With the dust hardly settled from the clay-court season, the gaze of the tennis world has already turned to Wimbledon for the third grand slam of the year.
The tournament, which gets underway on Monday, was wrapped in controversy weeks before a ball was due to be hit at SW19 with organizers banning Russian and Belarusian players amid the war in Ukraine.
That decision led the ATP and WTA Tours, the governing bodies of men’s and women’s tennis, to strip this year’s Wimbledon of ranking points, but that hasn’t deterred the world’s best players from taking part.
Indeed, Serena Williams is scheduled to make a return to grand slam tennis after a year-long absence from the sport. This week, she has been competing in the women’s doubles event at Eastbourne alongside Ons Jabeur, although the pair had to withdraw from the tournament semifinals after Jabeur picked up a knee injury.
With so little match experience, it’s difficult to predict how the 23-time grand slam champion will fare at Wimbledon, where French Open champion Iga Swiatek, currently on a 35-match unbeaten streak, is arguably the favorite to win the women’s singles title.
In the men’s draw, Rafael Nadal has a chance to equal Williams’ tally of 23 grand slam titles, but he is set to face fierce competition from top seed Novak Djokovic, who is looking to win his fourth consecutive title at Wimbledon.
Williams told CNN earlier this year that she is “not giving up” on her pursuit of a 24th grand slam title, but her Wimbledon participation has nevertheless come as a surprise.
The 40-year-old, granted a wild card entry for the tournament, will face France’s Harmony Tan in the first round.
Despite grass not being her favored surface, world No. 1 Swiatek’s supreme form so far this year makes her well-placed to win a third grand slam title and her first at Wimbledon – though she did win the girls’ championship in 2018. She faces Croatian qualifier Jana Fett in the first round.
Ashleigh Barty’s retirement from tennis earlier this year means there will be no defending champion in the women’s draw, but previous Wimbledon champions Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza, and Angelique Kerber are among the top 16 seeds.
On the men’s side, the top two players in the world rankings will be absent – Daniil Medvedev due to the ban on Russian players and Alexander Zverev due to a long-term injury sustained at the French Open.
That means few would look past Nadal and Djokovic for this year’s title, with the Spaniard looking to win his third consecutive grand slam title.
Nadal’s participation at Wimbledon looked uncertain after he revealed the extent of his ongoing foot injury at the French Open, relying on daily injections in order to get through the tournament.
But ahead of Wimbledon, he said he hasn’t limped for a week, adding that “day to day, the pain has been different and that’s progress.” He will make his first appearance at the tournament in three years against Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo.
Djokovic, meanwhile, could move one grand slam title behind Nadal if he triumphs at SW19. In doing so, he would become the fourth man in the Open Era to win four consecutive Wimbledon titles after Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg.
If the draw progresses according to seeding, Djokovic and Nadal will meet each other in the Wimbledon final for the second time.
Other contenders for the men’s title include Matteo Berrettini – last year’s finalist who triumphed at Queen’s Club this week – French Open finalist Casper Ruud and fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.
An added incentive for players at Wimbledon this year is the increase in prize money to £40,350,000 (around $49,400,000) – a 15.2% increase on last year. The winners of the men’s and women’s singles finals, which take place on July 9 and 10, will each earn £2 million (around $2,450,000).
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, it will also be the first time in three years that the tournament can be held at full capacity.
Another piece of history has already been made at Wimbledon after players were permitted to practice on the show courts ahead of the tournament for the first time.
With several players slipping on the surface last year, the decision enables players to get used to the conditions and help bed in the courts, according to organizers.
For viewers in the United States, Wimbledon will be aired on ESPN and the Tennis Channel, while the BBC and Eurosport will broadcast action for UK viewers.
A full list of broadcasters for countries around the world is available here.