Wimbledon, the only Grand Slam to be cancelled in the pandemic-interrupted 2020, will return as usual with the pristine grass courts and white outfits. But it will still be very different this year. In the last two years, the contenders and competition has been drastically altered.
Top seed and men’s defending champion Novak Djokovic enters as the overwhelming favourite on the cusp of reaching a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam. Women’s defending champion Simona Halep is missing due to injury while top seed Ashleigh Barty is coming off an injury withdrawal at French Open.
The runners-up in 2019 – Roger Federer and Serena Williams – are still out there among top seeds, but neither 39-year-old is being seen as a genuine challenger despite their grass-court pedigree. Meanwhile, none of the rising stars can be picked as a certain contender given their lack of consistent grass-court exploits.
This state of affairs essentially sums up what to look forward to in the men’s and women’s draw at the year’s third Grand Slam. A red-hot favourite among the men and no clear contender among the women.
Can Djokovic be stopped?
Djokovic is targeting a sixth Wimbledon title which will bring him tantalisingly closer to becoming only the third man in history to complete a calendar Grand Slam.
The world No 1 has already won a ninth Australian Open and second French Open this season, the latter making him the first man in the Open era to win each Major twice. That has put him halfway to emulating Don Budge (1937) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) in sweeping all four Majors in the same year. It is a feat even his closest rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have never managed. Additionally, he can also equal the record of 20 Majors held jointly by Federer and Nadal.
As things stand, Djokovic is seemingly invincible now and none of the current competitors have the ability to beat him across five sets when he is in form.
Nadal, the champion in 2008 and 2010, has already withdrawn to protect his body. Andy Murray, the 2013 and 2016 champion, will hope for national sentiment and his own grit to make a deep run but the injury-plagued former world No 1 is down at 119 in the rankings and has won just two matches all season.
Eight-time winner Federer, meanwhile, will be 40 in August and won just one match on grass at Halle in the build-up. Normally, he would be a favorite here but the sixth seed, who underwent two knee surgeries in 2020, has barely played in the last two years.
He showed signs of his vintage rhythm in the first two rounds of the French Open but withdrew after a marathon third-round that he scraped through on sheer grit. If, by some reserve, the Swiss star manages to make a deep run on his pet surface, he will have to get past Djokovic to whom he has lost three finals at the All England Club.
The rest of the current top 10 have endured relatively mediocre Wimbledon records.
Only 33-year-old Roberto Bautista Agut, a surprise semi-finalist two years ago, has reached further than the last 16. Dominic Thiem has withdrawn due to a wrist injury. Alexander Zverev had a best last-16 run in 2017 but was a first-round loser two years ago while Andrey Rublev has yet to get past the second round.
World No 2 Daniil Medvedev has made only the third round but will be boosted by a first grass court title in Mallorca. French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini are the other potential disruptors.
Tsitsipas made the last 16 in 2018 before exiting in the first round two years ago. The Greek, however, is one of the form players of 2021, winning titles in Monte Carlo and Lyon before forcing Djokovic to recover from two sets down in the Roland Garros final.
Queen’s Club champion Matteo Berrettini is also a potential firecracker on grass. The Italian made the last 16 in 2019 where it took Federer to stop his progress. He was also the first man to win the Queen’s title on debut since Boris Becker in 1985.
Can there be an expected women’s Grand Slam champion?
The women’s draw has no clear favourite and a vast bunch of potential champions.
World No 1 Barty has not played a warm-up tournament but says she has recovered from the hip injury which forced her to withdraw from the French Open. The 25-year-old has the added motivation of it being the 50th anniversary of fellow indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley won the first of her two Wimbledon titles. Barty – who won the junior Wimbledon title in 2011 but has never reached further than the fourth round – will open on Centre Court in absence of defending champion Halep.
Barbora Krejcikova is the form player after her surprise triumph in the French Open.
Grass, though, is a foreign surface to the 25-year-old Czech but she has done her research having discussed it both with her late compatriot and former coach Jana Novotna (Wimbledon champion in 1998) and legend Martina Navratilova.
The WTA grass court champions this year are Johanna Konta (she was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon 2021 due to coronavirus close contact), Liudmila Samsonova, Ons Jabeur, Jeļena Ostapenko and Angelique Kerber. While both Ostapenko (a Grand Slam champion) and Kerber, who won Wimbledon in 2018, are extremely erratic, they could be the players to watch out for. A dark horse could be American teenager Coco Gauff. Two years ago, she lit up the 2019 tournament both as a 15-year-old qualifier, beating Venus Williams and reaching the last 16.
The sentimental favourite will be Serena, who reached the last two finals but failed to cross the line in sensational collapses. She looked to be settled in a good rhythm at Roland Garros but a fourth round loss to Elena Rybakina showed just how much age has impacted her game. But given the surface and Serena’s powerful game, an eighth Wimbledon crown can not be counted out.
Former champions Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza, Kerber, former junior champion Iga Swiatek, top-10 seeds Aryna Sabalenka, Sofia Kenin, Elina Svitolina can all be contenders. An unseeded or new champion is always possible in the wider than usual women’s draw, but perhaps the bigger surprise will be an expected champion.
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