Wimbledon Men's Singles Pre-Draw Preview: Federer a vulnerable market favourite
With Wimbledon starting on Monday next week, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, is back to give his pre-draw thoughts on the contenders for glory at SW19 in the coming fortnight...
"Against the relatively mediocre opposition in these nine warm-up event matches on grass this season, Federer been strong on serve (held 92.1%) but been poor on return, breaking just 16.8%. If he maintains those numbers, winning the event will be a struggle."
Federer the market favourite for Wimbledon glory
Just a few days separate us from the most glamorous and prestigious tennis event on the calendar - Wimbledon - with 128 players competing for glory in London over two weeks.
While there are 128 players in the draw, the vast majority can have a line struck through them, in terms of their chances of winning the event, as evidenced by the tournament winner market on the Exchange, which has four players at single-digit prices, and just ten more priced below [101.00].
The evergreen Roger Federer leads the way, according to the market, with the Swiss man priced at [3.20] to lift the trophy. Novak Djokovic, at [7.8], Marin Cilic [8.4], and Rafa Nadal [9.40] are the trio that the market expects to be able to push Federer more than the rest.
Wimbledon conditions favour serve-orientated players
Conditions at Wimbledon are anticipated to be pretty medium-paced for grass, with 66.2% of service points won at the venue over the last three years (ATP grass mean 66.4%) while there were 0.60 aces per game served, down from the 0.64 ATP average. However, it is important to add context here - while conditions will be on the slow side of medium for grass, grass is the quickest surface by far, and Wimbledon still ranks as one of the quickest venues on tour.
With this in mind, it's reasonable to anticipate that big servers will benefit from conditions much more than those who are return orientated, and therefore the conditions will favour the serve-orientated Federer, who prefers conditions to be as quick as possible. He took his first title in 2003, and since then , has won eight titles, including his defeat of Cilic in last season's final.
Federer not showing close to his best in grass warm-up events
Having said this, I do feel that it is far from guaranteed that Federer will lift the trophy again - he skipped the clay season to manage his workload, and while his results in the grass warm-up events read winner and runner-up, it's worth noting that he didn't school a single opponent. His 6-3 6-4 defeat of Aljaz Bedene was his most dominant display, and he won an incredible seven of nine sets that went to 5-5. In short, he's been able to win the key points in the majority of these matches - a trait that he's been able to master throughout his career.
Against the relatively mediocre opposition in these nine warm-up event matches on grass this season, Federer been strong on serve (held 92.1%) but been poor on return, breaking just 16.8%. If he maintains those return numbers, winning the event will be a struggle - with such mediocre return data, he'd be in danger of playing long matches and building up fatigue through the tournament, which is something he'll be keen to avoid at the age of 36.
Djokovic and Cilic with similar grass data to Federer
The major benefit Federer has is the question marks surrounding his rivals. Djokovic has had fitness concerns, while Nadal's distaste for grass has been well documented. Statistically, Nadal is well down on all of Federer, Djokovic and Cilic, running at a 107.5% combined service/return points won percentage - the other three players are around the 113% mark, on grass across the last two years.
With this in mind, a fit Djokovic and Cilic do look better value than Federer, and it will be interesting to see their draw when it comes out.
I'll be back over the weekend to preview the draw and to formalise our outright selections, but before I sign off, I'd like to discuss some of the players I'll be keeping an eye on during the draw.
Zverev and Dimitrov headline the next level of contenders
Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov's record on grass is very solid indeed, running at similar data to Nadal over the last two years but being available at much bigger prices, and this is also the case for Milos Raonic, although he's got injury issues, as is often the case.
Kevin Anderson is another with strong grass data, and joining the big-serving South African as long-shots with solid surface data is Kyle Edmund, Sam Querrey, John Isner and David Goffin. Halle champion Borna Coric also falls into this category, but has been backed in following his title last week.
Thiem and Kyrgios with much to prove on the surface
Those who I consider to be less of a threat include Dominic Thiem, whose record in quick conditions isn't impressive at all, and Nick Kyrgios, whose poor return data makes it very difficult to avoid tight sets and long matches - although he does remain a man for the big stage.
Murray likely to struggle with seven long matches
As for Andy Murray, let's see how he gets on at Eastbourne and in the early rounds. While it's probably fair to suggest that the Scotsman has performed better than everyone's expectations following his return to tour from injury, there's a big difference between a couple of best of three set warm up events, and potentially seven best of five set matches at a Grand Slam. Murray is one of the more astute players on tour, so I suspect he's fully aware of his probable limitations here.
Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings