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Djokovic Set to Defend Wimbledon Crown

by AFP
Djokovic at the French Open semifinal, June 5. Patrick Kovarik—AFP

Djokovic at the French Open semifinal, June 5. Patrick Kovarik—AFP

The Serbian player lost the French Open in June.

Novak Djokovic insists his heartbreaking French Open final defeat has been consigned to history as he begins his Wimbledon title defense on Monday.

The world No. 1 had stayed resolutely out of the spotlight since Stan Wawrinka ended his latest bid to complete the career Grand Slam. But the Serb is fired up to defend his Wimbledon crown just as he was in 2011, when he captured his maiden title in London.

“I needed some time off, more mentally rather than physically,” said eight-time major winner Djokovic who faces world No. 33, Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, in a tough Monday opener. “I know it could have been useful to play a couple of official matches on grass, but it’s not the first time I’m coming straight into Wimbledon.”

Djokovic’s loss to Wawrinka in Paris was just his third defeat in 44 matches this year.

With the Australian Open already under his belt, the shattering loss ended his chances of going on to become just the third man in history—and first since 1969—to clinch a calendar Grand Slam. But such Paris disappointments have previously worked in his favor. His 2011 semifinal loss to Roger Federer at Roland Garros ended a 41-match-win streak that year.

However, just four weeks later, he defeated Rafael Nadal to secure a first Wimbledon title and then went on to his maiden U.S. Open triumph.

Djokovic is also the most consistent of the top players at the majors—the last time he failed to make at least the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam was at Roland Garros in 2009.

World No. 2 and seven-time Wimbledon champion Federer, who won the last of his 17 majors at the All England Club in 2012, is seeded to meet Djokovic in the July 12 final. Federer will be 34 in August—the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the modern era was Arthur Ashe, who was 31 years and 11 months when he triumphed at the All England Club in 1975.

Federer fervently believes that another Wimbledon is not beyond him and he was buoyed by his eighth Halle title last weekend. “If I look at last year, I see more the positives than actually the heartbreaking loss in the final,” said Federer, defeated in five sets by Djokovic in 2014. “I didn’t expect myself to right away make the final. It goes to show that last year, I wasn’t playing great and I made the finals.” Federer starts his campaign against Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur, who he beat in the French Open third round.

Andy Murray, the 2013 champion, saw his 2014 campaign sabotaged by a combination of back pain and an inspired Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. But the 28-year-old world No. 3, fresh from a record-equaling fourth Queen’s Club title, believes he’s playing better than when he secured his historic Wimbledon triumph. “Physically I’m definitely in a better place than I was then and I’m using my variety much better,” said Murray, who begins his campaign against Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan.

Two-time champion Rafael Nadal is seeded 10—his lowest position for a decade. The nine-time French Open champion was beaten for only the second time in his Paris career by Djokovic in a morale-sapping quarterfinal loss. He then clinched the Stuttgart grass-court title which only proved to be a false dawn as just days later the 29-year-old was losing to Alexander Dolgopolov in his Queen’s opener. His recent trips to Wimbledon have also been chastening affairs, featuring losses in the first, second, and fourth rounds. Nadal joked that he was coming into Wimbledon fully attuned to being on grass. “I played golf,” he smiled as he recalled how he spent his time at home in Mallorca last week.

Despite Wawrinka’s second major title at the French Open, the dominance of the sport’s four heavyweights is unlikely to be seriously threatened at Wimbledon where Lleyton Hewitt, in 2002, was the last champion from outside the “Big Four.”

Wawrinka has never got beyond the quarterfinals, while fifth-ranked Kei Nishikori can only boast a fourth-round best. World No. 6 Tomas Berdych was runner-up in 2010 but has since only made the quarterfinals on one occasion. Among the rest of the top 10, Spain’s David Ferrer was forced to withdraw on the eve of the tournament due to an elbow injury. U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic is expected to mount a strong challenge, while Milos Raonic, who recently underwent foot surgery, was a semifinalist in 2014.

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