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Rediff.com  » Sports » Top men contenders at Wimbledon 2009

Top men contenders at Wimbledon 2009

June 19, 2009 13:08 IST

Doubts over participation remain

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A brief look at the strengths and weaknesses of the leading contenders for the men's title at Wimbledon which begins on Monday.

Rafael Nadal (Spain)

Seeded: No.  1

The champion has the ability to flatten opponents with his fearsome forehand groundstrokes.

Usually a supreme athlete, but has been struggling with a knee injury and questions remain about his fitness.

Apart from lack of match practice on grass, confidence could also be a major issue after his four-year reign at Roland Garros was ended unexpectedly in the fourth round.

The champion's participation still hung in the balance on Thursday after his first outing on grass in 12 months did not go according to plan.

The world number one, troubled by tendinitis in his knees since being knocked out of the French Open in the fourth round last month, struggled with his movement during an exhibition match against Australian Lleyton Hewitt, which he lost 6-4, 6-3.

The 23-year-old will decide whether to play at Wimbledon after taking part in a second exhibition match against Stanislas Wawrinka at the Hurlingham Club on Friday.


Image: Rafael Nadal
Photographs: Reuters
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Ready to reclaim crown

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Roger Federer (Switzerland)

Seeded: No.2

Will be high on confidence after finally conquering Roland Garros.

Aiming to win a record 15th grand slam title, on his favourite surface, and snatch back the crown Nadal took from him in an epic five setter 12 months ago.

After reaching 20 consecutive grand slam semi-finals, finding any chinks in his armour might be a difficult task.

After finally claiming the French crown and completing his career grand slam, Federer remarked that he could now play without pressure -- safe in the knowledge that few would deny he is the greatest player ever to swing a racket.

"Now, going into the grasscourt season, and Wimbledon, and being on top of the world, it's a fantastic feeling," said newly-married and soon to be father Federer.


Image: Roger Federer
Photographs: Reuters
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Great expectations

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Andy Murray (Britain)

Seeded: No.3

As well as being a supreme tactician, he trips up many opponents with his excellent court coverage.

It has taken British fans a while to warm to the 22-year-old Scot but his U.S. Open final appearance last year, his rise to number three in the world and last week's title at Queen's Club have raised expectations that he is on the verge of becoming the first home men's champion at Wimbledon since Perry in 1936.

All the hype and expectation could lead to his downfall.

While weather and sporting fortunes are fickle, one thing is nailed on this year -- the loudest dose of Murray-mania yet.

Apart from a blip at the Australian Open, Murray's progress has been spectacular. He reached consecutive Masters Series finals, losing to Nadal in Indian Wells and beating Djokovic in Miami, then reached the last eight for the first time in Paris.

Gone are the sulky days when Murray would often suffer mid-match lapses. He has always had an uncanny ability to control a tennis ball as if it is on a piece string but those skills are now backed up with mental resolve, stamina and searing power when required.

"I think I could win against either of them (Federer and Nadal) on grass," Murray said after his Queen's Club triumph. "But I'd have to play my best. I don't think average against them is going to cut it.


Image: Andy Murray
Photographs: Reuters
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Joker in the pack

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Novak Djokovic (Serbia)

Seeded: No.4

Boasts an attractive all-court game with his backhand being his strongest weapon.

His fitness, though, has been called into question time and again as he has quit mid-match four times in 18 grand slam tournaments.

He appears to be suffering a dip in form just at the wrong time, losing early in Paris and then to Tommy Haas in the Halle final.

Instead of being disheartened by his flop in Paris, however, the world number four said it had allowed him to find his feet on grass.

"I have had more time to prepare for Wimbledon than in the past few years because of the early exit in Roland Garros," the 22-year-old Serb has said.

"I know that on grass I am not performing the best yet. I am slipping a lot and that happens in the first weeks (on grass). But I am sure going towards Wimbledon my movement will be okay. I want to do much better than last year."

Djokovic was beaten in the second round of the grasscourt major in 2008 by Marat Safin but said he was becoming more aggressive on the surface and was adding more variety to his game, including a lethal backhand slice and drop shots.


Image: Novak Djokovic
Photographs: Reuters
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Yet to find his comfort zone on grass

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Juan Martin del Potro (Argentina)

Seeded: No.5

Can adapt to playing on many different surfaces as he proved by winning back-to-back titles on clay and hardcourt in 2008.

His swift coverage around the court helps him to run opponents ragged.

Has made major strides this year by reaching his first grand slam semi-final in Paris.

Since he has never progressed beyond round two at Wimbledon, has yet to find his comfort zone on grass.

However, the gangly 20-year-old has come of age this year with wins over Murray and Nadal and nobody will relish having him in their quarter.


Image: Juan Martin Del Potro
Photographs: Reuters
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Dangerous if he has fully recovered

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Andy Roddick (US)

Seeded: No. 6

His thunderbolt serve is once again proving to be a weapon on grass but he has slipped under the radar over the last couple of years.

Had to retire from his semi-final at Queen's Club after spraining his ankle.

If he is a step slower than usual, he could be heading home early for the second year running.

However, the slimmed-down American, twice defeated in Wimbledon finals by Federer, will bring his rocket-powered serve to the party once again and will be dangerous if he has fully recovered from the ankle injury he sustained at Queen's Club.


Image: Andy Roddick
Photographs: Reuters
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Faces an uphill struggle

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Fernando Verdasco (Spain)

Seeded: No.7

Spain's Davis Cup hero has an ominous forehand and has proved to be a supreme athlete after keeping Nadal on court for more than five hours in a battle of wills and stamina in the Australian Open semi-finals.

The gifted left-hander could face an uphill struggle to find his footing on the slick surface.


Image: Fernando Verdasco
Photographs: Reuters
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Has the potential but...

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France)

Seeded: No. 8

Federer picked him as a threat on grass and he definitely favours the faster surfaces.

In his only previous appearance at Wimbledon, the 2008 Australian Open finalist got to the fourth round and has the potential go further but failed to impress in Halle.


Image: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Photographs: Reuters
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