Roger Federer, employing all the verbal dexterity he brings to any discussion on tennis, last week lent his voice to the suggestion that Andy Murray’s reign at No1 in the world is under serious threat for the rest of the summer.
“Andy was tired after getting to No1 at the end of last year and then has been struggling with injuries,” the 35-year-old Swiss said.
Federer, who is returning after taking 11 weeks off the Tour to prepare for his pursuit of an eighth title at Wimbledon, added: “I think the second part of the season will be really crucial for Andy, and Novak [Djokovic] as well.
“I think the second half of the season is going to be really, really interesting.”
Federer, Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have allowed only occasional challenges to their hegemony for more than a decade.
Now there is insurrection in the air before Wimbledon: fans have deserted Murray, the defending champion, to back Federer into 5-2 favouritism, according to Ladbrokes.
If he wins a ninth title in Halle, he will edge up to a number three at Wimbledon.
At Queen’s Club last week, the vulnerability of Murray and Stan Wawrinka, who refuses comparison with the supposed big four despite reaching his fourth slam final at Roland Garros was painful, for them and their supporters.
Murray, the five-time champion, lost to Jordan Thompson a young Australian hustler ranked 90th in the world, while Wawrinka went out in two sets to Feliciano López.
Neither of them was as poor as Djokovic at Roland Garros but they were plainly frustrated in their preparation for Wimbledon.
Djokovic, who plays Eastbourne this week, a rare warm-up on grass before the championships at the All England Club, is probably in deeper trouble after his meltdown in Paris against Dominic Thiem.
Nadal, who beat Wawrinka there for his Decima, withdrew from tournaments to safeguard his knees.
Uncertainty has gripped the game again, which will lend Wimbledon added edge when the first ball is struck on 3 July.
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