A year after telling the Wimbledon crowd he was “getting closer” to his first Grand Slam tennis championship, Andy Murray may benefit from a draw that allows him to avoid either titleholder Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
The three men are on the same side of the draw, with Federer and two-time champion Nadal scheduled to meet in the quarterfinals. The winner would then play Murray, should the tournament follow their seedings. The man who wins could face top seed and 2011 champion Novak Djokovic in the final.
Murray’s tearful July loss to Federer in London was followed by a gold medal on the same grass court at the Olympics in August and his first major singles championship at the U.S. Open in September. He’s still under pressure to end Britain’s 77-year wait for a home-grown male singles champion at the All England Club. Whoever he’ll face, the 26-year-old Scotsman said he’s ready.
“You’ve got to go in there, work hard, and be prepared to go through some tough moments and find a way to deal with them,” Murray told reporters after winning his third title on the grass courts of London’s Queen’s Club last weekend.
His win in New York over Djokovic -- his first in a Grand Slam final after four losses -- will help him at Wimbledon, which starts June 24.
“He’s won a Grand Slam, he’s done it already,” Jo Durie, a former top-five British player who is now a Eurosport commentator, said in an interview. “Now it’s not like Wimbledon will be his first one.”
Murray will play Germany’s Benjamin Becker in his first round match, while Djokovic will take on Florian Mayer, another German. Nadal meets Steve Darcis of Belgium and Federer faces Romania’s Victor Hanescu.
Murray is the 5-to-2 second choice of U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc to win the title. That means a successful $2 bet would bring in $5 plus the original stake. Djokovic of Serbia is the 15-8 favorite to win his second Wimbledon championship, with Nadal, the reigning French Open winner from Spain, at 3-1 and Federer, the defending champion from Switzerland, at 5-1.
Having missed the French Open to rest a lower-back injury, Murray is possibly “hungrier” and “a little fresher,” than the competition, seven-time major singles champion John McEnroe said on an ESPN conference call this week.
McEnroe criticized the All England Club for making a 12-time major champion, the fifth seed.
Nadal has slipped to No. 5 on the ATP World Tour rankings after a seven-month injury break following a second-round defeat at Wimbledon last year. Instead, his Davis Cup teammate David Ferrer, who made his first Wimbledon quarterfinal last year, is the No. 4 seed. Wimbledon bases its seedings on a formula -- agreed upon with the ATP -- that rates grass-court performance over the past two years as well as ATP points as of June 17.
Nadal has beaten Murray three times at Wimbledon, and making the Spaniard the fifth seed will have “an enormous impact” on the top four, McEnroe said a day before the seedings were announced.
Having won Olympic gold and the U.S. Open “obviously helps,” Murray said at Queen’s after he beat Croatia’s Marin Cilic in the final. “All of the slams or the big events or big matches that I play in now, I would hope that I’d have a little bit more confidence in myself and a bit more belief, but just because it’s Wimbledon doesn’t mean that, because I won the U.S. Open I’m going to do great there or because I played well on the grass last year.”
Federer heads to Wimbledon having ended a 10-month championship drought in Halle, Germany, last weekend. With 13 grass-court titles -- seven at Wimbledon and six in Halle -- the Swiss right-hander has the best grass-court winning record of all time, with a 121 matches won against 17 lost (.877).
“They are exactly the kind of wins I need at this part of the season,” Federer, 31, said in Halle. “I’ve been preparing well. I’m happy it’s paying off. It’s obviously important for my confidence looking forward to Wimbledon now.”
Although Federer lost in the quarterfinals on the clay of the French Open, “he still has such a great game for grass,” McEnroe said. “But it’s tough to win it back-to-back at his age.”
Chris Evert said on the ESPN call that she has “a sneaking suspicion that Federer has put all his eggs in one basket and he’s gunning for Wimbledon.”
It doesn’t get any easier as you get older, said Evert, who retired at age 34 with 18 Grand Slam singles titles.
“When you get to be at the 28, 30, 31 age, you played 10 years, 12 years, 15 years on the tour, there are days that it isn’t there,” she said. “There are days your body is not working.”
Murray will have to overcome yet another year of ‘Murray Mania’ in the British media as he tries to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win Wimbledon.
“It’s hard,” said Durie, who played 18 times at Wimbledon and reached the 1984 quarterfinals. “It’s something that you live with, you do feel more expectation, that’s for sure. Overall, Murray handles it brilliantly. He can kind of partition it off.”