Djokovic v Alcaraz
The seven-time Wimbledon champion is trading as short as 8/13 with bookmakers. It is hardly surprising. He has won the last four consecutive renewals and each year his air of invincibility intensifies, particularly given the gradual evacuation of his familiar adversaries through struggles with injury, form and retirement.
But on the eve of the tournament the battle lines have shifted, albeit slightly. Indeed, Djokovic might go into this tournament as the man to beat in our minds but, on paper, he isn’t. For the first time in five years, there is another top seed: Carlos Alcaraz (7/2 general, 5.1 on the exchange). 16 years the Serb’s junior, the Spaniard won at Queen’s last week to secure his place at the top of the world rankings going into the tournament and silence questions over his ability to compete on grass.
Queen’s was only his third event on the surface, a fact which can be taken two ways. On the one hand, you could cite his inexperience as being hostile to his title charge. He insisted at the beginning of the tournament that he had “no expectations” and at times he seemed to be adapting on the job. On the other, the fact that he adapted so quickly could infer that the sport’s hottest talent may outshine his Wimbledon pedigree (or lack thereof). A matter of games into his title run he claimed that he had surprised himself with how he was playing, citing that he feels like he has been playing on grass for 10 years.
Odds of 7/2 are about right, if a shade miserly, but nobody will be complaining if ‘Charly’ goes all the way with his youthful energy and explosive, free-flowing tennis. He would become the eighth player to complete the Wimbledon-Queens double, which his compatriot Nadal did in 2008. Whether or not he does, the youngest man ever to reach no.1 rates as the most promising long-term successor to the Big Three and this week will surely be a baptism of fire.
The market suggests that Alcaraz is the only player capable of laying a glove on Novak, yet the reality is quite different. Though perhaps dispossessed of many household names we have become accustomed to, the talent pool in the men’s draw is deeper than ever. Here is a look through some of the contenders.
The return of the Russians
Following the All England Club’s controversial ban on Russian and Belarusian players in 2022 (the only major tournament to impose it), we are graced with the return of some key contenders. Daniil Medvedev (20/1 general, 30.0 on the exchange) ranks among the more familiar. Though failing to inspire in the Grand Slams, he has been in scintillating form on tour this season, the first to 40 wins on his way to gathering a tour-leading five titles. The world no. 3 has attributed his 2023 form to a string change he made during the offseason, and if he reaches the latter stages of the tournament, he a great chance of getting past Djokovic, who he has beaten on five previous occasions. He should be seen as a serious contender.
Another Russian back on the books is Andrey Rublev (80/1 general, 130.0 on the exchange). He has been remarkably consistent in the slams without being spectacular. He has reached six quarter-finals since 2020 and this could be the year in which he goes further. He reached the final at Halle last week and that comes in the context of a strong season. He got to the fourth round here in 2021 and looks overpriced.
The Americans hold a typically solid hand, if unspectacular. Their highest-ranked player is no. 9 seed Taylor Fritz (33/1 general, 60.0 on the exchange). The 25-year-old has a game perfectly suited to grass, having won at Eastbourne twice in the past four years and boasting a steadily improving Wimbledon CV which includes a quarter-final last year. There is every reason to think he can improve that this year. He has been delivering aces for fun and has been operating at an astonishing 79.3% conversion rate on first serve points this season.
At an identical price point is Sebastian Korda (33/1 general, 60.0 on the exchange). Korda’s only Wimbledon appearance resulted in a respectable fourth-round exit in 2021 and his performance at Queen’s last week bodes well, where he got past Evans, Tiafoe and Norrie before being beaten in the semi-final by eventual winner Alcaraz. Frances Tiafoe (80/1 general, 85.0 on the exchange), yet another big-serving American, had already won on the grass at Stuttgart by then and returns to Wimbledon on the back of reaching R4 in 2022.
One of the key talking points coming into the tournament has been the differing preparations taken by some of the contenders. While the likes of Alcaraz have flung themselves headfirst into the grass court season, others have been flightier. Casper Ruud (100/1 general, 130.0 on the exchange) famously stated a year ago that “grass is for golfers”. Jokingly of course, but the sentiment still rings in the ears of southwest London’s ruling class.
Ruud is astoundingly capable. The Norwegian has reached three Grand Slam finals in the past two seasons. But turning his nose up at the grass has done him no favours in the context of this tournament. His record makes for dim reading: he has won just one game in three appearances. His talent is beyond doubt but with his recent reiteration that he sees the grass season as a chance to rest up and Wimbledon as “fun” more than anything else, his record doesn’t look like changing in any significant way.
Another Scandinavian at odds with the status quo is world no. 6 Holger Rune (40/1 general, 60.0 on the exchange), though in his case, the tension is behavioural rather than philosophical. The Dane is renowned for his feisty on-court demeanour, which surfaced last week at Queen’s when he came to blows with opponent Lorenzo Musetti after the Italian struck him with a smash. He claims that the encounter simply gave him “fire in the belly” to beat Musetti. He accordingly obliged and, if he can channel his energy similarly over the next fortnight, he should have a productive tournament. He has made a concerted effort to improve his game on grass, partly by watching back some of Djokovic’s finals. Before Queen’s, he was yet to win a pro match on the surface. He then reached the semi-finals without dropping a set. In little more than 6 months, Rune has beaten Djokovic twice – once at the Paris Masters and once at the Italian Open. Granted, a best-of-five game at Wimbledon presents an altogether different challenge, but given his performance at Queen’s, it would be hasty to write him off. He swatted off Andy Murray (6-4, 6-4) in an exhibition match at Hurlingham on Wednesday and comes into this at the top of his game.
