Gilles Simon and Karen Khachanov are backed to win their quarters as Scott Ferguson previews the men's draw at Wimbledon 2019.
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Djokovic sets the standard
The defending champion, Novak Djokovic, returns to Church Road in imperious form, registering just a single loss in a complete year of Grand Slam tournaments. Among the 27 wins in that span, he had only two genuinely difficult matches - last year's semi-final here (defeated Nadal 10-8 in the fifth), and the recent semi-final loss to Dominic Thiem in Paris, where he went down 7-5 in the decider.
After a busy clay schedule, Djokovic took a relaxed route into the grasscourt season via his traditional sequence of the Boodles Challenge, splitting his two exhibition matches.
Pre-draw there was no reason to oppose the three-time champion other than chasing value. Post-draw, it’s even harder to find reasons to oppose the Serb. His first week is about as cushy as can be, with the only possible opponent within the top 50 being the only seed, his compatriot Dusan Lajovic.
Move onto week two and he has the simpler path of the big guns, possibly clashing with Felix Auger-Aliassime or Gael Monfils on Magic Monday; Daniil Medvedev, Kyle Edmund or Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarters and Kevin Anderson or Alexander Zverev in the semi-final. Unsurprisingly, his price has dropped since the draw was published.
Federer more tempting than Nadal
Six weeks shy of his 38th birthday, Roger Federer goes out in search of his ninth Wimbledon singles title.
He’s already the oldest winner in the Open era, two years go at age 35. Can he extend that record even further? Last year he conceded a 2-0 lead against Anderson, the giant-serving type he is more susceptible to on this surface. The draw gods have been particularly favourable to the GOAT, delivering the softest path possible through to the semi-finals. Borna Coric, Kei Nishikori and John Isner don't appear likely to upturn the apple cart.
The Rafael Nadal camp threw a bit of hissy fit when the All England Club adjusted the seedings to align with recent grasscourt performance, something which was as certain as night following day.
Whether this is a sign of confidence within the team or disappointment at removing almost a 50 per cent chance of reaching the final is unclear, but Nadal’s fitness this season is as good as it has been in years and last time at Wimbledon he was points away from beating Djokovic in the semi.
His luck with the draw though has deserted him, with a potential early-round run of Nick Kyrgios in round two, Denis Shapovalov or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in round three and Marin Cilic round four before facing the fifth, second and top seeds to claim the title.
It doesn't get any tougher than that and I could not back him even with imaginary money promised on the side of a big red bus.
Questions over the pretenders
The chasing pack is full of talent but can any of them string together seven matches at their peak, or more succinctly, bring out their best at the business end?
Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex Zverev, Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Karen Khachanov promise plenty but can any of them find the magic required to convert potential to the most prestigious prize of them all?
It’s been 17 years since anyone other than Djokovic, Federer, Nadal or Andy Murray has reigned here, and while we’ve been close to breaking that stranglehold with Cilic, Milos Raonic and Anderson claiming the runner-up plate for the last three years, none of that trio managed to claim a set in the final. The dominance of the big three is not over yet.
Running through the quarters, the first section should be processional for Djokovic and he's priced accordingly. If there is to be any surprise, it could emerge from the latest Canadian wonderkid Auger-Aliassime or even Kyle Edmund if he revels in the home support, but Djokovic has little to fear.
Khachanov a quarter master
The second quarter is the most interesting as it doesn't contain any of the big three. Anderson and Zverev are the obvious choices but the value might come from Raonic or Khachanov, with the latter preferred.
Raonic is still working his way back from injury and is better watched on a match-by-match basis while the Russian has a reasonable record here of late. In the last two years it has taken Nadal and Djokovic to beat him, and his heavy-hitting style is more effective later in the grass season as the courts bake and the greenness disappears, which it will soon if this heatwave continues.
Relatively simple for Simon?
The bottom part of quarter three is stacked with talent and an early exit for Nadal would not be a complete shock. The most likely beneficiary of that would be Cilic or Thiem. The lanky Croatian beat Nadal at the Hurlingham Club during the week, and while an exhibition match isn't the real thing, it's a good sign of progression from his early exit at Queen's.
Thiem is just solid all-round but preferred to rest from his clay exploits rather than play a warm-up event and that could cost him. One from left field, then, could be Gilles Simon. The French veteran reached the final at Queen's and has reached the quarter-finals here before.
The final quarter looks safe for Federer but in the event of a black cat crossing his path, Italian Matteo Berrettini won the Stuttgart title a fortnight ago and has an old-school backhand slice which can do plenty of damage here.
The outright market is not one I'm keen to get involved in just yet. Djokovic and Federer look obvious choices to reach the semis but at the prices, I can't see a huge amount of value in diving in early.
I'll be focusing more on the match betting but I have found two bets of interest in the quarters markets, with the aforementioned pair Khachanov and Simon chances to small stakes.
Posted at 1235 BST on 29/06/19