Novak Djokovic has Roger Federer’s record of eight Wimbledon titles as well as a 24th Major in his sights as he closes in on a first calendar Grand Slam in 54 years.
Fresh from breaking out of a tie with Rafael Nadal to win his 23rd Slam at the French Open, the 36-year-old Djokovic will comfortably be the overwhelming favourite at the All England Club when he starts his title defence on Monday.
With a 10th Australian Open and third Roland Garros already wrapped up this season, an eighth Wimbledon triumph would leave Djokovic needing just the US Open in September to emulate Rod Laver’s sweep of all four men’s singles Majors in 1969, and the first singles player since Steffi Graf in 1988.
“He takes your legs, then he takes your soul, then he digs your grave and you have a funeral and you’re dead. Bye-bye. Thank you for coming,” said coach Goran Ivanisevic when asked to caption the Serb’s Grand Slam mindset.
Djokovic has won the title on his last four visits to Wimbledon and has not lost on Centre Court since the 2013 final.
“When I enter Centre Court, it just awakens something in me and I’m able to perform at a very high level,” said Djokovic who opens his campaign on Monday against 67th-ranked clay-court specialist Pedro Cachin.
“Grass courts are the rarest surface we have in the sport, which is contrary to what you had maybe 40, 50, 60 years ago where you played three out of four Slams were played on grass.
“It does take time – more than any other surface – to really get used to it. But I think in the past 10 years of my career, I’ve adapted very quickly. I think the results here are a testament to that.”
Djokovic’s 86 match wins at Wimbledon are only bettered by the now retired Federer and are more than the rest of the current top 20 put together.
Of those players, only two – Cameron Norrie and Hubert Hurkacz – have made the semi-finals of Wimbledon.
Among his top five rivals, not one has got beyond the last 16. Two-time champion Nadal is sitting out the rest of the year through injury.
A 24th major for Djokovic would take him level with Margaret Court for the most singles Grand Slam titles won by one player.
World No 1 Carlos Alcaraz will be Djokovic’s biggest threat, especially as the young Spaniard now has a first grass-court title in his collection after his win at Queen’s last weekend.
However, Alcaraz conceded key ground by admitting that the stress and tension of facing Djokovic in the semi-final at the French Open caused cramping that sparked his defeat.
‘Like a Ninja’
Ivanisevic described Djokovic as “unbelievable”.
“He’s still moving like a cat on the court. He’s there. Like a Ninja, he’s everywhere. He’s going to find some kind of motivation to win 24, maybe 25, who knows where is the end.”
Not surprisingly, Alcaraz has attempted to shift all the focus onto Djokovic.
“I saw that Djokovic has never lost a match on Centre Court since 2013 when he lost against Andy Murray – so it’s 10 years. It’s crazy,” said Alcaraz who made the last 16 in 2022.
“But I hope to have the crowd behind me to change that stat.”
Moscow-born Elena Rybakina was the shock women’s champion in 2022.
Her decision to switch allegiance to Kazakhstan in 2018 proved to be a wise move when all Russian players were banned last year.
Her chances of successfully defending her title have suffered a setback with her failure to shake off a virus which forced an early withdrawal from the French Open.
World No 1 and four-time major winner Iga Swiatek, who is looking for a first Wimbledon title to add to her US and French Open crowns, has yet to progress beyond the last 16.
The 22-year-old Pole made the semi-finals of a grass-court tournament for the first time this week at Bad Homburg in Germany before suspected food poisoning forced her to withdraw.
“Your brain has to kind of feel the ball is bouncing lower,” said Swiatek when asked to summarise the challenges of playing on grass.
“You can’t think about things like that during the match. So I think this year, it’s going to be a bit easier for me to use my intuition more.”
World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, banned last year because of her country’s support for Russia in the war in Ukraine, made the semi-finals in 2021.
“I didn’t watch Wimbledon a lot last year,” said the Australian Open champion.
“I felt so bad and I just couldn’t watch it. Every time if Wimbledon would be on TV, I would cry.”
Sentimental votes for a potential women’s champion will be cast for 43-year-old five-time winner Venus Williams as well as 2011 and 2014 champion Petra Kvitova, the only player in the top 10 over 30.