It’s safe to say that The Championships Wimbledon have thrown us a major curveball this weekend. The drama began with the ridiculous amounts of rain (even for British standards) pouring onto the grounds and delaying play to the extent that there will be matches now on the middle Sunday. And then the drama compounded exponentially when the prohibitive favorite and champion of the last two Championships was eliminated. While no one could have anticipated the upset that Sam Querrey pulled over Novak Djokovic, we’re not going to speculate as to whether or not the world number one was bothered by external factors during his match. Instead, the aftermath of this outcome has sent shockwaves through the rest of the men’s draw, creating an opening for men like Roger Federer and Andy Murray who are looking to add another tally to their Grand Slam victory totals.
The last time Novak Djokovic was not one of the participants in the final of a Major, we saw Marin Cilic best Kei Nishikori at the 2014 U.S. Open (the two happen to be playing each other on Monday in the Round of 16). Certainly the field will gain confidence knowing that the machine that is Djokovic is out of the tournament, but this does not have the making of a rare Grand Slam where all members of the Big Four fail to make a final appearance. As Djokovic told us in the press conference following his third round loss, nothing is guaranteed in sport. But history shows us that when a fellow Big Four member loses at a Grand Slam, other Big Four members tend to struggle. Recall the 2009 French Open when Roger Federer fell two sets to love down against Tommy Haas the day after Rafael Nadal’s loss to Robin Soderling. Or the 2014 U.S. Open semifinal where Federer fell to Marin Cilic only hours after seeing Djokovic lose to Kei Nishikori. And most shocking of all, the 2013 Wimbledon second round where Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer lost on the same day.
Perhaps these examples may be anomalies, but we saw Andy Murray lose his focus and nearly squander the second set of his match against Aussie John Millman on Saturday. Playing under the Centre Court roof and knowing that his main rival had lost most definitely had a perplexing effect on the Scottishman. Had he been playing against a stronger opponent, who knows what may have happened? So on the Monday known as the greatest day in tennis we will be carefully monitoring how Andy Murray and Roger Federer perform knowing that the man who has bested them in the latter stages of Grand Slams is no longer a threat.
Unsurprisingly, there will be opportunists who make deep runs in the sections of the draw voided by the losses of Djokovic and world number four Stan Wawrinka. However, the remaining members of the Big Four look to be in superior form to the rest of the field. Not only that, Federer and Murray are by far and away the most gifted players on the grass court surface. Having already predicted Federer to make a big run at Wimbledon and knowing that Murray is well capable of managing the nerves produced from playing at his home Slam, we are looking forward to the strong possibility of another Centre Court showdown between the two men who would have won many more Majors had it not been for Djokovic’s brilliance. Roger got Andy in the 2012 Wimbledon final; Andy got him several weeks later at the London Olympics. With the best player in the world now absent from the draw, the fans at Wimbledon deserve to see their two favorite players battle for yet another title. Whether or not this matchup will come to fruition remains to be seen, but the second week of Wimbledon will surely continue producing the same sort of fireworks produced during the first week.
Although much of the attention has shifted toward Federer and Murray, Novak’s shocking exit has certainly made the rest of the field perk up. There’s a slew of young guns ready to establish themselves and become more than just the up-and-comers. The young Aussies in Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios, although still no older than 23 years old, have now been names on Tour for the last few years and are looking to finally seriously contend for a major title. Kyrgios has shown a liking for the big stage and tends to play to the level of his opponent. He’s a gamer who has proven before that he can take down the world’s very best in this exact scenario when he defeated at the time world number one Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of his Wimbledon debut in 2014 His bout with the current world number two in Andy Murray will certainly be the match to watch of the fourth round.
Bernard Tomic has long been lauded as a prodigy and possible future Grand Slam champion, but these last few years have often been viewed as a disappointment when measured against these lofty expectations. He now looks to match his best slam result which occurred at Wimbledon all the way back in 2011 when he made his lone slam quarterfinal. This is now a golden opportunity for him as he is playing a match against 22 year old Lucas Pouille who took out the more formidable Juan Martin del Potro who was fresh off his biggest win since his return to the tour against Stan Wawrinka.
Out of the “under 23 year olds” still alive in the tournament, the biggest surprise is undoubtedly Jiri Vesely. The 22 year old ranked 64 in the world is having his first break out tournament in which he beat the most successful of his peers, fellow 22 year old and eighth seeded Dominic Thiem in three straight tiebreakers in the second round. He now faces fellow compatriot from the Czech Republic in veteran Tomas Berdych, who made his lone slam final at Wimbledon in 2010 where he beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic back to back before falling to Rafael Nadal. Berdych has been a mainstay in the top 10 and has made the semifinals of every slam. Grouped alongside three youngsters, he is the hands down favorite to reach the semifinals from his section.
Aside from all the youth remaining in the final sixteen, there is a sure to be entertaining matchup between the two best French players of their generation in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet. Additionally, the Raonic v. Goffin match will be the classic power player against counterpuncher. And of course we can’t forget the Americans playing on the Fourth of July. Two time NCAA Singles Champion Stevie Johnson faces a steep test in Roger Federer. In a polar opposite scenario, Sam Querrey coming off what is undoubtedly the largest win of his career is facing journeyman Frenchie Nicolas Mahut, a player that Querrey would be expected to beat under normal circumstances, let alone after shocking Novak Djokovic. Who knows? Maybe Querrey builds on his momentum and shocks the world by giving United States men’s tennis a Wimbledon title contender.
Actually, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Sam could easily follow up the win of his life with a loss to Mahut, the guy who will always be known as the one on the losing side of the longest tennis match ever. With so much uncertainty and a wide variety of up and coming stars, the second week of Wimbledon will decide which of these strong contenders prevail.