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Wimbledon 2021: Men's draw analysis, preview and prediction

Roger Federer (L) and Novak Djokovic (R) at Wimbledon 2019
Roger Federer (L) and Novak Djokovic (R) at Wimbledon 2019
Musab Abid
EXPERT COLUMNIST

It's been just two years, but it feels a lot longer, doesn't it? Wimbledon returns this year after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and it's almost like we're getting re-acquainted with a long-lost friend.

Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka of course didn't find that re-acquaintance too urgent, as they both decided to skip the event for personal reasons. Dominic Thiem and Milos Raonic are also sitting out due to injury-related issues, while women's defending champion Simona Halep is absent because she isn't match-fit yet.

You can bet there will be a couple more withdrawals before main-draw action begins on Monday. The pandemic, schedule and general state of affairs on the two tours have made every tournament a challenge; you need to look no further than the Olympics to get a sense of that.

But the Wimbledon men's draw does still have two out of the three biggest men's stars - Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer - as well as a majority of the Next-gen and Next-next-gen starlets. Which of those players is best placed to make a deep run on the SW19 courts this year?

Here's a look at how the men's draw is likely to unfold:

1st Quarter: Novak Djokovic goes from Double Career Slam bid to Calendar Slam bid

Novak Djokovic with the Wimbledon trophy
Novak Djokovic with the Wimbledon trophy

Top seeds: [1] Novak Djokovic, [5] Andrey Rublev, [9] Diego Schwartzman, [13] Gael Monfils

Expected quarterfinal: Novak Djokovic vs Andrey Rublev

Novak Djokovic probably feels like the king of the world right now, and with good reason. Less than two weeks ago, Djokovic was putting the finishing touches on a Roland Garros title run that many consider to be one of his greatest career accomplishments - and maybe even confirmation of his GOAT status. The man is seemingly incapable of putting a foot wrong at the moment.

There has also been a lot of talk lately about whether the Serb can complete the Holy Grail of tennis - the Calendar Golden Slam. A sixth Wimbledon title would raise the decibel levels around that conversation even further, so it's no exaggeration to say that Djokovic's road was the most intriguing part of the draw announcement today.

Djokovic has a tricky opening match against Jack Draper, but only on paper. The 19-year-old Brit has a big lefty serve and will also get a lot of crowd support, but it's nothing that Djokovic hasn't dealt with before.

The 34-year-old is projected to face Kevin Anderson in the second round, which would likely be followed by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the third and Gael Monfils in the fourth. Monfils' match fitness is a big question mark right now though, so it wouldn't be surprising if Cristian Garin or Stefano Travaglia makes it to the Round of 16 instead.

At the other end of this quarter is Andrey Rublev, who starts against Federico Delbonis. Lloyd Harris in the second round and Fabio Fognini in the third could be potential obstacles for Rublev, but you'd expect the Russian to find a way past them at this stage of his career.

Also here is Jannik Sinner, who begins against Marton Fucsovics and could face Diego Schwartzman in the third round before a potential meeting with Rublev. Sinner lost his first grasscourt match of the season to Jack Draper last week, but the Italian can do plenty of damage on this surface if he gets past the first couple of rounds.

Dark horse: Jannik Sinner

First-round match to watch: Diego Schwartzman vs Benoit Paire

Predicted quarterfinal result: Novak Djokovic def. Andrey Rublev

2nd Quarter: Will Stefanos Tsitsipas have a let-down?

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Stefanos Tsitsipas

Top seeds: [3] Stefanos Tsitsipas, [8] Roberto Bautista Agut, [10] Denis Shapovalov, [15] Alex de Minaur

Expected quarterfinal: Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Roberto Bautista Agut

At the same time that Novak Djokovic was wrapping up a career milestone in Paris two weeks ago, Stefanos Tsitsipas was experiencing his first significant career heartbreak. Tsitsipas was up two sets to love in his maiden Slam final but couldn't finish the job, and the disappointment of the loss was made even worse by the news of his grandmother's passing.

Tsitsipas pulled out of Halle in the wake of that double blow, and is coming into Wimbledon without any grasscourt match practice. Moreover, he has never done particularly well on the surface; the Greek needs time to set up his one-handed backhand, and the quick grass deprives him of exactly that.

So is Tsitsipas primed for an early exit at Wimbledon? Probably, and his draw hasn't done him any favors either.

Tsitsipas starts against talented American Frances Tiafoe, and could face big-serving Vasek Pospisil in the second round followed by big-hitting Karen Khachanov in the third. Even if he navigates past all that, he might have to deal with one of Alex de Minaur, Dan Evans, Feliciano Lopez or Sebastian Korda in the Round of 16. That's a murderer's row of grass-loving opponents if ever there was one.

Roberto Bautista Agut leads the other half of this quarter, and as the 2019 semifinalist he should be considered a favorite to reach the last eight. But Bautista Agut has never been too comfortable on grass, and his potential third-round opponent - Reilly Opelka - could make life very difficult for him.

Denis Shapovalov - who opens against Philipp Kohlschreiber and could play Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the second - is slated to be Bautista Agut's fourth-round opponent. The Canadian has the right set of tools to succeed on grass, but it's unclear whether he is in the right frame of mind to go deep at Wimbledon this year.

