LONDON: Any men's competitor not named Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, might as well stay clear of the All England Club for the next six weeks as the tennis world gears up for a double blockbuster smash at Wimbledon.
Dozens of bit-part players will be determined to break up the domination enjoyed by title holder Djokovic, double winner Nadal and six-time former champion Federer, but the evidence suggests that the challengers will be left nursing sore egos and broken dreams. To add insult to injury, the challengers will have to go through the torment not once, but twice.
The golden trio has now won 28 of the last 29 grand slams, and it would have been all 29 if Federer had not blown a two-sets-to-one lead against Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 U.S. Open final, and so far no-one has come close to ending that reign.
The leading contenders have taken a rather laidback approach, as they try to win back-to-back titles on the hallowed turf. Wimbledon will be throwing open its gates for the grass-court grand slam on Monday, and again later on, for the London Olympic tennis event on July 28.
Djokovic shunned the warm-up events, and opted for rest and relaxation after Nadal thwarted his bid to win a fourth successive slam in the French Open final, while the Spaniard retreated home to sunny Mallorca; for some golf and fishing after losing early in Halle.
Federer did reach the final in the German town, which now boasts a street bearing his name, and the Swiss would like nothing better than to see his moniker engraved on the gilded Challenge Cup for a record-matching seventh time.
Though Federer will be in a three-way race to secure the top ranking by the end of the championships, the man who used to collect titles at will is painfully aware that he has not raised any of the four major trophies for two and a half years.
Despite all the talk of the 'big three', the 16-times grand-slam champion does know that he is trailing in third place by quite some distance.
Djokovic and Nadal have blocked out all opposition at the last nine slams, and have contested four straight major finals.
The Serbian world number one thinks that fans should cherish this unique era in tennis as it is not often that any sport has so many supreme athletes competing at the same time.
“The sport is experiencing some really good times now. We're attracting a lot of attention to men's tennis because we have these two great players, and (Andy) Murray, and myself. We really have some great players, some charismatic players, a lot of personalities. This is good for tennis,” said Djokovic, who must reach the final to preserve his number one ranking.
Murray will be heartened to learn that the world's best player counts him as one of the movers and shakers of the men's game, but reality suggests that he has faded into the background since losing a nerve-shredding, five-set semi-final to the Serbian at the Australian Open in January.
His coaching union with Ivan Lendl, a man whose love-hate relationship with Wimbledon went to extremes, will be scrutinized to a great degree over the next fortnight as he bids to become the first British man in 76 years to win the title.
Lendl famously boycotted Wimbledon in 1982 after declaring “grass is for cows”, but a decade later, winning Wimbledon became an all-encompassing, yet ultimately futile, obsession for him.
Worryingly, Murray's demeanour on court can swing to extremes, and if he is to have any chance of winning Wimbledon, Lendl has to teach him how to become 'Mr Cool' on court, rather than the 'Mr Desperate' or 'Mr Angry' who takes hold of him when things are not going his way.
“Andy seems to be an all-or-nothing guy... This Wimbledon is the first time you can get a real gauge on how well it's going between them,” American great John McEnroe said.
“The more I thought about their partnership the more sense it made. There are similarities in their career paths, some definite similarities. Before he beat me in Paris (in the 1984 French Open final), Ivan was 0-4 in (grand slam) finals, Andy is 0-3. There's a lot of credibility he can bring to the table.”
Apart from Murray, players such as Tomas Berdych (2010 Wimbledon finalist), Andy Roddick (three-times Wimbledon runner-up) and Del Potro, all possess the talent that makes them title threats this year, and this same talent would have made them multiple slam winners in any other era.
In 2012, however, they just happen to be the best of the supporting cast.