As feared, defending Wimbledon champion Simona Halep has withdrawn from The Championships after being unable to recover from a calf tear injury sustained at the Italian Open in May.
Tendon issues don’t follow any specific blueprint on rest, recovery, rehabilitation - it’s basically just management. Sometimes it is sore when I play matches, sometimes it isn’t. It depends where it is, how acute it is at the time. I don’t look to expend any energy worrying about it. I know I’m doing the work. Jo Konta
The Romanian, who defeated Serena Williams to lift the Wimbledon title in 2019, had travelled to London earlier this week and was hoping to regain her fitness in time to defend her title but explained in a statement on social media: “It is with great sadness that I’m announcing my withdrawal from The Championships as my calf injury has not fully recovered.
“I gave it everything I had in order to be ready to play Wimbledon and, after having such special memories from 2 years ago, I was excited and honoured to step back on these beautiful courts as defending champion.
“Unfortunately, my body didn’t cooperate and I’ll have to save that feeling for next year.
“I can honestly say that I’m really down and upset about having to take this decision.
“This period has been difficult but to miss the last two Majors has made it even more challenging mentally and physically.
“We will see what the future holds but I’m hoping it will make me a stronger person and athlete.
“Thank you to everyone at Wimbledon for your understanding and support.”
The news broke just minutes ahead of the draw held at the All England Lawn Tennis Club on Friday morning.
Halep’s withdrawal follows that of 4-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, who pulled out of the French Open after citing struggles with depression and anxiety.
World No 1 Ashleigh Barty, who was forced to retire from her second-round match at Roland Garros with a hip injury, opens her campaign against Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, playing her final Wimbledon before retirement after recovering from cancer.
The 32-year-old Spaniard, who retired last year and was diagnosed with early-stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma, announced in April that she had been cured after treatment, and her comeback has been one of the tour’s most heart-warming stories.
Known for her one-handed backhand, Suarez Navarro is a former World No 6 and has reached the last-16 at Wimbledon three times.
It is a tricky draw for Barty, scheduled to play Russian Anna Blinkova or Hungarian Timea Babos in the second round, with a potentially dangerous outing against Sydney-born Brit Jo Konta, the 27th seed, in the third.
According to the seedings, Barty would then play the new surprise French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova in the last-16, No 5 seed Bianca Andreescu in the quarters, Serena Williams in the semis and Aryna Sabalenka in the final.
Krejcikova takes on Dane Clara Tauson, with the Czech star bidding to win the one Grand Slam singles title her late former coach and idol Jana Novotna won, in 1998.
The lower half of the top quarter is the most explosive of the draw, with Canada’s Andreescu facing a first-round rematch against Alizé Cornet, the wily Frenchwoman who won their meeting in Berlin a week ago.
Another recent reprise could determine Andreescu’s 3rd-round opponent, No 31 seed Daria Kasatkina from Russia and erstwhile junior rival, Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, are projected to meet in round two.
Ostapenko won the latest edition of their rivalry this week in Eastbourne, but will need to survive 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez from Canada in the 1st round to set up the rematch.
Whoever survives that section is projected to face either No 12 seed Victoria Azarenka from Belarus or No 24 seed Anett Kontaveit from Estonia in the last 16.
Serena Williams is seeking to equal Margaret Court’s Grand Slam record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles after missing out on equalling the mark on multiple occasions in recent years.
The 39-year-old American, seeded 6th, takes on Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus in the first round, and could play German Angelique Kerber, to whom she lost in the 2018 final, in the 3rd round.
Two of the 5 former Wimbledon champions in this year’s draw, Williams and Kerber are projected to clash in the third round in what would be a rematch of the 2016 and 2018 finals.
Kerber, the No 25 seed, who lost the final in 2016, opens against Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic.
Awaiting the winner in the 4th round could be either No 9 seed Belinda Bencic from Switzerland, fresh off a final run in Berlin, or American No 20 seed Coco Gauff, returning to the scene of her 2019 star-making turn at SW19.
Heading the second quarter and projected as a last-eight opponent is No 3 seed Elina Svitolina, who reached her maiden Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon in 2019.
The Ukrainian first needs to navigate a section including No 19 seed and Australian Open semi-finalist Karolina Muchova from the Czech Republic, and No 16 seed and Roland Garros runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia.
