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By Chris Oddo | Sunday, June 29, 2014

 
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Tennis's big four have won 35 of the last 37 Grand Slam titles. Will they make it 36 of 38 at Wimbledon? We think so.

Photo Source: Kieran Galvin/CameraSport

Fresh faces, young guns and rising stars caught our attention during week one of the Championships, but week two—otherwise known as the “business end”—will likely mark the 36th time in the last 38 Grand Slams that a member of the big four walks away with the title.

More: 10 Things We Learned from the First Five Days of Wimbledon

Sorry kids, but the keys of the castle won’t be handed over at Wimbledon this year. No, the four-headed monster at the top of the tennis food chain is hungry, and judging from their collective results in the first week—four sets dropped, three of which were lost by Rafael Nadal, who needs more time to get his footing on the surface than the others—they are going to feast on the rest of the field next week, when experience not only on grass, but also in dealing with all the pressures that come with competing in the second week of tennis’s most high-profile event become one of the most valuable commodities that a player can possess.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at the current form of each member of the big our in order to garner a clue as to who might steal away with tennis’s most coveted prize at the end of the fortnight:

Andy Murray

As the week has progressed it has become painfully (well, painful for his opponents) obvious that Andy Murray is the world’s best grass-court player. Murray has won 16 straight at the All England Club, and this year, amidst the turmoil of hiring a new coach and having not reached a final since winning the Wimbledon title in 2013, all Murray has done is showed up at Wimbledon and completely steamrolled the field, dropping just 19 games in three matches (a career best for him at Wimbledon).

Everything just seems to click for Murray when he gets on grass. He’s patiently aggressive, content to hang around in rallies and play defense, but shrewd enough to know when the time is right to hit flat and go for the kill. He serves better with each passing year, and—perhaps most important—he seems to be following a guiding light when he takes the court at Wimbledon. It’s as if all the indecision and all the doubts leave Murray’s head when he plays on Centre Court. The pressure seems to rally him rather than bother him, and he just lets his game do the talking.

“Well, obviously I'm in familiar surroundings,” Murray said after his round three lashing of Roberto Bautista Agut. “That's going to make you feel more comfortable. The nerves and the pressure here are also different to other tournaments for me, as well. It's probably greater here than it is at the other Grand Slams. But I enjoy pressure. I like feeling nervous. I'm not scared of that feeling.”

Why he’ll win the title: Because Wimbledon is the place where Murray’s magic happens. He’s a genius on any surface, but on grass, in front of his home crowd, even more so.

Why he won’t win the title: Because everybody is gunning for him. He is the defending champion with the target on his back. On grass, if somebody serves out of their mind and plays the tennis of their life, sometimes there is nothing anybody can do about it.

Roger Federer

Don’t look now but after a tumultuous year that saw Federer fail to make the quarterfinals in three of four Grand Slams, suddenly the Swiss maestro looks to have found his mid-2000’s form on the Wimbledon grass.

If you're wondering why it's all coming together, look no further than Roger’s serve, the straw that stirred the drink for Federer during so many of his Grand Slam title runs. Among his big four contemporaries, Federer has won the highest percentage of first-serve points (84, tied with Murray) and the highest percentage of 2nd-serve points won (a whoppingly impressive 65). He’s also the only big four member that has not been broken thus far at Wimbledon, as he’s saved all seven break points he’s faced.

The numbers tell the story pretty effectively, but taking a glance at Federer actually connecting on the serve elucidates further. The pop and the precision are both front and center, and there are likely a few reasons for that.

One, Federer is healthy and the back is letting him produce the upward thrust he needs to really pop it. Two, the new racquet is a part of him now, and he’s clearly benefitting from the extra power it allows him. Three, he’s no dummy. Federer knows he has to serve lights out to keep points short and to make up for the fact that at 32, he’s no spring chicken anymore.

Clearly Federer is feeling it from the service stripe, and he’s had his backhand in the groove also. It all points to a more relaxed, more confident Federer. With the big tests to come, it really feels like Federer has as good a chance as any of the other big four to come away with this title—that’s something we haven’t felt since 2012 when he won his 17th major title at Wimbledon.

Why he’ll win the title: Because he’s finally got everything working at the same time, and there is nobody in the history of tennis better at capitalizing on momentum than Federer.

Why he won’t win the title: Because he’ll meet Nadal in the semis and Rafa just seems to be in his head too much in these last few years.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal has had the most trouble of any of the big four, as he lost the first set in three consecutive matches at a major for the first time in his career, but we knew it was going to be tough for Nadal in the tournament’s first week, didn’t we?

What we didn’t know is if he’d make it through. Now that the two-time Wimbledon champion is into week two, and the green grass beyond the baseline has turned to putrid brown, we should see Nadal get even more comfortable from a movement perspective, which will allow his game to blossom even further.

“I think I am playing well,” said Nadal after his third-round victory over Mikhail Kukushkin. “But the surface is open opportunity to everybody because the matches can be very close. That's what happens.”

Nadal seems to have accepted that he’s an underdog on grass, and that he’ll be in constant danger from first ball to last. It’s true, but in surviving his first three matches, he may have placed himself ahead of the field in terms of being “match tough” for week two. Nadal’s chores won’t get any easier in the next few rounds, as he’ll face an explosive 19-year-old with nothing to lose in Nick Kyrgios on Monday, and then either Milos Raonic or Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals.

But given how well the five-time Wimbledon finalist and two-time champion has weathered his early-round challenges, it’s hard to pick against him now that he’s gained his feel for the ball and his feel for the surface.

Why he’ll win the title: Because nobody picked him to win it, and because he’s a far better grass-court player than he gets credit for.

Why he won’t win the title: Because his serve isn’t good enough right now. Nadal has faced 20 break points in his first three matches—that’s a lot on any surface but too many for grass.

Novak Djokovic

It’s been a bit of a wild ride for Djokovic in the first three rounds. First he got into a battle against Radek Stepanek in round two, in which the Czech was one botched volley from having a set point to force a decider, then in the third-round Djokovic took a tumble and badly injured his shoulder.

“Luckily for me it was only an impact that had a minor effect on the joint and the muscles around, but no damage, significant, that can cause a bigger problem,” Djokovic said after the scare. “I just came from the doctor's office, ultrasound. It's all looking good.”

What remains to be seen is, is it all feeling good? Because if it isn’t Djokovic is likely going to enjoy hitting his best-in-show two-handed backhand less than he usually does, and for Djokovic, that is simply something he can’t afford.

But Djokovic has shown the resiliency to fight back from injuries before, and it shouldn’t be a problem for the gritty Serb to do it again at this year’s Wimbledon. What will be a problem is: How to find a way to win the big one again? As good as Djokovic has been at the Slams (he’ll bid to reach his 21st consecutive quarterfinal on Monday) he has failed in his quest to add to his six Grand Slam titles on every opportunity since the 2013 Australian Open.

Seemingly headed for double-digit Slams a year and a half ago, Djokovic now finds himself at a crossroads. Is he or isn’t he one of the best five or ten players to ever play the sport? A win at Wimbledon this year and a few more Slams after that, and the answer is a resounding yes. Another crushing defeat here, and the doubts will surround him.

Why he’ll win the title: If he keeps giving himself opportunities to win, he’s bound to shine on the big stage again. Djokovic has lost his last three Slam finals, but he’s still very much in his prime, with all the tools to rise to the challenge.

Why he won’t win the title: Because all the hard luck and tough losses have weighed too heavily on his mindset. Because Boris Becker is not the right coach for him. Because his shoulder is not right. Unfortunately there are more than a few reasons…

 

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