Roger Federer, the 35-year-old father of four who has not won Wimbledon in five years, enters the hallowed grounds of the All-England Club as the favorite to win the 2017 trophy. If he wins his eighth title there, he will become the oldest men’s Wimbledon champion in 87 years.
Bill Tilden won at age 37 in 1930. The oldest since then was Arthur Ashe, who was 31 when he won in 1975.
Well-rested after skipping the clay season and feeling confident on the heels of unexpected titles at the Australian Open, Indian Wells (California) and Miami, Federer is playing some of the best tennis of his life a year after being written off by many experts.
He didn’t drop a set at the Wimbledon grass tuneup in Halle, Germany, and knocked off nemesis Rafael Nadal in the finals of the Australian Open and Miami Open.
That Federer is having such success after a six-month injury layoff is remarkable.
“He seems to be the Six Million Dollar Man,” ESPN analyst John McEnroe said of Federer. “He looks great physically. He’s rested. He’s one of the few guys that could make the decision to just not play the clay-court season, then walk into Wimbledon and be the favorite. It’s an amazing story what we’ve seen so far this year in tennis with him and Nadal, the way they’ve been playing.”
Federer and Nadal are rejuvenated, while Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray attempt to emerge from slumps.
Last summer at this time, Djokovic was on top of the world. The seemingly invincible Serb had won five of the previous six Grand Slam tournaments and was the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Slam titles at the same time. He was 44-3 on the year heading into Wimbledon and had won 30 consecutive matches in Grand Slam events.
But he looked lethargic and distracted in a third-round Wimbledon loss to American Sam Querrey, alluded to personal problems, and his career went into a tailspin from there.
He struggled the rest of the season, and his troubles have continued in 2017. Djokovic lost to 117th-ranked Denis Istomin in the second round of the Australian Open and was bounced in the quarterfinals of the French Open by upstart Austrian Dominic Thiem. Djokovic lost the third set 6-0 to Thiem, the most lopsided set for the Serb in 12 years.
With his career in crisis and his wife, Jelena, expecting their second baby later this summer, Djokovic hired Andre Agassi to be a coach and mentor. He also has been seeking counsel from his spiritual advisor, Pepe Imaz, a former player who runs an academy in Spain for underprivileged children.
“The Djokovic situation is hard to predict,” ESPN commentator Chris Evert said. “We don’t know what’s going on in his life, with him emotionally … is he mentally distracted? Everybody’s speculating. The truth of the matter is only he knows where he is in his tennis and how much he wants it.
“I admire him. He’s trying so hard to get his mojo back. But it’s been a struggle for him because life has intervened with his robotic-like focus. … I always believed once a champion, always a champion. I think he’ll get it back eventually.”
The only thing harder to predict than Djokovic these days is the women’s field. With pregnant Serena Williams on hiatus, the women’s Wimbledon title is up for grabs. Consider that 47th-ranked unseeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko just won the French Open.
“I said that at least 30 women could win the French, and I wouldn’t even have put Ostapenko’s name on the 30 because she hadn’t won a WTA tournament,” tennis analyst Brad Gilbert said. “I will double down and say that 40 women — 40 women — could win Wimbledon. The field, without a doubt, is the clear favorite on the women’s side.”
Among the more compelling story lines on the women’s side is the return of two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who sustained stab wounds to her playing hand during a home invasion six months ago.
She won the tuneup tournament in Birmingham, England, last week despite not having full range of motion in a few fingers.
Defending Wimbledon men’s champion Murray, meanwhile, has been battling a sore hip in recent weeks. He has played only one grass-court match, a first-round loss to No. 90 Jordan Thompson at Queen’s.
Murray withdrew from a scheduled pre-Wimbledon exhibition match, saying his hip was bothering him and he needed to rest. The world No. 1 was slowed by shingles earlier this year but seemed to have regained his form at the French Open, where he reached the semifinals before losing to Stan Wawrinka.
ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe said: “[Murray] got to 1. He won Wimbledon last year. He’s for sure most comfortable on grass. Based on how he played the French, you have to think he’s going to be right there at the end, have a great chance to win it all.”
Players to watch
▪ Roger Federer: Will he win his eighth Wimbledon title at age 35?
▪ Rafael Nadal: Hasn’t gotten past the fourth round since 2011.
▪ Andy Murray: Defending champion is dealing with hip issues.
▪ Novak Djokovic: Can Andre Agassi pull the former No. 1 out of his slump?
▪ Others: Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios.
▪ Petra Kvitova: Two-time champion is a sentimental favorite after sustaining stab wounds to her hand in a home invasion.
▪ Venus Williams: She’s 37 but reached the Wimbledon semifinals last year, the final in Australia this year and has a big serve.
▪ Jelena Ostapenko: The surprise unseeded winner of the French Open won the Wimbledon Junior title in 2014.
▪ Angelique Kerber: Ranked No. 1 but lost in fourth round of the Australian Open and first round at the French.
▪ When: July 3-16.
▪ Where: All-England Club, London.
▪ Surface: Grass.
▪ Defending champions: Andy Murray, Serena Williams.
▪ TV: ESPN, ESPN2, ABC.