When Lleyton Hewitt won his one and only Wimbledon Men’s title in 2002, pretty much nobody had heard of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray.

A certain Roger Federer lost in the first round that year but 12 months on he began a run of success in SW19 by those four players which continues to this day.

With it being 18/1 bar the Big Three in the betting this year – Murray is only playing doubles this year as he continues his comeback from injury – it’s considered highly likely that the streak will hit 17 years in a fortnight’s time.

It’s hard to disagree with the layers’ assessment.

 

The supposed ‘NexGen’ continue to underwhelm at the very highest level and at the Grand Slams in general, the domination of the 30-somethings has now hit 11 tournaments.

The current grasscourt season has also failed to see the young crop truly deliver with veterans Federer, Feliciano Lopez and Adrian Mannarino three of the four winners at time of writing.

So what of the Big Three?

 

Novak Djokovic

Well, defending champion Djokovic looks a worthy favourite but, for me, he’s also short enough at 5/4.

He started the year in blistering form at the Australian Open, blitzing all-comers in Melbourne, but the fact is he’s won just one of the six tournaments he’s contested since.

Defeats have been a mixture of total shocks – Philipp Kohlschreiber (his first-round opponent here) in Indian Wells and Roberto Bautista Agut in Miami – and narrow losses to contemporaries. Think Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros and Nadal in Rome.

Essentially Djokovic doesn’t have the mental hold over opponents like he did during his title-winning years here in 2011, 2014 and 2015.

He may well win – and his chances have been helped by a good draw which has him in the opposite half to both Federer and Nadal – but 5/4 doesn’t tempt me.

 

Rafael Nadal

Neither does the 6/1 about Nadal, whose record here is far worse than the other Big Three members.

His last Wimbledon final was back in 2011 and while he was agonisingly close to ending that drought last year (losing deep in a fifth set to Djokovic), the story since has been largely one of early exits with defeats to Lukas Rosol, Dustin Brown and Nick Kyrgios etched on the memory.

Part of the reason is that Nadal prioritises the clay season and gives so much in attempting to win (and usually winning) the French Open. His career is full of years which have tailed off in the second half.

The low-bouncing grass is also a problem for the Spaniard’s long-suffering knees and the man himself has admitted managing that issue was the main reason for him not playing a warm-up tournament.

He did play two exhibition matches at the Hurlingham Club this week but lost both, to Marin Cilic and Lucas Pouille. It would be silly to read too much into those but such preparation if far from ideal.

Throw in a brutal draw which could see him face Kyrgios in round two, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Denis Shapovalov in round three and Cilic in round four and there are many reasons to swerve Nadal.

 

Roger Federer

Which leaves us with Federer, although suggesting he gets the vote only due to process of elimination is crass indeed.

This is an eight-time Wimbledon champion we are talking about and while many continue to be prepared to write him off, particularly when it comes to best-of-five matches, Federer is still going strong.

He’s won on pacy courts in Dubai this year, claimed the Masters 1000 title in Miami and played a pretty decent claycourt season, certainly considering it was his first in three years. He lost only two matches, one to Nadal in the semis of the French Open and the other to Thiem from match point up.

In the last five years at the All England Club, Federer has won one title, lost in two finals (both to Djokovic), reached one semi-final and one quarter-final.

The latter two defeats were both awfully narrow – last year he held match point against Kevin Anderson and in 2016 he looked the likely winner against Milos Raonic in the fourth set before suffering the knee injury which would rule him out for six months in the fifth.

Federer is at home on the grass more than anyone and he’s also got a decent draw, despite having failed to avoid Nadal.

His route to the last four looks a lot more simple than Nadal’s with only Borna Coric (last seen nursing a back injury in Halle) and Matteo Berrettini appearing serious threats.

Federer would almost certainly start the underdog against Djokovic in any final but the Swiss has consistently tested Djokovic on a fast court, often beating him in his prime at the slicker venues such as Dubai, Cincinnati and Shanghai.

At 3/1 compared to Djokovic’s 5/4, Federer represents value and is my pick for glory.

 

Anyone else?

So what of the rest? Can anyone else really upset the applecart?

Well, yes, certainly an each-way punt is worthwhile. After all, while the five finals between 2011 and 2015 were all-Big Four affairs, the last three years have seen Raonic, Cilic and Anderson all reach the second Sunday at a decent price.

Notably, those players are all big-hitting, big servers and that has to be the sort of profile value seekers look for – while the grass has slowed over the years a huge serve is still a massive weapon on this surface.

2018 runner-up Anderson (50/1), last year’s semi-finalist John Isner (100/1), Eastbourne finalist Sam Querrey (100/1) and former finalist Tomas Berdych (200/1) all fit the criteria and could deliver.

But they also have another thing in common – all are just returning from long injury absences and it will be asking a lot for them to go deep in best-of-five tennis.

Of the young guns, Felix Auger-Aliassime is probably the man (boy?) to have made the most impact on grass having reached the final in Stuttgart and the semis at Queen’s. But he’s largely untested in this longer format so even if he were to shock Djokovic in the last 16, it would be no given that he made the final.

 

Milos Raonic

Instead my suggestion as an each-way shot is the aforementioned Milos Raonic at 33/1.

He’s in the second quarter so won’t have to beat one of the Big Three in order to reach the semi-finals.

Anderson, Alex Zverev and Karen Khachanov are the players seeded above him but not even Anderson has the record here that Raonic does.

In the last five years the Canadian has reached one final, one semi-final and two quarter-finals. Two of those defeats were to Federer (who he also beat in 2016) and one to Murray.

This season he leads the tour for first-serve points won (he’s also fourth on the second-serve list) and is second only to Isner in terms of service games won.

Raonic is another to have had his injury issues – a back complaint saw him miss his scheduled semi-final in Stuttgart recently. However, that didn’t appear to hamper him at Queen’s Club where he only lost 7-6 in the final set to eventual champion Feliciano Lopez at the last-eight stage.

Raonic has only lost serve four times in six grasscourt matches this season and if he stays fit then there’s every chance he’s around at the business end of this tournament once again.

Tips:

Roger Federer

Milos Raonic Each Way

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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