Wimbledon Preview – Top Ten Questions

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Bill Simons

Can tennis get any crazier? The No. 1 male player in the world, Daniil Medvedev, can’t play Wimbledon – he’s Russian. The No. 2 male player, Alexander Zverev, isn’t in the draw either. He’s recovering from ankle surgery. The foremost grass court player of our era, Roger Federer, who reached the quarterfinals last year, is approaching 41, but is still healing in his Swiss villa. This season’s ATP Player of the Year, Rafa Nadal, recently was on crutches and is also recovering from surgery.

The No. 3 seed, Casper Ruud, who has never won a Wimbledon match, admitted he was afraid of falling and when you “push off from the corners, you feel you are ruining the court and it’s not a nice feeling.”

The women’s defending champion, 26-year old Ash Barty, is a golf-playing retiree. Just half of the splash sisters (Venus and Serena) will be on hand. And the GOAT hasn’t played a singles match in a year and is ranked No. 1204. The WTA’s surging No. 1, young Iga Swiatek, has won only three matches at Wimbledon. The Pole has won 35 straight matches, but still is a bit suspect on grass and hasn’t played a warm-up tourney. No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia lost in the first round of the French, hasn’t played since then, and last year at Wimbledon fell in the first round.

So, many Wimbledon questions abound. Here are ten. 

1. SERENA’S BACK: After her first match in a year, a successful doubles outing in Eastbourne, Williams confided that her year-long battle with her hamstring injury had been tough. “Was there a moment when I thought I would not be able to play tennis again?” she mused. “Absolutely – for sure. I would be dishonest if I said it wasn’t. After I couldn’t play New York – I just went, just cold turkey of not working out, and it felt good. I gave myself a timeline of a year so I gave myself enough time to be here and to be playing.” Perhaps the most feared unseeded player in WTA history, Serena has a good but not a great draw. She’ll first play France’s Harmony Tan, No. 113, and then could face Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo before a possible-third round face-off with last year’s finalist, Karolina Pliskova. Coco Gauff or Amanada Anisimova might then await her. If Serena does survive, she could face Swiatek in the semis.

2. IS NOLE OK? Last year Novak left his beloved Wimbledon as a bright star in ascendance. With commanding ease, tennis’ alpha male had downed Matteo Berrettini in the final to win his third major in a row. He seemed poised to become the first man in 52 years to win a calendar Slam. 

Who knew defeat and turmoil would follow? Daniil Medvedev would crush him in the US Open final and he’d be detained for six days in Australia. What other tennis player has ever been at the epicenter of such an international controversy? There were some who applauded Nole, calling his stance a gutsy, principled move. Others wondered if a superstar had ever so self-destructed. Novak won in Rome, but something seemed missing in Paris. Rafa took it to him in the quarters.

After 373 weeks on top, the Serb lost his No. 1 ranking. So has he somehow lost a touch of belief and a certain swagger? Early in the clay court season, Novak spoke of his extended struggles, saying, “This was something that was completely unexpected. So it did take a toll on me, more mentally…I felt I wasn’t myself…[a] bit more nervous…more of a defensive mode…I was just trying to figure things out…I was kind of holding myself a little bit back.”  

But Nole hasn’t lost on Centre Court since 2013, and will be seeking his fourth Wimbledon in a row. No one’s done that since Federer in 2006, and Novak could equal Pete Sampras’s mark of seven Wimbledon titles. If successful, he’d be one shy of Federer’s Wimbledon record of eight wins.

The swift, balanced and precise Serb is the game’s best grass court player. Still, he will be feeling the  pressure. Unless US COVID guidelines change or there’s a surprise shift, he won’t be playing the US Open. But he has an inviting draw on the opposite side of Nadal and Berrettini. Novak starts against Korean Soonwoo Kwon and then could face Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis, Miomir Kechmanovic and Reilly Opelka en route to possible meetings with Carlos Alcaraz and Hubie Hurkacz. Can he four-peat? 

