Wimbledon, the mother of all Grand Slams, where great champions have been born and careers have being bookended with the meaning they lacked, is almost upon us.
French Open absentee Andy Murray is busy getting his season back on track with the tournament at Queens, London, while Roger Federer has returned to Halle, where he will also partner German No. 1 Tommy Haas in doubles.
The Lead Up
The lead up to Wimbledon this year from the Big Four has seemed cautious and measured, but at the risk of stating the obvious, the signs indicate that all four players are gunning for this title more so than ever before.
Novak Djokovic, for one, has decided against playing a preparatory tournament as he did in 2011 when he won the Wimbledon title. I've always thought not playing a preparatory grass court tournament was a risky decision. However, if we know anything of Djokovic, it is that he is a bold man. It speaks volumes that he has decided to fine tune what he must believe is a winning game plan in the privacy of his close company.
Roger Federer, surely well aware of his dip in form over recent weeks, took measures (including playing doubles with Tommy Haas) to ensure he enters Wimbledon in his best possible shape. For a man who skipped Doha, Miami and Monte-Carlo, tournaments that he could have used to play himself into better form this season, that is a bigger decision than it may seem.
For Andy Murray, the lead up to Wimbledon is crucial. The Scot missed the French Open through injury and performed poorly, by his standards, in the European clay court tournaments. His reaction to that performance was to hit the courts at Queens and begin earnest preparation. While Nadal and Djokovic were still fighting for the French Open, Murray was laying the ground work for what he hopes will be a successful stint on grass.
For Nadal, skipping Halle was in many ways the best preparation Nadal could give himself ahead of Wimbledon. Since his return, Nadal has been smart to intersperse rest periods between the tournaments he's played. He didn't force himself to return in Doha or Australia, just as he avoided Miami after Indian Wells. It's no surprise he has performed so well thus far.
The Winner and the Losers
I wrote earlier in the season that 2013 would be the year of the aesthete tennis player, and much like the Australian Open and the French Open, I think that will come into play at Wimbledon.
Djokovic won the Australian Open in January in part because he was more familiar with the intricacies of the court than Murray was. Djokovic is the better hard court player of the two and was capable of managing himself better.
And in much the same way that Djokovic defeated Murray in Melbourne, Nadal defeated Djokovic in the deciding match at Roland Garros earlier this month because he was the better clay court player of the two and managed himself better as well.
Watching Federer at the French Open, no-one quite knew what to expect from the Swiss No. 1 and it seemed neither did he. Heading into Wimbledon, I wonder if that has changed. I suspect it may well.
Overall, my overwhelming feeling at this moment is that it is not entirely impossible that Andy Murray may come out of this period out with injury as a better player. He may be fresher and should be hungrier. If his training is anything to go by, he is better suited to grass than the others.
It is my belief that the winner of Wimbledon will be a player who is a real scholar of grass court tennis. It will be a player with a thorough understanding of the nuances of grass courts.
The Big Four will give us a Wimbledon we will not forget.
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