Perhaps the most notorious ‘bad boy’ and last year’s finalist, Nick Kyrgios (40/1 general, 60.0 on the exchange), is among the most proven in the field beyond Djokovic but has struggled for rhythm this year and is a major fitness doubt. He played his first competitive match for eight months in mid-June.
The British charge
What are the hopes for our own contingent? Andy Murray (66/1 general, 100.0 on the exchange) is the shortest-priced British player. Having recently experienced an upturn in form, the two-time champion arrives here in his best fettle for a few years, picking up grass titles at Surbiton and Nottingham with little fuss. He has only got as far as the third round here since his quarter-final exit in 2017, albeit missing 3 tournaments through injury. In fact, the third round is as far as he has got in any Grand Slam in that time. But as John McEnroe has come out and said this week, he remains among a bracket of players who know how to compete here and, given a bit of luck, he could go deep. That said, it is difficult to see him really challenging come the business end and getting to R4 or beyond should be considered a success. Watching him compete is a privilege and it is astonishing to think that he has returned to the world’s top 50 with a metal hip.
Beyond him, Cameron Norrie (100/1 general, 250.0 on the exchange) was beaten by Djokovic in the semi-finals last year and is the no. 12 seed in this year’s tournament. 2023 has been strong – he reached back-to-back finals in Buenos Aires and Rio, each time facing Alcaraz and winning the latter. He was accounted for at Queen’s when no. 5 seed but his price is generous.
Best of the rest
Janiik Sinner (18/1 general, 25.0 on the exchange) reached the quarters here last year when he went two sets up before a certain Serb fought back to win in five. The fresh-faced Italian has a game well suited to grass with a particularly strong backhand that he hits with more topspin than any other player on the ATP tour. His calmness and ease of movement has drawn comparisons with Roger Federer and with seven ATP titles under his belt already, it would be no surprise if he went close. That said, there are slight questions over his fitness – he withdrew from Halle with an adductor issue after sliding to reach one of Bublik’s drop shots and his recent form is patchy.
Alexander Zverev (33/1 general, 46.0 on the exchange) labelled last year as “the most difficult year of my life” after his tennis was not only disrupted by politics but by a season-ending ankle injury. He has been gradually rebuilding his game this season, most notably reaching the semis of the French Open, among other strong performances in Dubai, Geneva and Halle. He has had to battle hard, though, and the fear is that he has not quite returned to the top of his game yet.
With doubts surrounding Kyrgios, his more characteristically and tactically reserved compatriot Alex de Minaur (80/1 general, 90.0 on the exchange) is the leading Australian hope following a Queen’s run which saw him lose out to Alcaraz in the final. De Minaur’s grass stats are enviable, having won 21 of 30 games since Covid and he was unlucky not to progress further here last year when he narrowly lost out to Cristian Garin in the fourth round. His market position can be put down to recency bias, though, and his price is a little short.
Alexander Bublik (80/1 general, 130.0 on the exchange) won at Halle to remind everyone what an exciting player he can be, especially on faster surfaces. Another man who went deep in that tournament was Roberto Bautista Agut (400/1 general, 410.0 on the exchange). Many have classified him as a clay-court demon, perhaps because he’s a Spaniard, but it is easy to forget that he reached the semi-final here in 2019 and his ability to move around the court, combined with his flat groundstrokes make him a real threat on grass.
It is easy to visualize this being the year that Djokovic matches Federer and wins his eighth Wimbledon championship. He only dropped two sets on his way to winning the French Open, a tournament in which many predicted he might struggle. But 8/13 is short and though you wouldn’t want to oppose him, it is hardly exciting to be on his side. It is easy to forget that he is now 36 years old and will become the second-oldest winner of the tournament in the modern era. Last year he used up all his reserves to prevail and with another year under his belt it will only get harder. The draw is critical – he’ll want to avoid players who push him to his physical limits, Medvedev being one whom he has personally recognised.
Novak is the only seeded player in the men’s draw to have won at Wimbledon so it seems a choice between an extended reign or a new king altogether – there is little in between. It is very difficult to pick from among the potential heirs. Carlos Alcaraz stands out as the long-term successor and his victory last week suggests that the handover might come sooner than we think. Yet he is still yet to be thoroughly challenged on grass – it is worth remembering that he almost crashed out to Arthur Rinderknech in the first round and did not face a top 10 opponent all week. He faces a potentially trappy run to the final, with De Minaur/Zverev and Rune looming in R4 and the QF respectively.
Instead, I would prefer to look down the field for a bit of value and take a back-to-lay approach, siding with players in the hope that their prices will plummet through the tournament and laying them when they do. The likes of Medvedev, Rune and Korda are all fancied to go deep into the tournament but at the prices, it is Andrey Rublev, Cameron Norrie and Roberto Bautista Agut who stand out. Until he overcomes his quarter-final voodoo, Rublev will continue to trade at rocket prices but 130.0 is extremely generous for a player who is ranked no. 7 in the world and reached an ATP final on grass just last week. He won a Masters 1000 title in Monaco earlier this year, defeating an on-song Rune in the final.
It was only a year ago that the triple figure-priced Norrie reached the semis here and he has warmed up nicely for this by beating Frances Tiafoe in an exhibition match this week. His ability to hang around and frustrate his opponents will stand him in good stead against the top players and expect market support if he gets past the first couple of rounds.
Finally, Bautista Agut catches the eye at 410.0, which could look enormous if he was to win his first handful of matches. His recent form in the slams leaves a little to be desired but he faces a potentially kind run-in, with Ruud his main danger until the quarter-finals.
0.5pt Andrey Rublev to win WImbledon @ 130.0 on the Betfair Exchange
0.5pt Cameron Norrie to win Wimbledon @ 250.0 on the Betfair Exchange
0.25pt Roberto Bautista Agut to win Wimbledon @ 410.0 on the Betfair Exchange