With Rafael Nadal’s shocking loss Thursday at Wimbledon, the door might just be cracked open for Roger Federer to make one last run, as he seeks a record-tying seventh Wimbledon title.
Nadal fell in five sets in Wimbledon’s second round—tying his earliest exit in a Grand Slam tournament in his career—to the No. 100-ranked player in the world, Lukas Rosol, the lowest ranked player to ever beat Nadal. While his early departure could make it easier for world No. 1 Novak Djokovic to take home his second consecutive Wimbledon title, it may just help a less likely champion, like Federer or Andy Murray, come out on top.
Having only once defeated Djokovic and Nadal—who have combined to win the last nine Grand Slams—in the same tournament (2010 ATP World Tour Finals), Federer hasn’t taken home a major title since the 2010 Australian Open, while his last Wimbledon championship came in 2009. But suddenly, with Nadal’s early exit, Federer won’t be forced to beat the world’s top two players in consecutive matches. Rather, if he can slip by Djokovic in the semifinals, Federer would be rewarded with a much less daunting matchup than Nadal in the final, which might just be the opportunity he needs to secure a seventh Wimbledon championship.
So, can Federer take down Djokovic, winner of four of the last six Grand Slams? Well, the Swiss star has beaten a red-hot Djokovic before; he ended the Joker’s 43-match win streak at the 2011 French Open with a four-set victory in the semifinals. A few months later, Federer took the first two sets from Djokovic in a 2011 US Open semifinal before losing in five. And even though Djokovic has taken six of the last seven head-to-head matchups, the two have never met on grass—Federer lost in the quarterfinals of the last two Wimbledons, both times preventing a semifinal clash with Djokovic—where Federer has always thrived. On his best stage, the aging star will be tough to beat.
Still, if Federer can’t take advantage of the easier road to the championship, world No. 4 Andy Murray just might. Nadal’s loss leaves Murray as the top seed in his side of the bracket, making him the favorite in every match until the final. With a weaker semifinal opponent, Murray could even conserve a little energy with a quick victory before moving on to, in all probability, play Djokovic-Federer winner. And though he lost his first three final appearances, don’t count the British star out of beating either player.
Murray has held his own against Djokovic recently, splitting their last four meetings, with one loss coming in five sets in the French Open semifinals earlier this season. He’s also 8-7 all-time against Federer, though they’ve only played each other once since 2010, when Murray took two of their four matches. For Murray—who hasn’t won a Grand Slam tournament despite reaching eight semifinals and three finals—it might just take one well-played match to cash in with his first major victory.
Yes, Nadal’s shocking defeat makes Djokovic a heavy favorite to champion Wimbledon for the second year running. But it also leaves each of these dangerous challengers with an opportunity to score a crucial Grand Slam victory. If Federer can turn the clock back a few years, or if Murray turns in the performance of his career, we may just see a surprise champion of Wimbledon 2012.