It seems strange to see, but the tennis calendar has already reached the third stop on its annual tour of the majors. Even with an additional week thrown in for the first time, with extra carefully manicured lawns and more events dotting the British and German landscapes, it feels like it was only yesterday when we watched Serena Williams overcome her nerves to take home her twentieth major title and Stan Wawrinka in those shorts (which, to be quite honest, I liked them!) stunning the world with bold play against the world’s number one en route to his second major title. But now we’ve left the land of the crushed brick and moved onto the softer confines of grass court tennis. Yes, it’s time to put on your pure whites, enjoy some strawberries and cream, and brush up again on your proper British lingo: the Championships at Southwest 19 are back for another iteration. It’s time to look at the Wimbledon draws. You can find the women—excuse me, ladies!–here, but now we focus on the gentlemen.
Seeds: (1) Novak Djokovic, (14) Kevin Anderson, (24) Leonardo Mayer, (27) Bernard Tomic
The defending champion sits atop the draw, and Djokovic will find himself with a stern test in the first round against the crafty German Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kohlschreiber generally plays well on grass, putting together solid runs at the event in Halle, but he’s only beaten Novak once in his career, and that came on clay. Djokovic’s section appears to be full of trouble—there’s hard-hitting Kevin Anderson, former semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz, and revived Australian Bernard Tomic—but in reality, the world number one should cruise comfortably through the first week.
Retirement Tour. Lleyton Hewitt will be playing in his final Wimbledon, as he’s announced he will retire at the 2016 Australian Open. Hewitt, a former champion, is still a pretty good grass court player these days; many of his latest titles have come on grass. But the feisty Aussie has been battling injuries of late, so it’s unknown if he can even get past his first round opponent in Jarkko Nieminen. But if he does, expect to see Hewitt give all he’s got on center court against Djokovic.
Quarterfinalist: Novak Djokovic.
Seeds: (5) Kei Nishikori, (9) Marin Cilic, (17) John Isner, (28) Pablo Cuevas
We appear to be headed for a rematch of the 2014 US Open final, as both Nishikori and Cilic sit at opposite ends of this part of the draw. But will we get it? Cilic isn’t a great grass court player, as the low bounce gives him difficulty. He’s got a decent draw: Haider-Maurer might trouble him with his speedy strokes, and Isner can certainly force tiebreaks. Nishikori starts off with Simone Bolelli, an Italian who played against Nishikori in a great five set match a few years back. Kei should be able to gut through it, but he is coming in with injury concerns… again. He withdrew from the Halle semifinals with injury, and it could hamper his chances at a deep run.
Upset Alert: Kudla over (28) Cuevas. Denis Kudla received a wildcard from the Wimbledon organizers after an excellent run of tennis on grass courts on the challenger circuit, the level below the ATP tour. He reached the finals of the event in Surbiton, losing to Matthew Ebden in a third-set tiebreaker. The following week, he won the event in Ilkley, beating the same Matthew Ebden in a straight-set victory. He’s got confidence coming in, and faced against a clay court specialist in Cuevas, he’s got a good shot at the upset.
Quarterfinalist: Kei Nishikori.
Seeds: (4) Stan Wawrinka, (16) David Goffin, (19) Tommy Robredo, (32) Dominic Thiem
The French Open champion was gifted a dream draw. He’s slotted up against a bunch of clay court specialists, slumping veterans, and inconsistent youngsters. He should be able to comfortably cruise to the Round of 16. On the other side, it might be a little bit more difficult to gauge. David Goffin is the top player here, but his ranking is built more on the results at smaller events and needs to start winning at the majors consistently. Robredo has never done well at Wimbledon, but he did reach a career-best Round of 16 last year.
Dangerous Floater: Marcos Baghdatis. If you are looking for a potential spoiler to reach the Round of 16, look at the fan-favorite Cypriot. Baghdatis has done well to have people take notice of him again following a tight three-set loss to Nadal in Stuttgart and then a run to the semifinals in Nottingham, knocking out David Ferrer along the way. If there is something to be worried about, it is that Baghdatis retired with an injury in that semifinal.
