Make it 16 out of 20. That’s how often Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have been in the same half of Grand Slam draws dating back to the 2007 U.S. Open. It has happened again at Wimbledon in 2012, meaning Djokovic and Federer are on a collision course for what would be yet another blockbuster major semifinal.
Of course, we can’t quite pencil in those two champions to the semis. Djokovic’s status is somewhat in question only because Tomas Berdych, arguably the best of the 5-8 seeds and the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up, is the Serb’s probable quarterfinal opponent. Federer is in a weaker quarter of the bracket (Janko Tipsarevic is his 5-8 seed) and should have no problems making it to the last weekend. As for Nadal, he could go up against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters.
Left with the toughest draw is Great Britain’s own Andy Murray. The Scot opens with Nikolay Davydenko and could then get the unseeded guy no one wants to face at Wimbledon, 6’10’’ Croat Ivo Karlovic. Prior to the quarterfinals, Murray also has a chance of seeing Kevin Anderson, Marcos Baghdatis, Milos Raonic, and/or Marin Cilic on the other side of the net.
On clay this would be a somewhat difficult draw for the defending champion, but on grass he will have no problem whatsoever. First-round opponent Juan Carlos Ferrero has done well at Wimbledon in the past, but he is a much bigger threat on the slow stuff. Round four should be nothing more than a walking bye into the quarters for Djokovic.
Their head-to-head history notwithstanding, a Djokovic-Berdych quarterfinal showdown would be explosive. Berdych is 1-9 lifetime against the world No. 1 but his lone win came in straight sets in the 2010 Wimbledon semis. The Czech is in the midst of a stellar season and he has a favorable draw at least until the fourth round, when he could run into either Nicolas Almagro or Richard Gasquet.
Best first-round matchup — (28) Radek Stepanek vs. Sergiy Stakhovsky
This should be a classic grass-court matchup, the likes of which we almost never see anymore. Neither man can be categorized as a serve-and-volleyer because there is no such thing in the current era, but both utilize the tactic more often than almost anyone else on tour. Stepanek is a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist (2006) and Stakhovsky—even though he has never done much at Grand Slams—always performs best on faster surfaces. Their first career meeting at the ATP level should not disappoint.
Best potential second-round matchup – (31) Florian Mayer vs. Philipp Petzschner
Best potential third-round matchup – (12) Nicolas Almagro vs. (18) Richard Gasquet
Possible surprises —There is guaranteed to be at least one “surprise” in this section because not a single player in the Juan Monaco-Marcel Granollers sixteenth of the draw has any business being in the Wimbledon fourth round. But somebody will be, and that somebody should be either Monaco or Jeremy Chardy. In the other half of this section, watch out for Almagro. It is true that the Spaniard is a clay-court specialist, but he is vastly underrated on grass. Almagro would have a great chance against Gasquet in the third round and a win at that stage would likely set up another showdown with his old Australian Open friend Berdych.
Federer can’t complain about his Wimbledon draw. The third-ranked Swiss should get a shot at avenging his French Open semifinal loss to Djokovic. Possible early-rounders versus Michael Llodra, Gilles Muller, and Xavier Malisse could be relatively competitive but none has real upset potential.
It’s hard to see anyone beating Federer in this section, and that includes his eventual quarterfinal opponent. Will that adversary be Tipsarevic, or will it be the winner of yet another Wimbledon matchup between marathon men John Isner and Nicolas Mahut? The battle for that quarterfinal spot will be fierce, but in the end it probably won’t matter.
Best first-round matchup — (8) Janko Tipsarevic vs. David Nalbandian
Without question the first-rounder of the tournament is Tipsarevic vs. Nalbandian. It’s even bigger now with Nalbandian having given us one of the biggest tennis stories of the year while etching his name in Queen’s Club infamy. How will the Argentine bounce back from his default in the title match? Even without the extra baggage, this one is blockbuster. Tipsarevic registers at a career-high ranking of No. 8 in the world and Nalbandian, 20-12 in 2012, must have been extremely close to snagging a seed.
