“Grass is the most historical surface and the one that is most traditional,” said defending champion and top seed Novak Djokovic at his pre-Wimbledon press conference. That does not mean the top players play on grass, at least not very often. Rafael Nadal, Dominck Thiem and other seeds will see their first grass play of 2019 on Day 2 at Wimbledon.
Big names, Little grass
Five of Wimbledon’s top ten seeds are scheduled to play on the All-England Club’s grass on the second day of arguably the most prestigious event in professional tennis. Yet, heading into the event, only one, #2 seed Roger Federer, played any ATP level grass events in preparation for the tournament. By winning the Noventi Open in Germany in June, Federer ran his 2019 grass court record to 5-0. Seeds #3, 5, 8, and 9–Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori, and John Isner, respectively–each bring a 0-0 2019 grass court record into first round play at Wimbledon. These 4 world class players, and many others, sat out all 6 ATP Tour level events contested on grass in the last month.
In fact, despite being world class players who often make Grand Slam runs, Nadal, Thiem, Nishikori and Isner combined for a non-Wimbledon grass court record of only 2-2 in 2018. By current standards, this group was very active on grass in 2017, posting a combined record of 3-5. Only Federer, who skipped the clay season in ‘17 and ‘18, really prepped on grass. Federer’s combined 2017-2019 non Wimbledon grass record is 18-2.
Varying surfaces provides great variety and diversity to professional tennis. Nadal has one 12 French Opens on the red clay, Federer only one. Federer has claimed 8 Wimbledon titles, Nadal only 2. Theim, Nishikori, and Isner have yet to claim a Grand Slam, but each has more success on surfaces other than grass.
Federer leads seeds into Day 2
Still, look for these top 10 seeds to roll in Wimbledon’s first round. Federer should dust off world #87, South African Lloyd Harris. Harris makes his Wimbledon main draw debut against the 8 time champion. Nadal, despite playing his first ATP level grass match since Wimbledon 2018 faces off against Yuichi Sugita. Despite his three match winning streak through Wimbledon qualifying, expect Nadal to have his way with the 30 year old from Japan.
#5 seed Dominick Theim faces the sternest test of the highly seeded group; he will square off against Sam Querrey. The American was a 2017 Wimbledon semi-finalist. Still, Theim’s record is much stronger of late; despite the lack of grass tune ups, the Austrian will be ready.
Japanese star Nishikori squares off against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro. Monteiro dropped only one set in 3 rounds of qualifying. He played the biggest points well in winning all 4 of the tiebreakers he played. Monteiro’s magic will run out against the fleet footed Nishikori.
Isner returns from long layoff
Returning from injury, John Isner makes his first tournament level appearance since losing the Miami Open final to Federer in March. Isner missed the entire clay court season and did not play any grass tuneups. Despite the layoff, Isner will be too much for Norway’s Casper Ruud who makes his first Wimbledon appearance in 2019.
So here they are, top seeds looking to begin a Grand Slam run on the grass. Besides Federer, it will be their first tournament level match on grass in a long time. Each is hoping the wait is much shorter for their next grass match.
Main Photo from Getty