Quarterfinalist: Kei Nishikori.
Seeds: (7) Milos Raonic, (11) Grigor Dimitrov, (21) Richard Gasquet, (26) Nick Kyrgios
Fun will be had in this part of the draw, as there’s exciting players all with good chances of reaching the second week. Milos Raonic may have missed the French Open with a minor foot surgery, but he can straight drop bombs with his serve, and as a semifinalist from last year, he has the game to win on grass. Grigor Dimitrov is a semifinalist from last year, and with a game that reminds people of Federer (hence the “Baby Fed” moniker), he’ll certainly have support with his graceful movement and one-handed backhand. The “Baby Fed” before Dimitrov is here as well: Richard Gasquet. He’s had relative success at Wimbledon throughout his career, and he’s still got a wicked backhand. Finally, the most entertaining player on the ATP World Tour, Nick Kyrgios, has landed in this section. He has the style and the play that whips a crowd into a frenzy.
Comeback Time! Tommy Haas has returned to the tour during the grass court season after sitting out a prolonged period with injury. It’s fair if you’ve lost count of how many times he’s had to make a comeback—I know that I can’t recall the number. Give him credit for not simply retiring at any point during those rough rehab assignments. He opens up against a talented young Serb in Dusan Lajovic, but if he can get past that, he’s got a date with Milos Raonic.
Quarterfinalist: Milos Raonic.
Seeds: (10) Rafael Nadal, (22) Viktor Troicki, (30) Fabio Fognini
David Ferrer withdrew from the even with an elbow injury on the eve of the tournament. His departure leaves a huge hole in the draw that only further improves Nadal’s chances of a deep run. Who might take his place on the second Monday might come from unseeded players in the unknown but ascendant Jiri Vesely and half of the defending men’s doubles Wimbledon champions in Vasek Pospisil. Nadal himself has the harder draw, where he could face off against the serve-and-volleying Dustin Brown, who beat Nadal last year on the lawns in Halle. And Viktor Troicki has surged up the rankings this year following his suspension. He reached the semifinals of Queen’s, but he suffered a shoulder injury in his loss to Andy Murray, so his health is a bit suspect.
His Home Event. Aljaz Bedene isn’t playing his first Wimbledon. But he is playing his first Wimbledon under the Union Jack. Bedene recently became a citizen of the United Kingdom this year, and as a result, he has switched his citizenship from his birthplace of Slovakia to Great Britain. Tennis is a global game, and players switch countries with more frequency than you’d expect. So what may be Slovakia’s loss is Britain’s gain.
Quarterfinalist: Rafael Nadal.
Seeds: (3) Andy Murray, (13) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, (23) Ivo Karlovic, (25) Andreas Seppi
When will a Brit win Wimbledon? It’s been two years since Andy Murray last hoisted the trophy, and while that’s not the same excruciating length as the last drought for the home crowds, Andy is certainly still going to feel the pressure to win on his home soil again. It’s almost like they’re spoiled! As far as Murray’s draw, it’s potentially tricky. His potential third round opponent in Andreas Seppi plays well on grass and reached the finals in Halle, collecting three top twenty wins along the way. And there are intriguing unseeded players sitting here too. Borna Coric is a fast rising youngster with elite potential. Sergiy Stakhovsky has a career-highlight win over Roger Federer at Wimbledon. Alexandr Dolgopolov is tricky for everyone to play, and Denis Istomin is a newly-minted champion in Nottingham this week.
Upset Alert: Muller over (13) Tsonga. And that’s leaving out potentially the most dangerous unseeded player. Gilles Muller gave Murray fits in a three-set loss in the quarterfinals of Queen’s. The lefty from Luxembourg takes on Tsonga, who comes in with huge question marks about his fitness. He withdrew from all of the grass court tune-ups he entered. Given Muller’s recent form and concerns about Jo-Wilfried’s health, this is an easy upset to choose.
Quarterfinalist: Andy Murray.
