In less than a week, Roger Federer will start the defense of his Wimbledon crown on the freshly laid pristine grass on Centre Court. As is the norm at these Championships, the Men Singles champion will open proceedings on the stroke of one o’clock in the afternoon. Federer is priced as the bookmakers’ clear favorite to reign supreme at SW19 once more, but there are ominous signs he could fall short to retain the crown he won 12 months ago.
Following a three-set loss in the final in Halle, Federer fell short of defendind his title, which means that Rafael Nadal regained the #1 ranking on Monday.
Despite starting the grass court season in impressive style by winning the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart following an 11-week hiatus, the Swiss was surprisingly beaten by young Croat Borna Coric in the final of the Gerry Weber Open, a defeat which could potentially have a damaging effect on Federer’s preparation for Wimbledon. While there is a sense of optimism Federer will quickly shake off this loss, as was the Swiss’ stance in the aftermath of the defeat, there have been a few notable success stories which Federer should be wary of, not least the manner of his loss to Coric.
Coric was 2-9 on grass court matches prior to this week
Borna Coric is by no means a pushover. In fact, the former ATP Star of Tomorrow Award winner is one of the best young talents in the game. He already pressed the alarm button when he came within two games to beat Federer at Indian wells in March. In round one in Halle, he beat second seed Alexander Zverev en route to his championship-winning performance over Federer. Things could have turned out entirely differently had Federer converted a set point in the first set, but Coric’s aggressive ball striking coupled with his incredible mental strength paid dividends.
With this defeat, there are question marks on whether Federer could be vulnerable to an equivalent upset at Wimbledon. Coric had won only two tour level matches on grass, yet he produced such an authoritative performance against the undisputed king of the surface.
Coric joins Tommy Haas as the only two men to have beaten Federer on grass in the past two years
It is almost inconceivable that Federer lost to retired veteran Tommy haas last year in Stuttgart, having started the 2017 season in blistering form. Federer though bounced back to win in Halle and subsequently Wimbledon to mark a perfect grass court season.
This year the scenario is a bit different. Sometimes the Swiss played with fire. His victories have been hard to come by. Federer needed a third set tie break to beat nick Kyrgios–a player who lacked any serious match fitness–in the semifinals in Stuttgart. He saved two match points against Frenchman Benoit Paire in Halle, and perhaps unequivocally ran a journey too far in the final. Coric was better, more astute, and fresher for longer periods in the match.
Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic looking every bit as good on the grass
Over 600 miles to the west of Halle, Djokovic and Marin Cilic fought out the longest final in the history of Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s Club in London. A breathtaking match of highest quality, in which Marin Cilic saved a match point before prevailing in three sets and three minutes shy of three hours.
Cilic finished runner-up at both Queens and Wimbledon last year. Ironically, he lost the championship match last year from match point up. This year, though, he has been in brilliant form. A third Major final was achieved in Australia. He suffered from a dip in form and ranking during the hard court season and the start of the clay swing with niggling injuries and was emotionally invested in his marriage to long time girlfriend Kristina Milkovic in April. He had since matched his best appearance at the French Open when he reached the quarterfinals and he notched up only his second victory over Novak Djokovic in a pulsating final.
Djokovic meanwhile, is yet to win a title this year. However, there can be no doubt about the status of his impressive showing during the week at Queens. The Serb is a three-time Wimbledon champion and is in much better shape game-wise heading to SW19 than during the Australian Open or French Open this year. The former world no.1 will be hard to beat especially during the latter rounds of the tournament. He is the only man to have beaten Roger Federer more than once at Wimbledon, both in the final, and there is every reason to believe he could do it again if they were paired up. Djokovic has been serving impeccably dampening any fears of his elbow troubles. during the week at Queen’s alone, he racked up 51 out of 53 successful service games and was a point away from clinching the title.