Sport will always be a hostage to fortune, and the immediate reaction to the draw, that has potentially placed all of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic between Andy Murray and a second Wimbledon title, has been one of anxious despair.
But Tim Henman, who has been around long enough to see plenty of both the predictable and the unpredictable, is more philosophical.
“You can make what you want of the draw, and people will,” he says. “But Murray can only play one of Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, only one can come through that section. He can play only one of Ivo Karlovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
“The reality is that if you’re going to win these big tournaments, you think you’ve got to beat the best players. But look what happened in Paris, when we saw the other guys lose. Wimbledon always has its upsets.
“I feel like I know a lot about the draw and the players, and tennis. But my track record is terrible at predicting who will come through. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Yes, Murray could have to beat Tsonga, Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, four of the greatest grass-court players there’s ever been, but is it going to happen? Let’s wait and see.”
Every year, in this incomparable era of men’s tennis, we ponder over whether this will be Murray’s year, over how hard, in this near impossibly hard age, it will be for him to win. Henman, now an ambassador for Wimbledon’s ball manufacturer Slazenger, has said he thinks Murray is “playing the best tennis of career”, but he is sceptical over whether it will be enough.
“Djokovic is the favourite, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “If you look at the way that he’s played this year, he’s only lost one match of relevance and that was the final of the French Open. When you look at that match, it was as good tennis as I’ve seen, certainly on a clay court. The way that [Stan] Wawrinka just hit through him. But there’s no doubt that Djokovic is favourite, though I’d put Murray and Federer a very close second.”
Rafael Nadal enters this tournament as the 10th seed. Roger Federer is another long year beyond his peak. By name, Murray’s nemeses remain the same as always. But might, just might, 2015 be an easier tournament to win than years gone by?
“When Federer and Nadal were right on the top of the game, it might have been stronger,” said Henman. “But this is the toughest era in men’s tennis for many years, and Djokovic is playing unbelievably. The strength in depth now is fantastic, even when you look at the top 100 players. But then when you look at Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, there’s no doubt they are three of the greatest players of all time.
“You had Borg and McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi, Becker and Edberg, but when you look at where these three guys are going to finish in terms of these greats, Federer and Nadal are right at the top and Djokovic is going to win a host more Grand Slams. You could easily have the three leading Grand Slam winners all in one era, and that puts in perspective what Murray has achieved.”
It is a golden era, though, that will not last forever.
“Federer is not going to be around forever, though I would say he has at least two more years in him,” said Henman. “The next generation has to come through, and there will be some exciting players to watch this year. Nick Kyrgios isn’t new, given he knocked out Nadal last year, but he’s exciting. Thomas Kokkinakis is only 19. Grigor Dimitrov is looking to make a big breakthrough. Borna Coric is showing some good signs. Then there’s the American Jack Sock. It’d be great for the game if we could have a top American coming through.”
For a curiously long time, the American game has had to rely on its women, and this year Henman doesn’t expect Serena Williams to be any less terrifying.
“In Paris on her weakest surface, she didn’t play very well but she still won the tournament. When she’s on her game, I don’t see anyone beating her.”
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