3. CAN RAFA SLAM? Aussie and French Open champion Nadal is still hoping to win the calendar Slam. But he’s dealing with one of the most infamous foot injuries in sports history. A few weeks ago he was hobbled and facing surgery. But we know the Spaniard almost celebrates his battles with pain. Rafa’s a two-time Wimbledon champion, but hasn’t reached a Wimbledon final in 11 years. Still, he’s reached the semis in his last two Wimbledon efforts. He didn’t play any warm-up tourneys, but he flattens out his forehand on grass and has so many weapons he can call on. He’ll likely play dangerous Sam Querrey in the second round and could face Marin Cilic in the fourth round.

4. A POLE APART? Twenty-one-year-old Iga Swiatek has forgotten just one thing: how to lose. The world No. 1, who dominated throughout the French Open, has been lights out at crunch time. She’s won six tourneys this year and is on an astonishing 35-match winning streak. Yes, she won the Wimbledon junior championship, but skeptics wonder whether grass is her thing. She’s played 135 clay and hard court matches and has a 77% winning record on them. She’s played just eight grass court matches and has a 50% record. Iga first plays No. 254 Jana Fett. She could play 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova in the fourth round and then possibly No. 8 Jessica Pegula in quarters. Can the Pole take advantage of a great draw and become the first woman to win the French and Wimbledon back-to-back since Serena in 2015?

5. RUSSIAN ROULETTE: How much impact will the absence of Russian and Belarusian players make? Maria Sharapova is the only player from those two countries to ever have won a Wimbledon singles crown. Still, the absence of so many top players (think Daniil Medevdev, Andrey Rublev, Karen Khachanov, Aslan Karatsev, Aryana Sabalenka, Daria Kasatikina, Victoria Azarenka and Veronika Kudermetova) will open up the draws, radically change the seeding and shift Wimbledon’s gravity. But how much? 

6. CONTENDERS AND LONG SHOTS: Matteo Berrettini had surgery on his right hand in March and is no longer with his former girlfriend, Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic. Oh, well, the hunky 2021 Wimbledon finalist rallied to win two straight tourneys on grass in Stuggart, where he beat Andy Murray, and in Queens. With his big serve, imposing forehand and growing confidence, he’s a fearsome force on grass. Over the past three seasons he’s 32-3 on the surface. Now is he ready to bring down the very best grass court players and claim his first major? To win he might have to get past Djokovic, Hurkacz and Nadal. 

No. 7 seed Hubie Hurkacz is another surging Pole. His serve has been on fire and he gained the Halle warm-up title by beating Felix Auger-Aliassime and Medvedev. Last year he beat Federer and Medvedev en route to the Wimbledon semis. He has improved and he’s more consistent. His draw is friendly – his serve and backhand are not. A Pole has never won Wimbledon. Could Poland possibly give us two this year? 

No. 4 seed Tsitsipas has been close to Slam glory four times, but has he really overcome his loss in the 2021 French Open finals? The vastly improved and powerful No. 5 seed Carlos Alcaraz has come so far, but he’s won just one Wimbledon match. Last year he was drubbed by Medvedev. He’ll first face veteran Jan-Leonard Struff. 

Surprise French Open semifinalist Marin Cilic has renewed his game and gained confidence. In 2017 he fell to Federer in the Wimbledon final. He’s reached the Wimbledon quarters four times and will first face Mackie McDonald. 

In the last four majors, Toni Nadal’s student Felix Auger-Aliassime has at least reached the fourth round. Last year’s Wimbledon quarterfinalist is knocking on the door. He’s just 21. His losses actually impress, but his Wimbledon draw is dreary. He first plays the dangerous Max Cressy and then could face qualifier Jack Sock. FAA loves grass and is 22-8 on the surface. 

