"It doesn't seem right to me," Rafael Nadal told a Spanish TV station this week, when asked about the Wimbledon seedings. "It is a little bit surprising to be honest," chimed Novak Djokovic later that afternoon.

You can understand why both men might be a little touchy about Wimbledon's grass court formula, which performs a surface-specific tweak of the world rankings. It also gave Federer a slight helping hand by seeding him at No2 for the draw.

Aged 32 and 33 respectively, Djokovic and Nadal could never have imagined that Federer would still be on the scene as he approaches his 38th birthday, let alone leading the standings for most titles won in 2019. In the great race to finish atop the Grand Slam winners' chart, they must have imagined that they would be chasing a stationary target by now.

Neither should anyone be taken in by Nadal's comments in Paris, when he was asked about overtaking Federer's 20 majors, and replied that he was not particularly bothered about the big picture.


"You cannot be thinking 'one more' otherwise you want a bigger house, a new boat, an even prettier girlfriend."

It is a relatable sentiment, but not a particularly credible one, especially when you consider that Nadal is arguably the greatest competitor in the history of sport. You never even see him in the players' lounge without a board game on the go.

Of course Nadal wants to win, and that is exactly as it should be. The Grand Slam derby is the ultimate sporting marathon, played out over 16 years in every kind of conditions. It cannot just be shrugged away, let alone by someone who was born with ambition in their very marrow.

It may well be that Federer entered his final item on the list when he won the 2018 Australian Open, so moving his tally to a nice round figure.

Almost 18 months on, his perch atop the mountain must now feel a touch vulnerable.

Nadal's 12th title in Paris, which he sealed three weeks ago, left him with 18 — the first time that he has moved to within two of Federer's total since he won his first French Open in 2005. And then there is Djokovic, another few fences back in the steeplechase on 15 majors, but frighteningly full of running.

Many good judges believe that Djokovic will prevail in the end, through sheer staying power.

He is certainly the favourite this fortnight, having won three of the last four slams before Dominic Thiem finally stopped him at Roland Garros. Few are backing anyone from outside this gilded trio to win Wimbledon this summer, given that they have shared the past 10 major titles.


But Federer deserves consideration, too.

When he keeps his first-serve percentage around 70 per cent, and the temperature rises towards 25C, his opponents might as well sit down during his service games for all the joy they are going to have.

If Wimbledon 2019 has the potential to deliver one more Federer fanfare, then the same applies to that other giant with a 1981 birthday: Serena Williams.

These two tennis legends have won more matches at majors than anyone else in the Open era: 347 to Federer and 337 to Williams. But as we move towards next year's Olympiad, they both feel like they are approaching the farewell tour stage.

Billie Jean King suggested this week that Williams might give herself a better chance of winning a 24th major — and thus equalling Margaret Court's all-time record — ; if she committed all her focus to the game. "She's got business, a baby, she's trying to help gender equality," King said. "I would like to see her put everything else aside from [tennis]."

Williams' draw might be unkind, with defending champion Angelique Kerber and world No1 Ashleigh Barty floating around in the same quarter.

But do not count out the GOAT when the season's biggest title is on the line. Wimbledon 2019 feels like it could be a vintage summer for the old guard.