Simon Reed

Federer favourite – but only just

Roger Federer on grass
If I was forced to pick a favourite for Wimbledon later this month, I would have to back Roger Federer — but there isn't much in what will be one of the closest contests in recent years.

Obviously it's all going to be about the top four in the men's draw, although I think now Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can make a case for himself to be listed among the contenders.

Tsonga's problem was always his consistency and he has steadily improved that year-on-year, month-by-month. He is constantly developing, physically as well as mentally, and he is a better player than the one who played the match of his life against Federer at last year's Wimbledon.

Tsonga is a strange one in that he is quicker, more agile, stronger and altogether a better athlete now than he was as a 20-year-old; the Tsonga of today would beat the one who reached the 2008 Australian Open final.

But the top four — or the top three, rather — are still the best placed to challenge, and this year it's going to be a tough one to call.

There is no doubting that Novak Djokovic has raised the bar over the past two years — a challenge that, after struggling initially, Rafael Nadal and Federer have risen to. I'll talk about Andy Murray later.

Nadal obviously has the incredible mental and physical strength to step up a gear, but — despite being in his 30s now — Federer's ability to somehow raise his game, improve his physical and mental resistance, is quite amazing.

Furthermore, Federer is in wonderful form once more, which is some way to respond to fears that Djokovic's ascendance had neutralised the Swiss Master's threat. He is as close to a grass-court specialist as one can get these days as, despite the modern grass surface being less distinct than in the past, he just loves Wimbledon and is always able to show his best tennis in SW19.

However, I wouldn't put any money on Fed winning Wimbledon this year. While Djokovic has been unable to repeat his incredible 2011 run, he is still the best player on the Tour and has all the weapons to retain his title.

Nadal, meanwhile, is back to nearly the top of his game. Of course he is less comfortable on grass than both Federer and Djokovic, but he will be confident, hungry and determined after his seventh Roland Garros triumph.

You can't discount Murray either. The Briton seems to have improved under the tutelage of Ivan Lendl, although unfortunately he was not able to bring in his new coach quickly enough: when Djokovic dragged men's tennis up a level, Murray was not able to catch up as quickly as Nadal and Federer.

That is why he turned to Lendl and, in the short-term at any rate, Lendl appears to be seeking to focus all of Murray's attentions on Grand Slams.

As a result we have seen the unusual scenario where Murray — usually so consistent in the Tour and Masters events — has taken his eye off that ball and thus appears to have gone off the boil; the reality is that he is rightly looking beyond the events he would so easily win, instead using them as preparation for the big ones.

I don't think Murray's early exit from Queen's is a problem — he lost a match on the finer margins to a Nicolas Mahut who played exceptionally well. All the big names struggled to an extent at Queen's and Halle, and I think they will all use the time to practise on grass and recharge their batteries for Wimbledon.