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Wimbledon 2013 preview

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Is this the greatest era in men’s tennis?

Tennis

It certainly feels like it. But are the Federer-Nadal, Djokovic-Nadal and Djokovic-Murray rivalries of bygone years as good as it will ever get?

Well, consider this: the upcoming Wimbledon will be the first Grand Slam since last year’s Australian Open to be contested by the best four athletes in the game - all at the same time.

Yes, injuries to Rafael Nadal and then Andy Murray have interrupted the four-way duel that has had men’s tennis in a stranglehold for as long as memory can remember.

But now they are back – and each with their fair chance of going all the way.

Nadal, fresh off a record eighth French Open victory, has proved what we always knew deep down: that no injury – no matter how bad – can keep the Spaniard from winning major titles.

His chances may be smaller on the greens of SW19 – while it is unclear how his knees will survive a second best-of-five set tournament in succession – but the 27-year-old’s incredible competitiveness means he is always in the running.

Novak Djokovic, meanwhile, was a whisker away from dethroning Nadal at Roland Garros and – as reigning world number one – is the most consistent player in the world.

Already with an Australian Open title to his name in 2013, the Serb will relish the chance to reclaim the trophy he won in 2011.

And then there is Murray – the home favourite - whose recent Grand Slam record reads Runner-up, Winner, Runner-up.

Despite the possibility of the Scot meeting Nadal as early as the quarter-finals, the Olympic gold medallist and Queen’s club champion undoubtedly has what it takes to finally win Wimbledon.

And last but never least, Mr Roger Federer – last year’s champion and 17-time Grand Slam winner. He went without a title for the first five months of the season and suffers from ongoing back trouble, yet the Swiss has blossomed since switching to grass, winning his 13th title on the green surface in Halle.

But Federer does look vulnerable. The manner of his defenceless French Open exit to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will worry those with a penchant for the 31-year-old’s grace and charm. The Swiss is almost certain to reach his 37th consecutive Slam quarter final but is the prospect of winning an unprecedented eighth Wimbledon enough to propel him to ultimate glory?

The resurgence of the women’s game

It does, however, take two to tango: Wimbledon would not be Wimbledon without the ladies singles draw.

And what a draw we have in store.

Though critics will point to the almost uncompetitive dominance of Serena Williams, the women’s game has come on leaps and bounds since the era of powerless front-runners.

No longer do the likes of Dinara Safina or Caroline Wozniacki comfortably top the rankings only to fall at every major hurdle, clinging to the summit by virtue of small tournaments that carry significant ranking points. Now, we have a real champion in our midst – back from injury and at her very best.

But Williams is not even the only one.

French Open finalist Maria Sharapova is right behind her – and so too is Victoria Azarenka. Between them, the Eastern European pair are providing the biggest challenge to the Williams dynasty we have ever seen. 

Finally, there is Agnieszka Radwanska, whose run at Wimbledon last year not only saw the Pole reach the final (as well as climbing as high as world number two since), but give eventual champion Williams a real run for her money. There is real stability in the women’s game once again.

And now, a look at the outsiders...

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: a semi-finalist both at Queen’s and Roland Garros, the Frenchman is starting to find his groove after appointing Roger Rasheed as his new coach. With a monstrous first serve, belief-defying athleticism and a booming forehand, Tsonga has the game to do some damage at SW19.

Juan Martin Del Potro: Del Potro has already scaled the heights of men’s tennis – and a return to the top table still looks on the cards for the Argentine. A bronze medal at last year’s Olympics may not have been followed up with anything too high-profile since, but like Tsonga, Del Potro has the requisite weapons at his disposal.

David Ferrer: London is far from home for Ferrer but only Rafael Nadal has more wins than the Spanarid in 2013. Indeed, a never-say-die work rate means the 31-year-old can never be discounted.

Milos Raonic: towering at 6 foot 5, Raonic boasts the most devastating serve in men’s tennis. And what the Canadian lacks in experience, he more than makes up for in power. On grass, Raonic could trouble the best of the best.

Sloane Stevens: a surprise winner against Williams on the way to the Australian Open semis this year, the 20-year-old from Florida has announced herself as a consistent performer on the world stage despite her relative youth. If the strawberry eaters at SW19 want a new champion to adore, they may not need to look any further.

Svetlana Kuznetsova: at 27, the powerful Russian has quite a few miles on the clock. And having conquered both the French and US Open, Kuznetsova hardly needs to prove her quality at this level. Her epic three-set defeat to Williams at the French shows she is still as gritty a competitor as ever.

Samantha Stosur: one of the strongest women ever to grace the women’s game, Stosur has a shot at most titles she plays in. If she generates enough momentum, the Australian is more than likely to surpass her previous best of a third-round elimination in 2009.

Li Na: with the hopes of a nation resting firmly on her shoulders, Li Na has flown the Chinese flag with pride, reaching the quarter-finals or better (including a French Open title and two Australian finals) of all four Grand Slams. If there was ever a time for a first Chinese champion at Wimbledon, it is now.

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