LONDON: The weather forecast for the championships is cloudy; it’s also a reflection of things on the ground. Wimbledon 2022 kicks off on Monday without Russian and Belarussian players and sans the currency of ranking points.
The men’s top-10 – world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev and compatriot Andrey Rublev are paying the prize for nationality and No. 2 Alexander Zverev is injured – looks significantly tapered. The women’s heft will be without last year’s semifinalist No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka, French Open semifinalist Daria Kasatkina and No. 20 Victoria Azarenka, all for reasons of flag and country.
Roger Federer, the eight-time champion, will miss the tournament for the first time since he debuted here 23 summers ago. The 40-yearold is pushing an ageing frame to get match fit after an injury enforced break of 12-months and counting. Naomi Osaka, a former No. 1, whose burgeoning business interests contrasts with her appearances on the tennis court. The Japanese will sit out of what she called an ‘exhibition’ because of her Achilles.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club took a stand on the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the ATP and WTA Tours hit back with the sharpest shot in the gunroom – the prize of points. While the target was the grass-court major, it is the players who’ve been hit the hardest – some more than others, unable even to defend their gains from 2021.
Matteo Berrettini, who made the final last year, could drop to No. 17 while Karolina Pliskova could go down to 18. Belarussian Sabalenka, with pickings of 780 from the tournament 12 months ago, could hold on to her top-10 position. It doesn’t augur well either for the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, who in four starts at Church Road has lost in the first-round thrice, including last year. It would be a hard one to swallow for the Greek, who finally appears to have found his grass-court shoes, should he better his best result here – a 4th-round showing in 2018 – this time.
Novak Djokovic won the first three Grand Slams last year before making the final in New York. Having earned just 360 points at the French Open earlier in June, the 35-year-old slipped from No. 1 to 3 in the rankings. The Serb’s vaccine stand saw him deported from Australia in January and casts a gloom on his participation in the US Open in the autumn. “I can’t say I agree to ban Russian and Belarusian tennis players from competing indefinitely,” said Djokovic, dismissing the quandary of his own dipping graph. “They deserve to compete. None of them has supported any war.”
It’s on that ambiguous footing, that the championships celebrating the centenary of Centre Court in its current Church Road location – while also ushering in change with the first episode of the tournament without the middle-Sunday sabbath – kicks off. Djokovic, aiming for a seventh and fourth consecutive title at Wimbledon, begins his title defence against South Korean Soon-woo Kwon. Unlike at the French Open, the Wimbledon draw appears more breathable with Rafael Nadal, who is halfway to a calendar Slam, opening against Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo.
Iga Swiatek claimed her second Grand Slam title three weeks ago, equalling Venus Williams‘ 35-match winning streak, the longest on the WTA Tour this century. Should the Pole defeat Croatian qualifier Jana Fett in Tuesday’s first round, she’ll be the sole owner of the record.
At a time when the tennis world was trapped in a heated debate on points and policy, 23-time major winner champion Serena Williams made an announcement on social media. She wrote, ‘SW at SW19. It’s a date’. The 40-year-old, who hobbled out of the tournament last year, returned to action in Eastbourne last week, where she played doubles. Her assured vigour quickly became the talking point.
The American, who opens against Harmony Tan and could play Pliskova in the third-round, was asked what would be a ‘good outcome’ for her. “You know the answer to that,” a smiling Williams chided. “Come on now!”
Pour the cream over the strawberries. If there’s a grunt, there’s hope.