Legendary trio on course to maintain Wimbledon stranglehold

Can anyone deny yet another title for Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal?

In 14 of the past 16 tournaments, that trio has lifted the famous Wimbledon men’s singles trophy. Andy Murray won it on the other two occasions.

Week one at SW19 only seemed to confirm that the monopoly will not be broken. So many promising newcomers sank without trace in the opening few days. Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex  Zverev, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev.

The breakthrough acts of the year all failed to make it to week two. Most did not even make it to match two. Last year’s finalist, number four seed Kevin Anderson has also fallen by the wayside.

By contrast the progress of the big three has been ominously serene. Defending champion Djokovic, after his fifth Wimbledon title, dropped a set in a tie break against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz on Thursday but that has been his only blip.

Second seed Federer, seeking an eighth crown, gave up the first set to South African Lloyd Harris in his first round tie, but then marched on unimpeded.

And then there has been Nadal, a two time winner. The way he raised his game in a tension-filled Centre Court clash with Nick Kyrgios seems to have lifted him quickly to the heights that prospective champions strive for. The ball Kyrgios hit directly at him raised his heckles and his resolve. He too has only dropped a single set.

So what kind of player will it take to break the cycle?

“I don’t know. Probably a good player,” Nadal said after beating Jo Wilfried Tsonga in his third round match on Saturday. “Honestly what we achieved in the Grand Slams, in tennis in general during the last 14, 15 years is something special.

“In the same moment, to have three players that achieved that much is something difficult to repeat because we played more or less at the same time. But here we are. Of course somebody’s going to beat us or we are going to leave because we are not young anymore.”

Nadal faces Portugal’s Joao Sousa in his round of 16 match, his opponent having defeated Brit Dan Evans on Saturday. Federer takes on Italian Matteo Berrettini and Djokovic faces Frenchman Ugo Humbert, who beat Canadian teen Auger-Aliassime in straight sets.

The other five ties hold fascination, but whether they feature matches involving potential champions remains to be seen. David Goffin (Belgium) takes on Fernando Verdasco (Spain), who ended Kyle Edmund’s hopes.

Argentinian Guido Pella, who blew away Anderson in the last round, faces Canadian Milos Raonic – a finalist in 2016 – and Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut plays against Benoit Paire of France.

In the bottom half of the draw, which has Nadal and Federer on a semi-final collision course, there is an all-American challenge as big hitter Sam Querrey, a semi-finalist in 2017 meets Tennys Sandgren, and Japan’s Kei Nishikori goes up against Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin.

Ashleigh Barty’s bid for a second successive Slam (after Paris) is put to the test by Alison Riske of the USA, but there is little doubt that the number one seed’s match will hold only a modicum of interest compared to the true box office hit of the Monday schedules.

There can be no argument that week one belonged to 15-year-old Coco Gauff, who saw off Venus Williams and 2017 semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova before hitting even greater levels of excellence in finding a way to beat Slovenian Polona Hercog after floundering in the first set.

Add mental toughness to athleticism and skill.

Can she really stand a chance against number seven seed Simona Halep – French Open winner in 2018, an Australian Open finalist and semi-finalist at Wimbledon and New York? No one would bet against her with any degree of confidence.

Jo Konta has a tough task if she is to match runs to the semi-finals at Wimbledon (2017), Australia (2016) and France (this year) because Petra Kvitova stands in her way.

The Czech Republic star loves the lawns of SW19, having won the tournament twice and looks to have fully recovered from the knife attack she suffered in her home three years ago, which threatened her career.

“I haven’t played her in a little while. I think I’ve only beaten her once,” Konta said. “She’s a two-time Wimbledon champion. Her favourite surface and her best surface is grass.

“I’m going to be coming up against a very, very inspired and very, very tough Petra. Since that terrible thing that happened to her, she’s playing unbelievable tennis.”

Elsewhere, Serena Williams will be expected to progress, if only because of her awesome reputation and undiminished power. Childbirth put her relentless trophy hunting on hold and she is short of matches going into this event. But there is a reason why she has won it seven times.

Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain may not be relishing the prospect of dousing the Williams fire.

The other four match-ups feature Elina Svitolina (Ukraine) v Petra Martic ((Croatia); Karolina Muchova (Czech) v Karolina Pliskova (Czech); Shuai Zhang (China) v Dayana Yastremska (Ukraine); and Barbora Strycova (Czech) conqueror of fourth seed Kiki Bertens  v Elise Mertens (Belgium).

Nadal, Konta and Federer play their matches on Centre Court – proceedings getting under way at 1pm. Serena Williams and Djokovic play on Court one either side of the Halep v Gauff showdown.

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