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What will it take to beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon?

This year in tennis has belonged to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have dominated the ATP World Tour and split the first two Grand Slam singles titles. But given Nadal's exhausting, if glorious, Euroclay season and his poor recent record at Wimbledon, it appears that Federer will be the logical -- and sentimental -- favorite to win a historic 19th Grand Slam singles title.

"This winter, Federer was playing the best I've ever seen him," ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert told ESPN.com. The former coach of Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick added, "Add in the dip taken by [No. 1 ranked] Andy Murray and [No. 4] Novak Djokovic and you have a one-two punch that nobody expected."

Hard to believe, but it's been five years since Roger Federer won his last Wimbledon title. Joachim Sielski/Bongarts/Getty Images
Whether it's by default or because of Federer's sheer brilliance, the question of the moment is not, "Can Federer win his eighth title at the All-England Club?" but "What will it take to beat Federer at Wimbledon?" Since 2008, the year No. 2 seed Nadal beat Federer in that epic Wimbledon final, only five men have taken Federer's measure in SW19: Tomas Berdych (2010), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2011), Sergiy Stakhovsky (2013), Djokovic (2014, 2015) and Milos Raonic (2016).

The outlier in that group is Stakhovsky, who's 31 years old and has never been ranked inside the top 30. The rest, with the exception of Djokovic, are guys who can take the racket out of anyone's hand with blistering serves and powerful forehands. The outlier's secret in his second-round win? At the time when the baseline game was in flood tide, Stakhovsky approached the net 96 times.

"He was uncomfortable to play against," Federer acknowledged in his postmatch news conference that day.

"He served and volleyed really well. It was difficult to get into that much rhythm against a player like that." That opens the door on a number of ways Federer might be stopped at Wimbledon. Here they are:

Get to him early

"You can't win the tournament in the first week, but you sure can lose it," Gilbert said, making the point that for the contenders, every major is really two tournaments. There's the first week, when the goal is survival and avoiding complacency. Then in the second week, when it's all about focus and dialing in an A-game. Nobody knows this better than Nadal, who's been ambushed in the first week of Wimbledon by a journeyman a surreal three of the last four times he's played.

An increasing number of players are willing to roll the die and play attacking tennis these days, and even the baseliners are more inclined to play first-strike tennis. That adds up to a Week 1 warning sign.

Find the Federer serve

In Gilbertese, Federer is one of the "all-time great dime servers." Translation: He may not hit many aces, but he can hit a dime almost anywhere you put it in the service box. The player who can handle that serve can deny him control. It's one reason Djokovic has proven to be such a troublesome rival, besting Federer in two Wimbledon finals after losing a semi to him in 2012.

Julien Benneteau almost entered the lore and legend of Wimbledon tennis in 2012, when he returned beautifully to win the first two sets from Federer in their fourth-round match. Federer recovered, though. Would he dig himself out as easily five years later, at age 35?

Disrupt his rhythm

As much as Federer has ramped up his attacking game, he's still not a serve-and-volley player. The boiler room of his game is the forehand and that improved backhand. Players like Dustin Brown, Benoit Paire and Fabio Fognini, among others, have the kind of arrhythmic games that can do a lot of damage on grass, especially if the weather is cool and wet. A low-bounce, slow court would inhibit Federer's offense.

Make the passing shots

It was clear in Federer's matches at Halle last week that he's still in attack mode. That means an ambitious opponent must be ready to hit passing shots -- an art that has been neglected in recent years on the tour. Great serve-and-volleyers like Stefan Edberg, Pat Cash and John McEnroe were accustomed to being passed a lot. Federer isn't of that breed and a few whistling passes could divert him from an offensive game plan.

Take away the Federer return

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, which is why a player having an epic day at the service line on a grass court can beat anyone. That's a sure way to deny Federer the use of one of his greatest assets, the serve return. Federer may not clock stone-cold winners or really get an opponent on his back heel with the return. It's more of a set-up shot for his superb forehand and, now, more dangerous backhand.

Grant him a good look at a return and he immediately levels or claims the edge in a point. Handcuffing him with body serves, getting great angles, kicking high to the backhand on a dry, hot day. . . all those things can hamper his return game. But nothing works better than popping aces like an ATM machine spitting out twenties. In the 2011 quarterfinals, Tsonga came back from two sets down to win in five without allowing Federer a look at a break point in the final three sets.

As Federer said: "He [Tsonga] just continued serving great, which for me was important [because I needed] to get at least a couple of chances. But the chances were slim. He only needed a couple of breaks to end up bringing it home. So he did a really good job doing that."

Attack the attacker

You can call it the Stakhovsky ploy, but a number of players have employed it successfully against the elite. Mischa Zverev upset top-seeded Murray in the fourth round of the Australian Open this year mainly because he attacked the net 118 times in the four-set match, and used his slice backhand to slow the tempo as well as to set up his net approach. A pro who has those tools should let it rip the Zverev way, at least on a day when he's right on top of his game.

The one-two punch Gilbert cited puts Federer in the driver's seat. But let's not forget the resurgent Nadal played five consecutive Wimbledon finals until things went hinky in 2011. Given the way he's playing, there's no reason we couldn't see a back-to-the-future Federer vs. Nadal final.

"I have two favorites, Federer and a guy who I won't be able to name until I see the draw," Gilbert said. "It could be Nadal, if he can get through the first week." Indeed. The way Nadal is playing, it's more accurate to saw tennis was dealt an unexpected one-two-three punch this year. Feels good, right?

Source: http://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/19751787/wimbledon-2017-take-beat-roger-federer-wimbledon

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