Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - With two majors down and two to go, the third Grand Slam event of 2014 will swing into action next week when Wimbledon gets rolling, with Andy Murray on hand as your defending men's champ.
Murray broke a curse, of sorts, last year when he finally came out on top at the All England Club to give Great Britain its first male singles champion since Fred Perry only 77 years earlier. The Dunblane, Scotland, native fought past former champion Novak Djokovic in the final to produce a tremendous civic orgasm in GB.
Unfortunately for Murray, he doesn't look like a very safe pick to repeat at the AEC as he's struggled to relocate his top form since returning at the beginning of this year following some back surgery that was performed last fall.
He warmed up for Wimbledon by losing in the third round last week at London's Queen's Club, where he was the reigning champ and had captured that title on three separate occasions. And he lost to an old man (in tennis terms) in 35- year-old Czech veteran Radek Stepanek. Not good.
If Murray doesn't repeat at Wimby, you can rest assured that Rafael Nadal, Djokovic or Roger Federer will probably be there to cash in.
Rafa, of course, is fresh off his record fifth straight and ninth overall French Open title and has been no slouch at the Big W. Sure, he was a shocking first-round loser a year ago and stunning second-round victim in 2012, but prior to those recent losing efforts, the Spanish great appeared in five finals in as many trips to the AEC, including championships in 2008 and 2010, which were, in effect, back-to-back championships there for Rafa, who missed the 2009 edition because of injury.
The mighty Mallorcan has appeared in three straight (2-1) and four of the last five (3-1) Grand Slam finals overall.
Needless to say, he'll be among the favorites once again (this despite an opening-match post-French Open flameout on some grass in Halle, Germany, last week).
Then there's the formidable Djokovic, who's seemingly always in the mix in the last couple of days of a major. As a matter of fact, he's appeared in 11 of the last 15 Slam finals among the men, capturing five of his six major titles in that time, and was the runner-up to Nadal at the French Open two weeks ago and the U.S. Open last year.
Nole is a two-time Wimbledon finalist, having titled there in 2011 and finishing as the runner-up to his good friend Murray last year, and has reached at least the semis there four straight campaigns.
Federer is definitely not the Federer of old, but he's always a threat to run the table when he's ballin' on grass. He just nailed down a record seventh Gerry Weber Open title in Halle last week and is, of course, a seven-time champion at the All England Club and was the runner-up there on another occasion when he lost to Nadal in that remarkable 2008 final in arguably the greatest tennis match ever played (but that's another story).
The Fed's not my pick to prevail at SW19 in a few weeks, but another title there wouldn't necessarily shock me at this point considering Rafa's been vulnerable there over the last couple of years, Djokovic hasn't quite ever been the big boss there and Murray still seems to be working off the back- surgery rust.
Another guy in the mix could be "Baby Fed," Bulgarian comer Grigor Dimitrov.
GD captured his first-ever ATP-level grass court title just last week at The Queen's Club (staving off a match point against veteran Spanish left-hander Feliciano Lopez in the final) and has been steadily climbing the charts over the last two seasons.
Dimitrov has nailed down four tour titles over the last eight months, including three already this season on three different surfaces -- hard court, clay and grass -- which is the definition of tennis versatility.
He hasn't fared very well at Wimbledon to this point, however, as evidenced by three straight second-round losses there, and the "Big Four" has combined to gobble up the last 11 titles. The last non-Big Four winner at the AEC was Lleyton Hewitt way back in 2002.
Is that about to change in a couple of weeks?
The other "players" in London could be Aussie Open champ Stan Wawrinka; 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych; Canadian masher Milos Raonic; and/or world No. 10 Latvian Ernests Gulbis.
Wawrinka bas been playing high-quality tennis since the middle of last season and is currently ranked third in the world to prove it, but he's always struggled on grass, including failing to get past the second round at Wimbledon in the last four years, lowlighted by opening-round losses in two straight and three of his last four trips.
Maybe things will be different this year?
Berdych is always a force to be reckoned with, having reached at least the round of 16 at the AEC in six of the last eight years, including the final four years ago and quarterfinals in 2007 and last year. He won't win it, but TB should reach the second week, again.
We're still waiting for that Raonic "breakthrough," but maybe we overrate him. The big-serving stalwart finally reached his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal two weeks ago in Paris, but the majors have not been kind to the native of the former Yugoslavia. And in three trips to SW19, the Canadian is a pedestrian 3-3 with a trio of second-round exits.
Gulbis, like Dimitrov, has certainly been on the move. No, he's not necessarily among the faves, but EG did reach his first career Grand Slam semifinal at the French two weeks ago and had his best-ever showing (third round) at Wimbledon last season.
I would've mentioned world No. 7 David Ferrer, but the gritty Spaniard has been battling the flu for more than a week now and was forced to pull out of this week's tournament in the Netherlands.
Well, I need to make a pick here. So after crunching all of the proverbial numbers, I will go with Djokovic to return to the Wimbledon winner's circle. Call it a hunch because there's not a whole lot of science involved when it comes to predicting a winner among the Big Four.