Philadelphia, PA – In the category of no rest for the weary, yet another Grand Slam event will swing into action next week when Wimbledon commences, with Roger Federer as the defending champion.
Federer wasn't the favorite there last year, but the men's-record 17-time major titlist managed to nail down a seventh Wimbledon championship in 10 years by overcoming sentimental British crowd favorite Andy Murray in four sets in the final on the famed Centre Court at the storied All England Club.
Either Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Murray was expected to run the table at the AEC a year ago, but no one told a soon-to-be-31-year-old (at the time) Federer, who was supposedly "done" capturing major titles.
With his surprise victory, Federer tied Pete Sampras for the most men's Wimbledon singles titles in the Open Era (since 1968). William Renshaw was also a seven-time winner between 1881 and 1889 during the Amateur Era.
I don't know about you, but I'd have to take Federer or Sampras over Bill Renshaw any day of the week.
Federer will not be the Wimbledon favorite again this year despite capturing a sixth title at the grass-court Wimbledon tune-up in Halle, Germany, last week, where neither Djokovic, Murray nor Nadal were on hand when Federer captured his first title of any kind since last August.
Note: Federer tied John McEnroe with his 77th career singles title, which is good enough for third on the men's all-time list.
Federer will probably be fourth on the list of faves, behind Djokovic, Murray and Nadal.
The world No. 1 Djokovic captured his first Wimbledon title two years ago when he appeared in his first-ever finale at the AEC and dethroned a then-reigning champion Nadal. The Serbian star is currently the reigning Australian Open champ and U.S. Open runner-up.
Murray finally broke through with his first-ever major title at last year's U.S. Open, this after suffering a heartbreaking loss at the hands of Federer in his first Wimbledon final and then whipping Federer on the grass at the All England Club in the gold medal match at the Olympic Summer Games only a few weeks later.
Murray also went on to reach this year's Aussie Open final, only to lose to the formidable Djokovic Down Under, and is fresh off his grass-court title at London's Queen's Club last week.
Britain hasn't boasted a men's Wimbledon singles champion since the great Fred Perry back in 1936. To say they're due would be a drastic understatement. Is Murray the guy who can finally get it done? I guess that's up to Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.
Nadal has easily been the hottest player on the men's tour, winning just about everything in sight since returning to action in February.
He came back in February after being sidelined with a knee injury for seven months. The knee bothered him mightily when he lost to little-known Czech Lukas Rosol in the second round last year at Wimbledon in what many consider to be the greatest upset in the history of the fabled tournament.
And who could argue with it?
But the soaring Nadal is healthy right now, fresh off his record eighth French Open title a couple weeks ago. He'll seek a trip into a 10th final in 10 events in 2013. And I wouldn't bet against it.
Nadal is a brilliant 12-time Grand Slam champ, including two Wimbledon titles. He's also a three-time Wimby runner-up and has appeared in the final in five of his last six trips to SW19. Will he make it a sixth final in seven trips in a couple weeks?
If your surname isn't Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, you haven't captured a Wimbledon title since 2002 (Lleyton Hewitt). The "Big Three" has simply dominated the majors, of course, with the exception of Murray, who snuck in at last year's U.S. Open, and Juan Martin del Potro, who prevailed at the 2009 U.S. Open. Otherwise, it's been all Fed, Rafa and the six-time Grand Slam champ Nole.
The top also-ran at the Big W over the last decade was American slugger Andy Roddick, who thrice lost to the amazing Federer in the final (2004, 2005 and 2009), including a remarkable one four years ago when the Swiss legend staved off a game A-Rod in a tense five-setter that came to a dramatic conclusion in a 30-game final stanza.
The former world No. 1 Roddick retired from the ATP last September.
And speaking of drama, perhaps the greatest tennis match of all-time occurred at Wimbledon 2008, when Nadal outlasted a top-seeded and five-time defending champion Federer in the final, one in which the Swiss maestro trailed two- sets-to-love before fighting back to force an epic fifth, which Rafa ultimately snuck out in 9-7 fashion to cap a match for the ages.
Even though I think another Federer-Nadal final is unlikely in a couple weeks, worse things can happen than another Federer-Nadal final in the quaint village of Wimbledon. And without having seen the seedings at this point, I don't even know if Federer and Nadal could do battle in the final, again.
Note: Federer is 2-1 against his fellow former world No. 1 Nadal on the final day at Wimbledon, where the two haven't met since that epic '08 championship match.
So who will be some of the other contenders? French Open runner-up David Ferrer? Former Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych? Former Aussie Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga? The former U.S. Open winner del Potro?
In a word, yes. Ferrer, Berdych, Tsonga and "Delpo" should be in the mix as strong candidates to at least reach the second week at the third major event of the season.
The 31-year-old Ferrer finally broke through to reach his first-ever major final at the recently concluded French Open, where he was handled by the mighty clay-court king Nadal. The clay-court-loving, yet all-courter, Ferrer is not afraid of grass, as evidenced by his quarterfinal showing at Wimbledon last year.
Berdych was the Wimbledon runner-up to Nadal in 2010, but a stunning first- round loser there a year ago. He's still always a threat, on any surface.
Tsonga, like Ferrer and Berdych, has appeared in a major final before (Oz 2008), just reached his first-ever French Open semifinal earlier this month, and is always a threat at Wimby with his big service game and quality net play. The Frenchman beat Federer in the French quarters a couple weeks ago, and stunned the sublime Swiss in a Wimbledon quarter two years ago. Tsonga has reached the semis in his last two trips to the AEC. Can he finally break through with that elusive final appearance in 2013?
Del Potro hasn't been firing on all cylinders of late, having missed the French Open while recovering from a viral illness. He has, however, pocketed a Grand Slam title before and was a bronze medalist on the grass at the AEC at last year's Summer Games. But he still has yet to reach a quarterfinal in Big W action.
Are there any dark horses among the men? Possibly a Richard Gasquet, a Marin Cilic, a Tommy Haas or a Milos Raonic. Gasquet has reached a Wimbledon semifinal, albeit it six years ago; Cilic has been one of the steadier players on tour this year, including a trip into a grass-court final at Queen's Club last week; the 35-year-old Haas has been the comeback story over the last year and can beat anybody on just about any surface when he's on; and Raonic possesses a massive service game that can carry him deep into the second week on the hallowed lawns at the AEC, although he's never titled off a hardcourt.
Sorry, John Isner, but I don't see you as a dark horse at any major.
Am I actually going to pick Murray to come through and give the Brits their first male Wimbledon champ in 77 years?
It'll be Djokovic or Nadal, and I think I'm leaning in the Djokovic direction.
With Djokovic winning in Melbourne and Nadal prevailing in Paris, we already know we won't have our first calendar-year Grand Slam winner since Rod Laver in 1969.