LONDON: For the first time since 2011, the top four men’s seeds have reached the Wimbledon last-16 with Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal taking centre-stage on ‘Manic Monday’.
The four stars have shared the Wimbledon title since 2003 when Federer won the first of his seven trophies at the All England Club.
Djokovic has claimed three with defending champion Murray and Nadal winning two apiece.
Murray, who has battled hip pain, is the only one of the ‘Big Four’ to have dropped a set in the first week.
He faces unpredictable Frenchman Benoit Paire who is in the last-16 for the first time.
Paire once declared that Wimbledon “displeases me greatly” after a first round loss and was famously kicked off the French Olympic team last year in Rio.
“He has very good hands, moves well, takes a lot of chances, goes for his shots,” said Murray who has a 1-0 career lead over Paire and has not lost before the quarter-finals since 2006.
Djokovic takes a 1-0 career edge over unseeded Adrian Mannarino of France into his clash, with that win coming at Wimbledon in straight sets in the second round last year.
Former coach Boris Becker praised Djokovic for his first week performances after fears that the Serb had lost his love for the sport after surrendering all four Grand Slam titles he held last year.
“Boris is right when he says that the passion is back,” said second seed Djokovic.
– Federer faces ‘natural heir’ –
Federer bidding for a record eighth Wimbledon title faces Grigor Dimitrov boasting a 5-0 record over the man once tipped as his natural heir.
“It’s a great day to play. I would be happy to be a fan,” said Federer of a day when all last-16 matches in the men’s and women’s events are played.
Federer is in the fourth round for the 15th time.
Nadal, fresh from a 10th French Open title, faces fellow left-hander Gilles Muller, who is looking to make the quarter-finals for the first time in seven years.
Nadal has a 5-1 record over Muller although the Luxembourg grass court specialist beat him at Wimbledon in 2005.
The title as well as the world number one spot are up for grabs in the women’s tournament which remains wide open in the absence of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
Angelique Kerber, the runner-up to Williams last year, could lose the top spot to either Simona Halep or even Karolina Pliskova despite the Czech having been knocked out in the second round.
The German tackles 2015 runner-up Garbine Muguruza having survived a three-set scare to see off Shelby Rogers in the third round.
– ‘How the hell did I do that?’ –
In contrast, Muguruza has sailed into the last 16 without dropping a set, a run which has even surprised herself.
“I never feel that comfortable on grass. Every time I start the grass season, I’m like, How the hell I did that final?,” said the 2016 French Open champion.
Muguruza holds a 4-3 career lead over Kerber, having won all of the last four meetings including in the Wimbledon fourth round two years ago.
Victoria Azarenka, bidding to become the first mother to win Wimbledon in 37 years, faces Romanian second seed Simona Halep.
Former world number one and two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka is playing in her first Grand Slam since giving birth to son Leo in December.
She made the semi-finals in 2011 and 2012 while Halep was in the last-four three years ago.
In all, the women’s last-16 features seven Grand Slam winners and seven playing in the Wimbledon fourth round for the first time.
Two of those new faces are the bookmakers’ new favourite Johanna Konta, the British sixth seed, and France’s 21st seed Caroline Garcia who face each other.
Konta is looking to be the first British woman in the quarter-finals in 33 years.
If she and Murray win it will be the first time since 1973 that a British man and woman have made the fourth round in the same year.
French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and Elina Svitolina face off in another duel of first-timers while another battle of last-16 debutantes sees Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova facing Petra Martic of Croatia.
Martic is the last qualifier but the 135-ranked player has already made the fourth round at the French Open this year after also coming through the qualifying event.
Old stagers Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2012 runner-up, tackles former French and US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Five-time champion Venus Williams, 37, faces 19-year-old Croatian Ana Konjuh who was born six months after the American made her debut in 1997.