What’s the story?
Eighteen-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, who is currently playing at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, said at a press meet for the event that the remainder of the season – and, in fact, the next few months, would be crucial for World No. 1 Andy Murray, who is under the risk of losing the top ranking he wrested from Novak Djokovic at the end of 2016.
Federer also mentioned Djokovic, saying the pair would “need to be careful” in 2017, and that the remainder of the season would be “very, very interesting.”
In Case You Didn’t Know
Murray, who peaked last year and decimated a nearly 8,000 point lead held by Novak Djokovic to end 2016 as World No. 1, has been struggling with form this year. The Scot, who has suffered a series of illnesses – among them flu and shingles, has seen early exits tournament after tournament, going out in a shock ouster to Mischa Zverev at the Australian Open earlier this year; Murray had been the runner-up in 2016.
The 30-year-old had a struggle throughout the clay court season in 2017; though he put up a solid fight at the semi-finals of the French Open this year, losing to eventual runner-up Stan Wawrinka, he suffered a number of surprise upsets leading in to that run.
Prior to this, he also saw first round losses on the hard-court run, including to players who came through qualifiers, and in straight sets.
After a number of clay tournament losses, Murray – the defending champion at Wimbledon, lost in the first round to Australia’s Jordan Thompson in straight sets. That does not bode well for the Scot, who appeared to show an upswing in fitness and form at Roland Garros.
Once Murray’s biggest competition, Novak Djokovic is struggling with form too, and shockingly, the defending Roland Garros champion went out in straight sets this year to eventual semi-finalist Dominic Thiem, who would lose to Rafael Nadal in the semis.
The Serbian ace has not played a tournament since then – he traditionally eschews the grass-court warm-up, but has this year accepted a rare wildcard to Eastbourne, where he will play for the first time this year.
That lack in Djokovic’s form has meant the World No. 1 has now dropped to World No. 4 behind Stan Wawrinka, and he, like Murray has won only one title this year. In addition to this, Djokovic also split with the remaining coaching staff he had left, including Marian Vajda, a core component of his coaching team for over a decade.
Heart of the Matter
Federer, who won his 18th Grand Slam at the Australian Open this year, is widely considered the favourite to win this year’s tournament. The Swiss ace has himself been taking a break, and sat out the French Open this year in anticipation of Wimbledon.
Murray traditionally plays at Queen’s ahead of Wimbledon, and has won two of his three Grand Slam titles here. Given his blockbuster 2016 season, many expected him to ride in on the back of that form to 2017. But both him and Novak Djokovic have been struggling to keep up pace, and neither has gone very deep into tournaments this year.
With neither looking to be on the mend or due a return and Federer and Nadal in explosive form, as some younger players fire consistently, the field is now wide open for players to make their mark.
Murray will want to pick up on his consistency before Wimbledon commences on the 3rd of July. As the reigning champion there, Murray will be top seeded at the tournament, but one cannot call the results given th shock losses he has been suffering of late.
Despit being a clay court specialist, Rafael Nadal is also expected to do well; however, since Wimbledon seeding takes in grass-court results, Nadal will not be seeded according to his rank.
Djokovic, who has also been extremely successful here – with three Wimbledon titles to his name, will want to make his mark at the relatively less-attended Eastbourne before Wimbledon if he is to prove he can return on grass.
Meanwhile, Federer is the favourite to win, with Nadal coming in soon after. Both players have returned to form after breaks in the 2016 season, and both have found a renewed level of fitness and strength on court.
Now, Federer takes on Florian Mayer at the quarter-finals in Halle, where he is the eight-time champion.
Federer is perhaps in the most ideal position to make this statement. The Swiss ace has seen his own ups and downs, and will know significantly what exactly Andy Murray is going through at the moment.
He is very right – part 2 of the season will be crucial in determining the comeback, if any, and its magnitude for each player – the more time passes, the more difficult it will be for each player to return to their top level of tennis. Compounded with consistent losses, this will also take a toll on their morale – perhaps even more crucial than any physical issues.
Already having surpassed his own men’s singles Grand Slam record, Federer will now aim to set a new record – for an eighth Wimbledon title, currently tied at the highest of seven with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw.