Wimbledon 2017 – Stage set for absorbing second week
Each of the Grand Slams has its quirks when it comes to scheduling. At Wimbledon, for instance, the action usually only takes place across 13 days, with a break from play on so-called Middle Sunday. As well as neatly bookending the storylines of the first week, this interlude is an opportunity to catch your breath and build up for the business end of the tournament. Accordingly, ahead of the ever-enthralling Manic Monday – so named because it features all 16 fourth-round clashes in both the men's and women's competitions – we outline the cast of characters still in contention to claim glory at the third major of the year.
The been there, done that crew
It has been more or less entirely plain sailing for the Big Four so far: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are all still going strong. Indeed, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have yet to drop a set, while Murray has surrendered just the one. With Marin Cilic also on the prowl, only two of the active men's Grand Slam winners will be absent from the second week: Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro. Meanwhile, the women's draw may lack such a clear hierarchy with Serena Williams missing, but her sister and five-time SW19 champion Venus Williams is still standing, as are world No.1 Angelique Kerber – a finalist in London last year – and the heavy-hitting trio made up of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Garbiñe Muguruza and Jelena Ostapenko, Roland-Garros winners past and present who are anything but ill at ease on the grass. Another former Grand Slam champion, Victoria Azarenka, has shown that her competitive instincts burn undimmed in just her second tournament back after having a child.
The perennial pretenders
The next gaggle of hopefuls are highly familiar faces who have all had near misses at Grand Slams, some of whom have been waiting a seeming eternity to break their duck. Exhibit A is Caroline Wozniacki, the archetypal queen without a crown, who spent 67 weeks atop the WTA rankings yet remains without a major title to her name. Simona Halep, for her part, had the chance to take top spot last month at Roland-Garros, only to experience a second dose of French Open heartbreak to add to her 2014 final defeat, while 2015 WTA Finals champion Agnieszka Radwanska is bidding to recapture her lustre at the site of her previous Grand Slam final appearance (2012). On the men's side, last year's runner-up Milos Raonic heads the chasing pack, followed by Grigor Dimitrov, a beaten semi-finalist on Centre Court in 2014 and this year at the Australian Open. There is also the veteran Tomas Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up, who continues to cling to the belief that his day in the sun will come, even though he hasn't won a big tournament since the Paris Masters way back in 2005.
The up-and-coming contenders
Jelena Ostapenko may well have figured prominently in this category had she not broken through in such style in Paris. As it is, the leading ladies' candidate for first-time Grand Slam glory in London has to be the new darling of the British public, Johanna Konta. Others gunning to take their cue from Ostapenko's trailblazing feats include 2016 US Open quarter-finalist Ana Konjuh, whose flat hitting gives her the potential to be a veritable lioness on the lawn; Australian Open semi-finalist Coco Vandeweghe; Elina Svitolina, who sparkled during the spring clay swing; recent Roland-Garros quarter-finalist Caroline Garcia; and, where the men are concerned, rising German star Alexander Zverev and Austrian Dominic Thiem, who boasts a great all-round game despite his penchant for the red dust.
The notion may be slowly but surely dying out on both clay and grass, but there remain a few high priests at the altar of specialisation. One such, Gilles Muller, keeps turning back the clock with his serve-volley approach and his net-rushing antics, while Kevin Anderson and Sam Querrey are two other big servers who excel at finishing points quickly, in their case with their booming forehands. French duo Adrian Mannarino and Benoit Paire both have what it takes to shine at Wimbledon – the difference being that leftie Mannarino has long known as much, while for Paire it is an acquired taste. As for Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, strictly speaking he cannot be described as a grass specialist, but his flat strokes make his brand of counterpunching especially effective on the green carpet. The same can be said of Magdalena Rybarikova, who has a habit of making her mark on the lawns.
The surprise package
Before Roland-Garros 2017, Petra Martic had gone two years without featuring in a Grand Slam main draw and had dropped outside the top 600 following a serious back injury. Granted a place in qualifying in Paris courtesy of a protected ranking, she surged all the way to the round of 16, in which she served for the match against Elina Svitolina. Three weeks later, the Croat's second wind is continuing at Wimbledon: having previously only reached the second week of a Grand Slam once in eight years (at Roland-Garros 2012), she has now done so twice on the bounce. Her re-emergence is another heartening tale in a season that has certainly not been short of great stories.