Take Rafa to reign supreme
Our Andy Schooler previews the Wimbledon men's singles and believes the in-form Rafael Nadal can reclaim the title.
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Rafael Nadal's sensational return to form has been the story of the season so far and despite a tough draw, I'm sticking with him to win Wimbledon.
Following last year's shock defeat in SW19 to Lukas Rosol, the 2008 and 2010 champion did not play for seven months.
- 1pt Rafael Nadal to win Wimbledon at 5/1 (Boylesports, youwin) - has the best form of the big guns this season & knows how to win on grass.
- 4pts David Ferrer to win the second quarter at 5/2 (Ladbrokes, Coral, Stan James) - has proven ability on grass, unlike many of his rivals in this part of the draw.
However, since returning to the court in February he's played nine tournaments, winning seven of them and reaching the finals of the other two.
OK, the majority of those successes have come on clay but when Nadal did venture off his favourite red dirt he still produced some remarkable performances to win in Indian Wells.
In theory, the grass shouldn't be as harsh on the knees as the forthcoming return to the North American hardcourts will be and with Nadal having proved so adept on the surface in the past I can see him continuing his momentum at the All England Club.
The worry is a tough draw. He may well have to beat Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic back-to-back. That said, he's in the sort of form to do it, while it should be remembered this is not the French Open where matches regularly last longer than four hours. Fatigue should be less of an issue.
The underrated Nadal serve is at its most dangerous on grass while his defensive skills are arguably more of weapon on this surface than they are on the clay where more players are able to get balls back.
You can get 5/1 about Nadal winning a third Wimbledon title and of the game's 'Big Four', he's the one I like the look of the most, although given the standard of competition I'm going to keep stakes small.
Having gone so close last year, Murray has to be respected and will certainly have his supporters at a best of 15/4.
However, the one man he won't want to face is Nadal, who has beaten him three times in SW19 in the past.
Yes, Murray's belief will be greater now he is a Grand Slam champion but Nadal will bring a psychological advantage to the court should they meet.
While Nadal has been handed no favours by the draw, Federer is the biggest loser.
Not only has he been placed on course to meet nemesis Nadal in the last eight, but at 31 he's the least likely to be able to back up results which he will probably need to do.
The only way I can see Federer beating Nadal, Murray and Djokovic back to back is if the second week brings rain aplenty.
With Federer so good in indoor conditions, a closed roof in the semi-final and (part of) the final was a big aid in last year's run to the title.
On the other side of the draw, Djokovic is a big favourite to reach the final having avoided his main title rivals and he's odds-on to be on court on the second Sunday.
There's no doubt he's the favourite after that draw but any value in his price now seems to have gone.
Grass is his weakest surface - admittedly something which seems a little strange to say given he won this title two years ago. However, there's no doubt he's not in the same form that he was in 2011 and some iffy results have occurred this season, albeit on the smaller stages.
A loss to Tommy Haas in Miami was followed by an ankle injury and some early defeats on the clay. Even his fine display against Nadal in the semis of Roland Garros had a downside as he went walkabout mentally in the closing stages.
I can see him winning, don't get me wrong, but any value there was in Djokovic has gone for me and I can't be recommending him at 13/10.
As for outsiders, I'll simply say that 32 of the last 33 Grand Slam titles have gone to the 'Big Four'.
Some will fancy the chances of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga but the 2011 and 2012 semi-finalist has arguably the toughest draw of anyone, starting with the tricky David Goffin in round one. Ernests Gulbis and Marin Cilic are other opponents likely to be tackled before he even thinks about beating Murray, a player he's managed to defeat just once in nine meetings.
Tomas Berdych, the 2010 finalist, is another with some claims but he lost early at Queen's and too often flatters to deceive.
Juan Martin Del Potro is also in that next band of players who have plenty of talent but can't deal with the elite quartet often enough.
He doesn't seem at home on the surface and was well beaten by David Ferrer in SW19 last year.
It is that man Ferrer who looks arguably the best bet out there at time of writing.
He's the standout candidate at 5/2 to win the second quarter and I'm surprised to see him at the same price at Del Potro.
Should they meet in the last eight, Ferrer will bring a 6-2 winning record to the court. He has won the pair's last four meetings, has the better recent form (an early defeat to decent grasscourter Xavier Malisse in Holland this week can be forgiven).
Ferrer showed last year he can play on this surface, winning a warm-up event before pushing destroying Del Potro and then pushing Murray hard in the last eight at Wimbledon.
The other 'big names' in this section have plenty to prove on the grass.
Milos Raonic has lost both warm-up matches without winning a set, while the much-touted Grigor Dimitrov has only ever won back-to-back grasscourt matches at one tournament (Queen's 2012).
With this in mind, Ferrer looks a solid pick at 5/2.
While that looks the bet, for those seeking a big price I'm going to mention Ivan Dodig in the same market.
He's a man who doesn't seem to mind the lawns. He performed well at Queen's last year and has just made the semis at Eastbourne.
He's available at 66/1 which looks too big, although admittedly the problem is he may well have to beat Ferrer to land this bet, not to mention Philipp Kohlschreiber in round one.
However, if you are someone who wants a big price on your coupon, you could do a lot worse.
- It is worth noting that several firms are offering money back if Murray wins the title which provides something of a safety net for those looking to back the likes of Nadal.
- Our women's singles preview will be published on Saturday.