Baseline Buzz: Big Four Forecast


LONDON -- Winning this little annual gathering at the All England Club changes a life.

"Sometimes people ask me, 'Who are you?'" Marion Bartoli, the 2013 champion here, said Sunday. "I just say, 'I'm the Wimbledon champion.' It just speaks by itself. I don't even need to mention my name."

Andy Murray, the first-time men's champion a year ago, also recounted his past year in a Sunday news conference.

"I feel in terms of handling the pressure -- there was a lot of it -- and I think I did OK," Murray said. "Tomorrow, I need to enjoy that moment when I go back on the court.

"But as soon as I start playing the match, yeah, it's about trying to win."

This raises the looming elephant-in-the-room question as Wimbledon 2014 unfurls Monday: Who on earth is going to emerge from the 128-man draw as champion? The consensus of our dozen experts is, well, there is no consensus.

While Serena Williams is the overwhelming choice on the ladies' side -- only one of our fearless prognosticators (Brad Gilbert) went with someone else -- the men's choices are all over the map. There are five votes for No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic, three each for seven-time champion Roger Federer and defending champ Murray and only one for newly minted French Open champion Rafael Nadal, the No. 2 seed.

Where do the experts come down on this one? One day before the fur starts flying, we asked them to kick it around in the first edition of Baseline Buzz of the British fortnight.

Greg Garber: Usually, you have a gut feeling going into these Slams. A month ago, it was Djokovic -- who drilled Rafa in the final at Miami and Rome -- who was the preeminent choice, but Nadal was a close second. Here? Honestly, I have no idea. Djokovic won four of five majors in a span of 54 weeks. Since then? He's 1-for-9 and was not convincing in this year's Slams, losing to eventual champions Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and Nadal in the Roland Garros final. Rafa has crashed out early here two years in a row, and Federer hasn't won a major since he took home the gold Wimbledon trophy two years ago. Murray hasn't won a tournament of any kind since winning here. How are we supposed to make sense of that?

Melissa Isaacson: We aren't. But absent of sense, I like Djokovic here. He has been to the semis every year since 2010, winning his only Wimbledon title in 2011, and is on a sick roll in Grand Slams, making it to 15 of the past 16 major semis (with five titles). No one else can touch that, so Djokovic is always a solid bet to win it all. I like that he took a break after his French Open run to the final. Not surprisingly, he said Sunday he is "very motivated" to play Wimbledon. I like that he says he played "pain-free" (from a wrist injury in April) in Rome and Roland Garros. I like that he is not distracted by the angst of World Cup viewing since Serbia is not among the competitors.

Matt Wilansky: I fully agree, Missy, but Djokovic starts his campaign here without a single grass-court tuneup match. Yes, surfaces have homogenized in recent years, but they're still all very different as Djokovic noted in Saturday's presser. "So from the slowest to the fastest surface, it takes quite a few days and weeks to adjust to the movement," he said. "I think the movement is crucial basically because on clay you can slide, and here you can't afford too many big steps. You have to try to have as many of the adjustment steps and be balanced." It's too bad we can't wait about two rounds to make our picks, but that's how it goes. I would still say he is the slight favorite, but I think Nadal, who's won one match here the past two seasons, will be motivated. If he makes the requisite adjustments, like moving closer to the baseline, and gets on a roll, Nadal might just sweep the Euro Slams this season.

Garber: I am most curious about Rafa's state of mind. The last two years, winning the French Open took so much out of him that he had nothing left for Wimbledon. He acknowledged as much in his Saturday news conference. "Is really the most dangerous tournament of the year," Nadal said. "The feeling on court is a little bit strange for everybody." And then Rafa offered this reassuring thought: "I am feeling better this year than last couple years, seriously. I am able to move myself more free now. I'm not scared about my knee. That's the most important thing for me." Hmmm. He'd see Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals.

Isaacson: I'm more curious to see how Murray performs here. All the talk has been about his hiring Amelie Mauresmo as his coach after his stint with Ivan Lendl. On that note, a weird and somewhat disturbing reaction from 1977 Wimbledon champ Virginia Wade, who told the London Telegraph that Mauresmo, a two-time Grand Slam winner and respected coach, was "mentally fragile" and said she thought they were "fooling around" when they made the announcement. But Mauresmo's "a nice person," said Ginny, so we're all good, I guess. However Murray plays, too much attention will be put on his new coach's influence. The obvious question is how the rest of his career goes post-life-altering Wimbledon title last year. My cab driver said Brits will not be too hard on him if he never wins again, that no one can ever take that away from him and everyone here understands that. So there you have it.

Wilansky: Full disclosure: I am a fan of the Fed Man. And I think -- maybe hope is a better word -- he can win here for an eighth (and presumably) final time. I like what I heard from him in his presser Saturday. He's in a good place mentally and physically and sounds as if, in his mind anyway, he can win this thing. The consensus of our experts is that his window for Grand Slam singles titles is all but closed, but if it's going to happen one more time, it will happen here. He just needs a few things to happen -- a few losses, that is. If someone takes out Nadal before the semifinals, well, suddenly an 18th major doesn't seem so far-fetched.

Garber: A friend of mine, reading our story from Saturday, asked if Federer was considered arrogant. Yes, of course, I said, but when you can back it up with 17 Slams, it's not arrogance; it's merely the truth. Personally, I'd love to see him win one more, but I don't think it's realistic. Missy, where are you on this subject?

Isaacson: Love Fed. How can you not? Arrogant? I actually heard that too (also from my cab driver, so again you know it's true), but I've never detected it. (On a side note, I see that in Murray for sure.) Regardless of my feelings about Federer's attitude, that does not mean I will count on him this year after really getting my hopes up that he would defend his Wimbledon title in 2013 only to have him break my heart with his second-round exit. Check back with me if he goes deep into the second week.

Wilansky: Federer could snag this title, but I don't think any of us would be willing to place more than a pint of Pimm's on it. The state of the Big Four is more curious than it has been in recent memory, and one of them is likely to emerge at the end. We really just can't say with any semblance of confidence who. So good idea, Missy. Let's check back in two weeks and we'll have a better idea.