Best potential second-round matchup – (11) John Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut
Best potential third-round matchup – (17) Fernando Verdasco vs. Xavier Malisse
Possible surprises — With Berdych and Tsonga elsewhere in the draw, they should be playing for second place here while Federer cruises into the semifinals. Don’t count on that quarterfinalist to be either Tipsarevic (who has not been in particularly impressive form) or Isner (who has never done anything at Wimbledon aside from his win in the longest match ever played). Mahut has been playing some of his best tennis recently and his third time against Isner in three years could be the charm. Mahut, Nalbandian, and an in-form Seppi all have quarterfinal potential.
When will Murray catch a break at the All-England Club? If he is to win his first Grand Slam this year at Wimbledon, it will require a Herculean effort. A brutal draw means Murray would do well just to play his way into the second week. Even then he would likely be staring down either Juan Martin Del Potro or ‘s-Hertogenbosch winner David Ferrer.
Huge servers are the theme in this quarter and at least a few of them should be around for a while…including Andy Roddick. Raonic’s path to the fourth round may include both Cilic and Sam Querrey, while it may not matter how good Murray’s return of serve is because it may get bombed out of the equation.
Best first-round matchup — (32) Kevin Anderson vs. Grigor Dimitrov
Anderson has been a five-set machine in the relatively early stages of his career, including at this year’s French Open. The 6’7’’ South African beat Rui Machado 11-0 in the fifth before losing to Berdych 6-4 in their final set. Anderson survived a five-setter in last season’s Wimbledon first round against Illya Marchenko. Don’t be surprised if this one also goes to a decider, because both men are in fine form right now. They also just played each other on the grass courts of Queen’s Club and their quarterfinal clash went the distance, with Dimitrov prevailing 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Best potential second-round matchup – (21) Milos Raonic vs. Sam Querrey
Best potential third-round matchup – (7) David Ferrer vs. (30) Andy Roddick
Possible surprises — It’s hard to say that Roddick has “surprise” potential at Wimbledon, but that’s what it has come to for the veteran American. After all, he was basically left for dead following some awful play on clay and a first-round loss at Queen’s Club. However, Roddick came from nowhere to win the Eastbourne title on Saturday and his draw at the All-England Club is far from taxing. Also watch out for Davydenko, Karlovic, Dimitrov, and Marcos Baghdatis.
This is an outstanding draw for Nadal, who once again avoided Federer in his half and may not have to play anyone in the Top 4 prior to the final since Murray’s bracket is so tough. Even a quarterfinal date with 2011 semifinalist Tsonga is no guarantee, as the Frenchman’s possible early roadblocks include Lleyton Hewitt, Stanislas Wawrinka, and Bernard Tomic.
Tsonga has an interesting draw with Hewitt first and probably Wawrinka—whom he has played five-setters against at each of the last two French Opens—in round three. Bernard Tomic begins his quest for a return trip to the quarterfinals against Roland Garros boy wonder David Goffin and the Aussie’s nearest seed as a rusty Mardy Fish. If Tomic gets past Goffin, he could go a long way.
Best first-round matchup — (27) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. (WC) Tommy Haas
Rematches are a big part of the Wimbledon first round and this one could be the best. Earlier this month in Halle, these two Germans accounted for the exits of both Nadal (Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals) and Federer (Haas in the final). They squared off against each other in the semis, with Haas pulling out two tight sets for a 7-6(5), 7-5 victory. Their other two meetings (also in Halle) ended in third-set tiebreakers. Another high-quality thriller should be in the cards as long as Kohlschreiber is 100 percent (he retired from an Eastbourne quarterfinal due to an apparent ankle injury).
Best potential second-round matchup – (14) Feliciano Lopez vs. Brian Baker
Best potential third-round matchup – (5) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. (25) Stanislas Wawrinka
Possible surprises — Haas is a trendy pick to do well at Wimbledon based on his current form, and he does have a great chance of reaching the third round. But he would likely have to face Nadal at that point, so a real serious run looks improbable at best. Baker, however, could make it to the second week; Lopez in the second round is tough but very beatable and a third-rounder against either Alexandr Dolgopolov or Benoit Paire is also manageable.
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