WIMBLEDON, England — As Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer step back on the grass at Wimbledon, each has reason to believe he’ll be hoisting the trophy in two weeks.
None of the other 125 men in the field can honestly say the same.
Indeed, it’s tough to imagine anyone outside that trio winning this year’s championship at the All England Club, where play begins Monday.
“They’ve, you know, been pretty selfish about Grand Slam titles for a little bit,” said 2003 U.S. Open champion and three-time Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick.
They sure have.
Either Nadal or Djokovic has won each of the past nine major tournaments, and they met in the past four finals, to boot.
“It’s up to somebody ... to break that mold,” said Federer, owner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles. “I hope I can do that.”
Add him to the equation, and those three men have combined to win 28 of the past 29 majors, a seven-year run of dominance that began with Nadal’s victory at the 2005 French Open. (The lone exception was the 2009 U.S. Open, where Federer lost in the final to Juan Martin del Potro.)
The top-seeded Djokovic is the defending champion at Wimbledon – and while it’s the only grass-court title on his résumé, it’s a rather significant one.
“I mean, this is what I’m born for,” he said after beating Nadal in four sets in the 2011 final. “You know, I want to be a tennis champion. I want to win more Grand Slams. I will definitely not stop here.”
He moved to No. 1 in the ATP rankings the next day and has remained there, while compiling a 27-match Grand Slam winning streak that included titles at the U.S. Open in September and Australian Open in January, before ending with a loss to Nadal in the rain-interrupted, two-day French Open final two weeks ago.
Nadal once was thought to be a clay-court expert but has shown that he can adapt to, and excel on, other surfaces, joining Federer among the seven men who completed a career Grand Slam. At Wimbledon, the Spaniard reached the final each of the past five times he entered the tournament, winning twice and finishing runner-up to Djokovic or Federer the other three.
And Federer? Well, all he’s done is win six championships plus make one final at the All England Club in a seven-year span from 2003-09.
On the women’s side, six players divided up the most recent six Grand Slam titles, capped by Maria Sharapova’s triumph at the French Open.
That return to the top – and to No. 1 in the WTA rankings – makes her a popular pick to do well at Wimbledon, too. She did, after all, make her breakthrough at the grass-court tournament by winning it at age 17 in 2004.
There also are cases to be made for four-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams, who is sure to be intent on making up for a first-round loss at Roland Garros; defending champion Petra Kvitova; recent No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, a semifinalist a year ago; 2007 runner-up Marion Bartoli; former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, probably the best player without a Grand Slam title; and even Venus Williams, who might be slowed by an autoimmune disease but still knows how to get the most out of her big serve and powerful groundstrokes at a tournament she’s won five times.