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Wimbledon: 25 June - 8 July 2012

Have the Top Three become the Big Five?

Andy Murray meets Roger Federer at the net after his victory
by Mark Hodgkinson
Wednesday 8 August 2012

The Olympic tennis event was a very different interruption to the usual passage of play during the American hard court swing. So, with their US Open preparations delayed, where do the tour's top men go from here?

Roger Federer
Don't feel sorry for me, Federer was saying at the All England Club; so don't go shedding any tears into RF-branded towels over his silver. In the tennis village, everyone constantly speculates and pontificates about the form and future of all the top players, but the speculation and pontification is much wilder and louder for Federer than for anyone else (even more so than for Andy Roddick who believes that every win or loss is treated as an extreme event, a "career appreciation day" or a reason to take him to the fields and shoot him in the head).
 
Some were even wondering whether Federer's straight-sets defeat to Andy Murray - and the fact he played such a tame match - was reason to believe that he was in terminal decline. That is, of course, nonsense. Had they been going too hard on the Pimm's (or, as the IOC would call it, 'No 1 Fruit Cup')? 
 
It was just a month ago that Federer defeated Murray to give him a 17th Slam and to take him back to No.1 in the world. This summer at Wimbledon, Federer has won a gold trophy, a silver Olympic medal and regained his status as the alpha male of tennis.
 
So, all those observers reading too much into one match, cool your jets. The Olympic final told everyone much more about Murray than it did about Federer. Don't be surprised if Federer wins an 18th Grand Slam singles title with victory at the US Open.
 
Novak Djokovic
So far, this summer hasn't been the success that Djokovic and his supporters would have wanted. He won nothing at the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics (after losing the bronze-medal match). But how quickly people forget what players have achieved (see above).
 
Djokovic won this year's Australian Open and came within a match, at the French Open, of becoming the first man since the 1960s to hold all four majors simultaneously. You think it's a gone a bit quiet for Nole? Well, this year was never going to be as spectacular as last season.
 
But he could win the US Open (that would make him the only man this year to win two Slams), he could rip through the autumn, and then go into the off-season as the world No.1. That wouldn't be so bad.
 
Rafael Nadal
While Nadal has been enhancing his reputation as one of the good guys of tennis - he posted pictures of the three singles medallists on his Facebook page - there is much concern and doubt about his knees. Yes, we have been here before, with Nadal's cranky knees giving him all sorts of trouble, but that doesn't make it any less troubling (indeed, a recurrence of the same injury makes his supporters even more jittery).
 
Anyone with knee problems will tell you how unforgiving American hard courts can be; who wants to be bounding about on cement when your knees are screaming at you to stop? So, while Nadal is a former US Open champion, the next month or so could be tough. Who can even be confident that Nadal will play at Flushing Meadows?
 
Andy Murray
So far this year, the prizes have been shared out with Djokovic winning the Australian Open, Nadal the French Open, Federer The Championships at Wimbledon and Murray the Olympics. For a while now, there has only really been a top three, not a top four. Now, you can legitimately talk of a big four, after Murray won the greatest prize of his life.
 
Murray lost his first four appearances in major finals - including one against Federer at Wimbeldon this summer - but when he plays himself into another title match at a major, and it is a matter of when rather than if, he will be a different competitor.
 
While it would be going too far to suggest that Murray is the favourite for the US Open - the others have been too successful over the years to push them down the list - he looks as well-placed as he has ever been to win a Grand Slam.
 
Juan Martin del Potro
The Argentine crossed the Atlantic, over to North America, with a bronze and a new sense of self-belief. Yes, he lost the semi-final to Federer - with the Swiss taking the final set 19-17 - but it had arguably been his most accomplished performance since he won the 2009 US Open (beating Federer in the final).
 
When, a couple of days later, he won the bronze medal by beating Djokovic, you realised how encouraged he must have been by taking Federer so close. Del Potro is going to be a contender in New York. Perhaps the big three has become the big five.

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