Seeds: (6) Tomas Berdych, (12) Gilles Simon, (18) Gael Monfils, (29) Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Another section that has recognizable names, but outside Nicolas Mahut, the marathon man and recently crowned champion in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, none of the unseeded players are doing well. Ernests Gulbis is hanging on to the Top 100 at this point; Lukas Rosol, the man who stunningly vanquished Nadal at Wimbledon a few years back, has failed to build on that win; Adrian Mannarino has had relative success at SW19, but he was a mediocre 2-2 in his grass preparation; and Nicolas Almagro still just doesn’t seem right after his lengthy break to rehab from surgery.
An Awkward Match to Coach. Should both players make it to the third round, Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils will face off for a spot in the second week. They’ve played each other before, so despite being from the same country and having played together on the same Davis Cup teams, there’s nothing terribly too awkward about the two facing off across the net again. But what is awkward will be in the coaching box. Jan de Witt is the coach for Gilles Simon. He’s also the coach for Gael Monfils. That’s right: he’s coaching two players at the same time. Which part of the coaching box will he sit in? Or will he just not show up?
Quarterfinalist: Tomas Berdych.
Seeds: (2) Roger Federer, (15) Feliciano Lopez, (20) Roberto Bautista Agut, (31) Jack Sock
Federer was so extremely close to winning Wimbledon last year, but after falling to Djokovic in an excellent final, he must return and start all over again to add another major trophy to his giant trophy closet (though, at this point, he’s probably got a whole house just for them). Quite frankly, his early draw is a piece of cake for the world number two. He should be able to breeze into the Round of 16 untroubled; sure, Sam Querrey can play on grass, but he’s also Sam Querrey, perennial underachiever. His third round opponent might be Jack Sock, who’s a seed for the first time and a major and half of the PopSock duo that won Wimbledon last year, but is the American ready for the challenge of dethroning Federer? Don’t expect an actual test until the Round of 16, when lefty and grass court savant (at least for the Spaniards) Feliciano Lopez takes on The Maestro.
Like Aces? Watch this match: Jack Sock-Sam Groth. Both of them can serve huge. In fact, Sam Groth has the record for the fastest recorded serve from a challenger event in 2012 at 163.7 mph (263.4 kph). Jack Sock isn’t too far behind; his fastest serve came the same year at the event in Atlanta, clocking in at 141 mph (227 kph). With these two facing off against each other in the first round, there’s bound to be a lot of points that are won with the tennis ball only hitting a racket once.
Quarterfinalist: Roger Federer.
Novak Djokovic defeats Andy Murray in five sets.
The men’s tour is top heavy—there is really no denying it—and it shows yet again on the biggest stage as seven of the top eight players reach the quarterfinals (and the eighth is Rafael Nadal, who’s now the highest seed in that part of the draw at 10). The top half looks primed for Novak Djokovic to simply run through the opposition: Nishikori will give him some irritation, but again, we don’t know the severity of that injury or if Nishikori will find himself in prolonged matches earlier in the event that will sap his energy. In the semifinals, he might face Wawrinka, the man who beat Djokovic for the French Open title. However, Wawrinka historically hasn’t been a good player at Wimbledon. Raonic could be the opponent (if he’s healthy), but again, Djokovic should be able to handle the Canadian’s serve and power game as he’s done before. The bottom half of the draw is the more interesting one. Nadal and Murray face off in what would have been a final just a few years ago. It’s wise at this point to simply go with the man who’s more in form with his Queen’s Club title. In the other match, Berdych is improved this 2015 campaign behind his new coaching team, but he also still has difficulty beating the players ranked ahead of him, and Federer simply (and obviously) knows how to win at SW19. It would be smart to bet on Federer reaching the semifinals, but I think Murray pulls out a thrilling victory against the world number two in that semifinal. From there, we’ll see Djokovic take on Murray. I personally find their matches to be the dullest of all Big 4 encounters, especially now that Novak seems to have Andy’s number. Sure, Andy’s results against Novak do seem to point to the Brit coming ever closer to figuring out the riddle, and Murray’s got the positive memories of beating a listless Djokovic in the Wimbledon final in 2013. But I highly doubt Djokovic is going to let back-to-back major titles slip from his grasp in finals.