Roger Federer poised to complete Wimbledon opus as peerless big four prepare for 100th battle
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray look set to make Wimbledon a four-way battle for the title. History suggests a familiar script will be updated over the next fortnight whoever emerges with the trophy, writes Desmond Kane.
Age shall not weary them.
It is not quite worth a sermon on the Murray mound, or Henman Hill as it is traditionally known, but a sporting miracle has occurred prior to the 140th staging of Wimbledon.
Roger Federer takes a break from training at Wimbledon.Eurosport
Against the odds, set against the buffeting torrents of time and tide that rage at the summit of every professional sport, the traditional big four in tennis have somehow managed to put the band back together.
Less than a year ago, the prospect of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal competing against each other at a Grand Slam looked about as clear as a jug of Pimm’s.
The odds at the outset of the year on the gilded quartet washing up at Wimbledon as the tournament’s top four seeds were longer than the public queue at the All England club. There seemed more chance of The Smiths reforming.
It has certainly been a rousing few months in building a narrative which could bring yet another dramatic plot twist over the next suspense-laced fortnight.
The return to prominence of Federer and Nadal has coincided with the unforeseen decline of Djokovic and Murray, two fearsome figures whose epic duel for the number one spot last year in compiling more titles than the Duchess of Alba questioned whether the big four had actually become two.
Almost protected by some sort of logic-defying emollient, Federer and Rafael Nadal have displayed few signs of the injuries that threatened to torpedo them in 2016.
Federer, returning from a knee injury, won the Australian Open and an 18th major despite being seeded 17th in Melbourne before careering forth to trouser titles in Miami, Indian Wells and Halle.
Nadal, shrugging off a wrist injury that ended his season in October, has carried off the French Open for a 10th time after winning Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid on his favoured clay.
Federer is excelling like never before at time in his career when others tend to fall by the wayside ravaged by the demands of the unrelenting strain on the system. But the other three are hardly in the first flush of youth with Nadal, 31, a year older than Djokovic and Murray.
Is it a damning indictment on the state of tennis that nobody has broken up the big four over the past decade? Or is it merely further evidence that we are quite possibly witnessing an assortment of the greatest players of all time lock rackets in the same period in history?
Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy MurrayImago
History suggests it is the latter.
Four men over the symbolic tennis peak of 30 begin as the outstanding favourites to carry all before them over the next fortnight in one of the most competitive, dog-eat-dog, individual sports known to man.
The big four have won 48 Grand Slams since Federer first won Wimbledon in 2003. Over the past 12 years, they have only failed to on five occasions to lift the sport’s majors.
And there is bad news for the field. This will be the 100th tournament where the big four have competed against each other, and when that happens they tend to cave up the garlands for themselves.
Juan Martin Del Potro at the US Open in 2009 and Stanislas Wawrinka at the 2014 Australian Open and 2015 French Open are the only players to conquer the accepted norm at a Grand Slam when all four have competed.
There is every chance the winner will come from the usual suspects having claimed the last 14 titles in SW19 between them.
Despite lifting Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, Nadal is probably the least fancied entering the event having yet to play on grass since his French Open success amid concerns over the effect the surface has on his knees.
He has not gone beyond the fourth round since 2011, but he has also won Wimbledon twice having navigated Roland Garros without dropping a set.
He also knows back-to-back majors would hoist him back to within two of Federer's landmark haul of 18.
Murray will have to find his form at the event after opting out of warm-up matches due to a hip injury, but will be at least buoyed by vociferous home support.
Djokovic looks to have played himself back into form at the right time by winning Eastbourne over the weekend as he pursues a fourth title in these parts.
But there is little doubt that Federer starts out as the popular choice to snag the title for a record eighth time, a success that would see him move ahead of Pete Sampras and William Renshaw as the most proflic men's champion at the Grand Slam on grass.
Fraternising with an aggressive form of attack that resembles table tennis, the Swiss seems to be in more control of his timing than his Rolex. The backhand carries menace because Federer is in the business of ending points earlier rather than attempt to stay in them. He should be a fascinating watch.
Like the legends stage at Glastonbury's music festival, one of these names is likely to give the crowd another rendition of their greatest hits on Sunday July 16.
Federer fell to earth on Centre Court in his defeat to Milos Raonic in the semi-finals a year ago disturbed by the knee injury that would cost him the second half of the year. Time away has been time well spent.
Expect him to complete his Wimbledon opus.