London | The Championships, a brief preview

It’s here. The summer of grass has arrived at the home of tennis.

What could be more glorious?

The aperitifs, Queen’s Club, Nottingham, Birmingham, Eastbourne, as well as grass events in Germany and the Netherlands, are done and dusted and now fans, over half a million of them over the coming fortnight, will head to southwest London to see if defending champions, Carlos Alcaraz and Marketa Vondrousova can retain their titles at this, the 137th year of the Wimbledon Championships.

It was at the 136th staging that the highly touted 21-year-old Spaniard, following on from his US Open victory in 2022, confirmed his Grand Slam credentials, with victory over the defending champion, Novak Djokovic in last year’s final. Alcaraz’s win on that day was a defining moment, and arguably brought virtual closure to what has been a remarkable ‘Big Four’ era of Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in men’s tennis. Not that I would say it out loud to the Serb, or the Scot for that matter!

But surgery for a professional tennis player in his later 30’s is not a good look. Djokovic, a fourth-round retiree at this year’s French Open, has undergone a recent procedure on his right knee and, at time of writing, remains a major doubt. Andy Murray joins him as a ‘maybe’ for Wimbledon following his own on court retirement which saw him limp off at Queen’s Club in mid-June.

At least they are both still standing but I wonder for how much longer. Their two decades of dominance, along with Federer and Nadal, saw them claim 69 Grand Slam titles between them. That is some haul.

Alcaraz will no doubt be hoping that Djokovic, still ranked 2 in the World, will be fit enough to participate. Murray too, on this, his likely final Slam.

Alcaraz has dropped down to three in the world – one place behind the Serb but he comes to Wimbledon as the new French Open champion, following his victory over World No 4, German Alexander Zverev, in their final in Paris three weeks ago.

He comes in-form and prepared, despite an early round defeat at Queen’s Club a fortnight ago.

If Alcaraz isn’t able to successfully defend his title, it may well be World No 1, Jannik Sinner who takes it from him.

Jannik Sinner is ths season's player to beat

(Photo by Thomas F. Starke/Getty Images)

Italian born Sinner won his first Grand Slam in Melbourne in January and more recently, warmed up strongly on grass with victory over Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, ranked 7 in the World, in the Halle final two weeks ago. He has 18 career titles to his name and he’s still only 22. The 6’2” right hander, who could have been lost to tennis in his teens if he had chosen a professional career in skiing and credits Roger Federer as one of the key influences in his younger days. Not a bad role model to have. Assuming their seeding places them in opposite halves of the draw, I expect Alcaraz and Sinner to contest the final.

Of course, other grass winners in the run up to the Championships (at time of writing) might have something to say about that. American No 2, Tommy Paul won Queen’s, Britain’s Jack Draper won the Stuttgart Open and the Aussie Alex de Minaur claimed the Rosmalen title in the run up to The Championships.

And then there’s the Russians, former US Open champion Daniil Medvedev and his compatriot Andrey Rublev, who enter Wimbledon with world rankings of 5 and 6 respectively.

Despite grass not being his preferred surface, the tall Medvedev is always a formidable opponent, a player others want to avoid in the draw. But this year he has yet to add to his impressive career haul of 20 titles.

26-year-old Rublev has not won a Grand Slam singles title but has reached the quarters of every one in his career to date. Sixteen career titles is notable but whether he can leapfrog into the semis of a Grand Slam remains to be seen.

In the women’s singles, the question, I would respectfully suggest, is not, can World No 6, the Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova, defend her title, but can anyone stop Polish wonder woman Iga Swiatek?

Ons Jabeur (L) and Marketa Vondrousova pose for a photo before the 2023 Ladies Singles final

(Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)

True, Vondrousova, who celebrated her 25th birthday on Friday, is ranked 6 in the world and has, by any measure, an impressive, if sporadic, Grand Slam record. After her Centre Court success in July last year, she went on to reach the US Open quarters two months later. A French Open finalist in 2019 and a fourth-round appearance in Melbourne in 2021 shows that her rangy left-handed game is suited to all surfaces.

But Swiatek. The current World No 1, still only 23, has steamrollered all before her, winning no fewer than five WTA Tour titles this year alone, including her fourth French Open in June. Her Grand Slam haul also includes the 2022 US Open title. In her Paris final, she crushed Sinner’s compatriot, Jasmine Paolini, for the loss of just 3 games.

Iga Swiatek is enjoying a remarkable season

(Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Is she unstoppable?

Well, the American Wor;d No 2 Coco Gauff will think so. Still only 20, she already has a Grand Slam to her name, winning the US Open last September, though her most recent tournament in Berlin saw her defeated in the semis by World No,5, the New Yorker, Jessica Pegula, 30, who went on to win the event. The American enters the tournament ranked 5 in the world.

Others who will be looking to challenge Swiatek’s dominance will be current Australian Open champion and World No 3, the Belarussian, Aryna Sabalenka, 26. As a two-time semi-finalist at Wimbledon and a finalist in New York, she knows her way around a Grand Slam court.

So does 25-year-old, Elena Rybakina, the tall Kazakh right hander, ranked 4 in the world. As 2022 Wimbledon champion and finalist in Melbourne in January, she will be one to follow.

But who will it be?

Well, no one predicted that Vondrousova would emerge from the relative obscurity of qualifying to lift the Rosewater Dish last year. It will be a tall order for her to repeat that feat, even without the burden of having to qualify.

So for me, it’s hard to look beyond Swiatek, but it I had to, it would be Gauff.



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