Will No. 3 Ons Jabeur, the winner in Berlin, recover from the knee injury she suffered in Eastbourne and equal her run to the quarters in 2021? Will 30-year-old Simona Halep, now coached by Patrick Mouratoglou, reignite the championship mettle she used to stun Serena in the 2019 Wimbledon final? Unsung Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia was on a 13-match winning streak before losing in the Eastbourne semis. Former champions Petra Kvitova and 34-year-old Angie Kerber are long shots, as are Olympic champ Belinda Bencic, former US Open champ Bianca Andreescu, Spain’s Paula Bedosa, 2018 semifinalist Jelena Ostapenko, No. 5 seed Maria Sakkari and Alize Cornet.  

7. THE CURIOUS CASE OF NICK KYRGIOS: Martina Navratilova once said Lori McNeil “could lose in the first round or she could win the whole thing.” The same could apply to Mercurial Nick, who (presuming he overcomes the injury wobble he suffered in Mallorca and his mind and body don’t implode) could easily make a deep run. He’s had a great grass court season and he called himself a top 10, top 5 player on grass. In Halle he dismissed Tsitsipas with ease. While famous for his coming-of-age Wimbledon win over Rafa Nadal in 2014, the dangerous floater, who’s No. 45, recently fell to Hubie Hurkacz in the Halle final.

Nick is playing with determination and he’ll fill the stands. But can the big serving shotmaker again beat Tsitsipas if they meet in the third round and then go on to dazzle?

8. AMERICAN MEN: The US hasn’t had a male Wimbledon finalist since Andy Roddick in 2009. World No. 11 seed Taylor Fritz at last may be injury-free, and the Californian may have the best shot to make a deep run. He first faces the dangerous Italian Lorenzo Musetti. No. 15 seed Reilly Opelka won just four games against fellow American Max Cressy at Eastbourne, but is always a threat. 

Jenson Brooksby, No. 29, has had an up-and-down sophomore year. He did make the Newport finals on grass last year, but is just 1-2 in grass tuneups. Brooksby faces Kazakhstan veteran Mikhail Kukushkin. John Isner, who had a great Wimbledon run in 2018, is the last US male to reach a Grand Slam semi. He could have a popcorn match against Murray in the second round. Frances Tiafoe lost two close first-round grass court tune-ups. Tommy Paul has looked impressive with wins over Francisco Cerundolo and No. 13 Jannik Sinner. Marcos Giron beat former UCLA teammate Mackie McDonald and took a set off Tsitsipas at Eastbourne. Can an American guy make it to the second week?

9. AMERICAN WOMEN: Coco Gauff is still just 18. In Berlin, where she fell in the final to Jabeur, the Floridian was a match away from breaking into the top ten. Now No. 12, the French Open finalist has yet to lose in the first week of Wimbledon. Since making the Aussie Open final, No. 7 Danielle Collins has played only five tourneys. Wimbledon will be her only grass court event of the season. 

No. 8 Jessica Pegula has made the quarters or better at four of seven of the WTA 1000s and Slams this season, including the quarters at both the Aussie and French Opens. But she’s won only one Wimbledon match. Veteran Madison Keys made the quarters in 2015 and last year reached the fourth round. Can the 27-year-old equal her fine 2021 result? No. 25 Amanda Anisimova fell to Halep in the quarters at Bad Homburg.

Following a finals appearance in Nottingham, No. 28 Alison Riske dropped two quick first-round matches at Birmingham and Eastbourne. No. 30 Shelby Rogers made the finals of Hertogenbosch. French Open quarterfinalist Sloane Stephens opens up against unseeded Qinwen Zheng of China. 

10. BRITISH COOKING: The “one-hipped” Andy Murray is a wonder. Never mind that he’s not in the top fifty. The 35-year-old beat Tsitsipas and Kyygios en route to the Stuttgart final. Last year at Wimbledon he reached the third round. With the rabid Centre Court crowd behind him, could the veteran Scot reach the fourth round? 

At Wimbledon last year, Emma Raducanu did just that before she pulled out mid-match due to nerves. Then, without losing a set, she made her truly astounding US Open run. Since then, she’s scored a financial bonanza, but has struggled mightily with her tennis. Now No. 11, can the 19-year-old cook up a few wins on her home court?

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