it a career. Federer will have Alexandr Dolgopolov as a potential third round foe and the always tricky Gilles Simon as the highest seed he could face in the fourth. If Marin Cilic is in-form in the quarters I'm not sure if Roger will be able to come out with the victory. A match-up with Djokovic in the semis will be tough to attain.
Kei Nishikori is another face that one would think would be a factor in this section of the draw. The fifth seed however has never gone past the fourth round at the All England Club and after pulling out of Halle a week ago due to a rib injury I wouldn't be betting on him to cause much of a stir in this event.
This quarter offers up the most intrigue to me as it could very well offer someone new the chance to make the semi-finals at Wimbledon. Number four seed Stan Wawrinka has twice made the quarters at SW19 including a heartbreaking loss 11-9 in the fifth set a year ago to Richard Gasquet. He lost in his opening match at the Aegon Championships to Fernando Verdasco which doesn't exactly give me a ton of confidence about Stan's preparation on grass right now.
While it is true that Tomas Berdych has made the finals of Wimbledon before, the number ten seed has seen his play fall off somewhat this year and I'm not feeling his chances right now. He has yet to make a final in 2016 and that certainly is not going to change here at Wimbledon. Youngster Dominic Thiem meanwhile has breathed new life into things on Tour with his play this season. The 22 year old is 47-12 and won Stuttgart on grass before falling in the semis in Halle. Thiem is my pick to make the semis from this section.
Other names to follow here include another young gun in Alexander Zverev. Anyone who beats Roger Federer on grass is deserving of our respect and a third round match against the Birdman should be a good one. Bernard Tomic is also lurking and has a nice route to the fourth round if he can try to avoid being too much like his usual eccentric self out there.
Andy Murray is the great hope for tennis fans in the UK and will try to reverse his Grand Slam finals fortune now that he is reunited with former coach Ivan Lendl. Lendl, who was never capable of capture Wimbledon during his playing career, guided Murray to his only two Slam titles in 2012 at the U.S. Open and in 2013 at Wimbledon. I expect that the psychological impact of having Lendl back in his corner will be a positive one and that Wimbledon offers Murray the best chance of defeating Djokovic should they meet in the finals. Murray could see Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round and Richard Gasquet in the quarter-finals, neither of whom will offer him an easy match. John Isner and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are also potential threats though to me if it's not Murray then it would have to be Gasquet advancing here.
I should add that there are some crazy-fun matches in this section of the draw including a first round gem between Kyrgios and the entertaining veteran Radek Stepanek. An Isner vs. Marcos Baghdatis opener would also be fun to catch. Oh and Fabio Fognini, not exactly known as a grass court guru, is also thrown in there somewhere for good measure!
Djokovic d. Cilic and Murray d. Thiem
Murray d. Djokovic (yeah...I just wrote that!)