Wimbledon young guns take aim at gang of four
London: As Grigor Dimitrov celebrated his Queen`s Club title by blowing a kiss to girlfriend Maria Sharapova, the emerging Bulgarian star was already dreaming of an even greater achievement just down the road at Wimbledon.
After reigning supreme at the All England Club for over a decade, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and defending champion Andy Murray return to the grasscourt Grand Slam, which gets underway on Monday, widely expected to maintain their dominance.
Not since 2002, when Lleyton Hewitt took the title, has Wimbledon been won by someone outside of the sport`s current four super-powers.
The gulf is just as big at the other three majors, with only four of the last 42 Grand Slams won by someone other than those four.
But fans wanting to see some new talent at the top will be heartened by the emergence of a handful of candidates, spearheaded by Dimitrov, Japan`s Kei Nishikori and Canada`s Milos Raonic, who appear poised to push the old guard for the title.
Nishikori, 24, has the tenacity and desire to rise even higher than his current position of 12th in the rankings, a berth he achieved by winning the claycourt title in Barcelona in April in the midst of a fine run that also saw him reach the semi-finals in Miami and the final in Madrid.
Big-serving Raonic, 23, has the weapons to pose a threat on grass and the world number nine showcased his power game at Indian Wells earlier this year when he came from a set down to defeat Murray.
But the most highly-regarded of the trio is Dimitrov, a 23-year-old who is seen as the best bet to shatter the gang of four`s stranglehold on the sport`s top prizes.
Dimitrov`s dominant displays during the Wimbledon warm-up at Queen`s capped an impressive six months which has seen him rise to the fringes of the top 10 after becoming the first man since Federer and David Ferrer in 2012 to win titles on grass, clay and hard courts.
Dubbed `Baby Fed` as a teenager, Dimitrov has the perfect game for grass and believes he can upset the odds at Wimbledon.
"Wimbledon is special for me and it`s definitely on my list to win," he said.
"I`m going to have the chance to go out there and perform the best way I can."
Switzerland`s Stan Wawrinka was the most recent to break the big four`s Grand Slam monopoly earlier this year when he won the Australian Open.
Wawrinka rates Dimitrov, Nishikori and Raonic as the most likely candidates to break into that elite group, but he doesn`t expect any of them to overthrow the current regime just yet.
"This year was already really interesting with Raonic, Nishikori and Grigor. It`s really a good generation and they are going to be there for many years," Wawrinka said.
"The problem is now we still have Novak and Rafa winning everything, but in a few years you have to see how the ranking will change, if Raonic will be there, Dimitrov will be there, Nishikori also."
As one of the few practitioners of the fading art of serve and volley, Spain`s Feliciano Lopez, beaten by Dimitrov in the Queen`s final, is well positioned to rank the young guns` chances of causing a seismic shock at Wimbledon.
Like Wawrinka, he admires Dimitrov`s natural talent but remains uncertain if that will be enough to get the better of the leading contenders over the next fortnight.
"We have had 10 years with these animals at the top. It`s very tough to win the Grand Slams because Roger, Rafa, Nole, they win everything," Lopez said.
"For Grigor, it`s maybe a little bit early, but he almost beat Rafa in Australia so he`s getting close.
"I think he can be a Grand Slam champion in the future."