One of the most intriguing names in this quarter is that of two-time former champion Andy Murray. The home hero has been drawn to face Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round, and judging from his recent results, you wouldn't want to look much farther than that.

(For academic purposes though, Murray could potentially face Shapovalov in the third round).

Dark horse: Dan Evans

First-round match to watch: Alex de Minaur vs Sebastian Korda

Predicted quarterfinal result: Reilly Opelka def. Alex de Minaur

3rd Quarter: Alexander Zverev and Matteo Berrettini bring their clay battle to grass

Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev

Top seeds: [4] Alexander Zverev, [7] Matteo Berrettini, [12] Casper Ruud, [16] Felix Auger-Aliassime

Expected quarterfinal: Alexander Zverev vs Matteo Berrettini

Alexander Zverev has probably shed his can't-reach-Slam-second-week tag, but he hasn't yet shown he can beat the big players in the best-of-five-sets format. As a matter of fact, Zverev still doesn't have a single top 10 Slam win to his name.

And he may have to wait a while longer to tick that box, because the first top 10 player he is likely to run into at Wimbledon is Matteo Berrettini.

Berrettini has been on something of a tear over the last few months, winning a couple of titles and giving even the best players in the world (read Novak Djokovic) a tough time. The Italian lost to Zverev in the final of the Madrid Masters, but with a shift to grass he could well turn the tables on the German.

Berrettini has a big serve and a mammoth forehand, both of which can be huge weapons on the slick surface. His title run at Queen's last week reinforced that, and the 25-year-old would be keen to continue his momentum on the courts of SW19.

Berrettini opens against Guido Pella and could meet John Isner in the third round, followed by one of Aslan Karatsev, Casper Ruud or Kei Nishikori in the fourth. Zverev, meanwhile, plays Tallon Griekspoor in the first round and possibly Tennys Sandgren in the second, Taylor Fritz in the third and Felix Auger-Aliassime or Ugo Humbert in the fourth.

Neither Berrettini nor Zverev is a lock to reach the quarterfinal, with Isner and Humbert looking like particularly dangerous obstacles. But if they both do get there, we could be in for arguably the closest quarterfinal matchup of the tournament.

There is also the small matter of Nick Kyrgios here, who plays Humbert in the first round. Kyrgios is probably not match-fit or any kind of fit rig, but if he somehow catches fire then watch out.

Dark horse: Ugo Humbert

First-round match to watch: Ugo Humbert vs Nick Kyrgios

Predicted quarterfinal result: Matteo Berrettini def. Alexander Zverev

4th Quarter: Roger Federer, Daniil Medvedev, and that thing called age

Roger Federer with the 2017 Wimbledon trophy
Roger Federer with the 2017 Wimbledon trophy

Top seeds: [2] Daniil Medvedev, [6] Roger Federer, [11] Pablo Carreno Busta, [14] Hubert Hurkacz

Expected quarterfinal: Daniil Medvedev vs Roger Federer

Roger Federer may be only the sixth seed, but he is easily the biggest name in this section of the draw. Federer has won Wimbledon a record eight times, and is as synonmynous with the lawns of SW19 as any human can be with an inaminate object.

But the Swiss is still on a comeback trail after undergoing multiple knee surgeries in 2020, and last week at Halle he lost his second-round match in rather dispiriting fashion. In ordinary circumstances Federer would have been considered the second favorite for the title behind Djokovic, but is his current level good enough to endure two weeks of best-of-five-sets matches?

His first-round match - against Adrian Mannarino - will be a good indicator of that. Mannarino loves playing on grass, and has given many top players a run for their money in the past. If Federer manages to get past the Frenchman without too much trouble, it would be a sign that he is ready for deep Slam runs again.

Assuming he does clear that first hurdle, Federer could face Richard Gasquet in the second round, Cameron Norrie in the third and one of Sam Querrey, Pablo Carreno Busta or Lorenzo Sonego in the fourth.

Awaiting Federer in the quarterfinals would likely be Daniil Medvedev, who has once again got the No. 2 seed at a Slam despite never having made it to the second week.

Medvedev can be expected to do better on grass than clay though. His serve is an asset on the surface, and his flat groundstrokes tend to skid through; it's actually a little surprising that he hasn't gone deep at Wimbledon before.

The Russian has a tough first-round match against Jan-Lennard Struff, whom he lost to at Halle last week. If he manages to exact revenge, Medvedev could face Tommy Paul in the second round and Marin Cilic in the third.

Cilic is a former Wimbledon finalist, and already a title winner on grass this year. It goes without saying that if the Croat makes it to the third round, we could be in for a cracker of a contest.

Hubert Hurkacz is Medvedev's projected fourth-round opponent, but the Pole has been struggling big time over the last couple of months. A more likely name in the Round of 16 would be Grigor Dimitrov, who opens against Fernando Verdasco and could face Alexander Bublik in the second round.

Dark horse: Marin Cilic

First-round match to watch: Daniil Medvedev vs Jan-Lennard Struff

Predicted quarterfinal result: Daniil Medvedev def. Roger Federer

Semifinal predictions

Novak Djokovic def. Reilly Opelka, Matteo Berrettini def. Daniil Medvedev

Prediction for the final

Novak Djokovic def. Matteo Berrettini

Edited by Musab Abid
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