Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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As the extraordinary comebacks by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal continue to gather pace, might their finest hour be yet to come? With the Swiss and the Spaniard having already contested this year’s Australian Open and Miami Open finals, it is by no means fanciful to speculate on the possibility of their crossing swords again in the climax to The Championships in three months’ time.
Having met in the Wimbledon finals of 2006, 2007 and 2008, Federer and Nadal have the chance to become only the second pair of men in All England Club history to play one another in four finals of the Gentlemen’s Singles. The feat has not been achieved since Wilfred Baddeley and Joshua Pim played in four successive finals from 1891 to 1894.
Until three months ago it seemed that Federer and Nadal had their best years behind them. The two men ended their 2016 seasons early because of injury – Federer did not compete again after losing to Milos Raonic in the semi-finals at The Championships while Nadal played his last tournament in Shanghai in October – but both have made splendid starts to 2017.
Federer, who has lost just one of his first 20 matches of the new campaign, has won the Australian Open and the Masters 1000 titles at both Indian Wells and Miami. Nadal has lost in each of his three finals but is now entering his favourite period of the year on clay and then on grass.
While the clay-court season will be Nadal’s focus over the next 10 weeks, Federer admits that The Championships are now his biggest goal. The Swiss does not plan to enter any clay-court tournaments before the French Open, which begins on 28 May.
Federer and Nadal are one of six pairs of players who have contested the Gentlemen’s Singles final at The Championships three times. Federer appears twice on the list, having also played Andy Roddick in the final three times, winning in 2004, 2005 and 2009.
In the last 100 years the only other pair who have contested three Gentlemen’s Singles finals are Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, the Swede having beaten the German in 1988 and 1990 but lost to his great rival in 1989.
William Renshaw, like Federer, has met two different opponents three times in finals, having beaten his twin brother Ernest to claim the title in 1882, 1883 and 1889 and Herbert Lawford in 1884, 1885 and 1886. Laurie Doherty, meanwhile, beat Frank Riseley to become champion in 1903, 1904 and 1906.
Baddeley and Pim, however, are the only pair who went on to contest four finals. Like Federer and Nadal more than a century later, they were by common consent the finest players of their day.
Arthur Wallis Myers, one of the most respected tennis writers of his time, wrote in “Lawn Tennis at Home and Abroad” in 1923: “For all-round excellence, off the ground and on the volley, for accuracy and severity combined, and for equal proficiency in doubles and singles, these two players have never been quite equalled.”
Baddeley, who was lightly built and extremely quick, had a reputation for getting more balls back than most. Relentlessly accurate, he rarely made mistakes, though he lacked the power of some of his rivals.
Aged just 19 years and 174 days when he won the first of his three Gentlemen’s Singles titles, Baddeley held the record as the youngest men’s champion until Boris Becker won in 1985 at the age of 17 years and 227 days.
Three years older than Baddeley, Pim was one of a great generation of Irish players that included Willoughby Hamilton (champion in 1890), Harold Mahony (champion in 1896), Lena Rice (Ladies’ Singles champion in 1890) and Frank Stoker (twice a Gentlemen’s Doubles champion).
Pim had excellent ground strokes and liked to play mostly from the baseline, but was equally effective at the net. The Irishman was a master of the drop shot and the lob, with stop volleys and sliced lobs his particular specialities.
Myers considered Baddeley the more consistent performer but Pim the better player. “His game was of the severe type yet executed with such ease and nonchalance as to give the impression that he was taking no interest whatever in the proceedings,” Myers wrote.
“His volleying was remarkable for its great variety, combining great power and crispness with the softest and most delicate strokes. He could drop the hardest drives short over the net and well out to the sides, a most elegant and effective manner of dealing with them.”
While both men were fine players, the task of winning the title was much less burdensome than it has become for the likes of Federer and Nadal, who from a field of 128 need to win seven matches to become champion.
There were only 22 entries when Baddeley and Pim made their second appearances at The Championships in 1891 - numbers had fallen from a high of 60 in 1880 - and both men had to win only three matches to reach the All-Comers’ Final.
Pim, who played that year with a hand injury which he had sustained when falling out of a car, came back from two sets down to beat Harry Barlow in the quarter-finals but was no match for Baddeley in the final, losing 4-6, 6-1, 5-7, 0-6. Until 1921 the winner of the All-Comers’ Final would meet the returning champion in the Challenge Round to determine the champion, but in 1891 Hamilton was unable to defend his title because of illness.
Twelve months later Pim reached the All-Comers’ Final again, despite having only recently recovered from typhoid fever. He lost the first two sets against Ernest Lewis and survived two match points before winning 2-6, 5-7, 9-7, 6-3, 6-2. However, Baddeley again proved too strong for the Irishman in the Challenge Round, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.
Pim had an easier passage in 1893, beating Mahony 9-7, 6-3, 6-0 in the All-Comers’ Final, and in the Challenge Round he finally got the better of Baddeley, winning 3-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.
One year later it was Baddeley’s turn to coast through to the Challenge Round, crushing Lewis 6-0, 6-1, 6-0 in the All-Comers’ Final. Pim retained his title, beating Baddeley 10-8, 6-2, 8-6 in what proved to be his last appearance at The Championships. Baddeley returned for three more years and won the title once more, beating Wilberforce Eaves 4-6, 2-6, 8-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the All-Comers’ Final in 1895.
Baddeley and Pim have kept their place in the history books for 123 years. Might this summer be the time to place two new names alongside theirs?