Petra Kvitova is the only former champion in the third quarter and, seeded 10, has landed a first-round encounter with 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens from the USA.
An intriguing 3rd round also looms for either Kvitova or Stephens against another American, No 22 seed Jessica Pegula, who reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open.
Liudmila Samsonova is a dangerous floater in this section after stunning the Berlin field a week ago with her no-holds-barred ‘boom boom’ tennis. The Russian was rewarded with a wild-card into Wimbledon, and could meet Pegula in the 2nd round.
The third quarter is headed No 4 Sofia Kenin, whose season record is just 10-9, and danger looms for the American as early as the 3rd round in the form of No 29 seed Veronika Kudermetova as the Russian’s 2021 record is 26-14, including a maiden WTA title in Charleston.
Karolina Pliskova, the No 8 seed, has suffered opening-round exits in both of her grass tune-ups this year, and starts against Roland Garros semi-finalist Tamara Zidansek from Slovenia.
The Czech will have to survive a section filled with grass-court experts to reach a projected last-16 clash against Kvitova, with No 28 seed Alison Riske from the USA and Croatia’s Donna Vekic both WTA titlists on grass, while Russian Anastasia Potapova and American Ann Li have both excelled at junior Wimbledon, winning the 2016 title and reaching the 2017 final respectively.
Iga Swiatek, the 2020 Roland Garros champion from Poland is the No 7 seed, and has been open about grass being a steep learning curve for her.
She will be severely tested by one of the trickiest unseeded opponents in the draw in round one, the idiosyncratic Hsieh Su-Wei from Taipei with her array of spins.
Nor does it get any easier therein for the 20-year-old Pole, with Russian Vera Zvonareva, the 2010 runner-up, possibly waiting in the second round, while in the 3rd, No 26 seed Petra Martic from Croatia has shown signs of resurgence alongside new coach Francesca Schiavone.
One of the most tantalising projected third-round clashes in the draw could determine Swiatek’s last-16 opponent as No 11 seed Garbiñe Muguruza, the 2017 champion from Spain, is drawn to face Tunisia’s No 21 seed Ons Jabeur, who became the first Arab woman to win a WTA title last week in Birmingham.
Before that, however, both need to navigate past unseeded former Grand Slam winners, as Jabeur could face four-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams from the USA in the 2nd round, while a clash with two-time major title holder Svetlana Kuznetsova from Russia awaits Muguruza at the same stage.
Heading the fourth quarter is No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, bumped to her highest ever Grand Slam seeding after the withdrawal of Halep, and the Belarusian is seeking a first quarter-final run at a major.
She has landed in a section filled with big servers, with No 32 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova from Russia as her projected 3rd-round opponent, while No 18 seed Elena Rybakina from Kazakstan or Greece’s No 15 seed Maria Sakkari await in the fourth round.
As for British hopes, Jo Konta opens against Czech Katerina Siniakova, a finalist in Bad Homburg, while Heather Watson meets Kristie Ahn from the USA; Katie Swan, who qualified after winning 3 matches in Roehampton, has drawn another American in Madison Keys, seeded 23; and wild-card Katie Boulter takes on another qualifier in Danielle Lao from America.
Konta continues to struggle with her knees and earlier this week admitted that since the start of 2019 they have been a problem, although she reached the semi-final of the French Open and the quarter-final at Wimbledon and the US Open that year.
The British No 1 won the Nottingham Open 10 days ago, her 4th title of her career, but then explained that she would be resting her knees to give herself her best chance at Wimbledon and opting out of Birmingham and Eastbourne.
The 30-year-old also admitted that, when the problems first cropped up, she did not take them seriously enough.
“I’m going to be managing this for quite some time,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll kick it before I stop playing.
“I wasn’t pain free for the best part of two and a half years. But I do have longer stretches of being pain free, so there are positives.”
Konta, now ranked 30th in the world but the 28th Wimbledon women’s seed, added: “At the beginning I didn’t acknowledge there was something going on. It took too long to address it properly – and by that time it was a significant thing.
“Tendon issues don’t follow any specific blueprint on rest, recovery, rehabilitation – it’s basically just management.
“Sometimes it is sore when I play matches, sometimes it isn’t. It depends where it is, how acute it is at the time.
“I don’t look to expend any energy worrying about it. I know I’m doing the work.”