The Rally, Wimbledon Edition: Will the men's draw produce a rare first-time major winner? Can Iga Swiatek’s 2022 evolution bring her uncharted grass success?By Jun 21, 2022
Swiatek's streak snapped; Rybakina's breakthrough; Osaka's and Sabalenka's returns: Examining the WTA's post-Wimbledon landscapeBy Jul 20, 2022
The War Within Nick Kyrgios: After the Aussie's breakthrough Wimbledon run, what's next?By Jul 11, 2022
Looking back: how a switch to 100 percent ryegrass brought Wimbledon in line with contemporary tennisBy Jul 11, 2022
Novak Djokovic, "so composed," turns a tumultuous season around at WimbledonBy Jul 11, 2022
"How am I here?": Nick Kyrgios was two sets away from winning Wimbledon—and is OK with itBy Jul 10, 2022
Elena Rybakina: From nervous wreck to Wimbledon champion in under two hoursBy Jul 09, 2022
Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina wins women's Wimbledon title, first SlamBy Jul 09, 2022
Elise Mertens announces split with coach Simon GoffinBy Jul 09, 2022
Nick Kyrgios using Australian Open doubles experience on his way to Wimbledon finalBy Jul 09, 2022
The Rally, Wimbledon Edition: Will the men's draw produce a rare first-time major winner? Can Iga Swiatek’s 2022 evolution bring her uncharted grass success?
No ATP player outside of Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal has won Wimbledon since 2002—could that streak end this year?
Published Jun 21, 2022
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Wimbledon starts in a week. It’s always amazing to me how quickly the grass season goes. In a way, the swift pace of it all mirrors the speed of grass court points (even though Wimbledon’s grass is far slower than it was prior to 2002).
On most occasions, the Wimbledon story line revolves around the familiar and ascending contenders. But this year is different, the tournament flavored by all sorts of intrigue both inside and outside the lines. Start with the ban of players from Russia and Belarus, a step that compelled the ATP and WTA to determine that no ranking points would be awarded from this year’s edition of The Championships.
The player-related angles are fascinating, spanning more generations than usual. Just a few: seven-time champion Serena Williams, returning to competition for the first time since a mid-match injury forced her out of the tournament last year in the first round. Emma Raducanu, unknown 12 months ago, now on native grounds as the reigning US Open champion. Iga Swiatek, keen to prove she’s every bit as good on grass as she is on clay and hard courts. Coco Gauff, back to where she first hit the tennis radar three years ago. And how will it go at SW19 for ’21 finalist Karolina Pliskova, disrupter supreme Ons Jabeur, past champ Simona Halep and others?
On the men’s side, the strong favorite is Novak Djokovic, seeking to win the title for the fourth time in a row and seventh overall. Other contenders include ’21 runner-up Matteo Berrettini, rising American Taylor Fritz, perennial possibility John Isner, agile Stefanos Tsitsipas, lively lefty Denis Shapovalov, rapidly improving Felix Auger-Aliassime, top ten newcomer Carlos Alcaraz and an increasingly sharper Andy Murray. Then there’s the ultimate wild card, Nick Kyrgios, who could lose in the first round or win the tournament. Certainly, he won’t be boring. Also, a tip of the hat to those that are absent. Defending women’s champion Ash Barty has retired, while Roger Federer won’t be playing Wimbledon for the first time in his pro career.
I’m most interested in how Wimbledon will go for Rafael Nadal. To think that as recently as last fall, Nadal was uncertain if he’d ever even be able to play again. And now, here he is, having won the Australian Open and Roland Garros in the same year for the time in his career—halfway to the calendar Slam.
Nadal’s won Wimbledon twice and reached the final three other times, most recently in 2011. The last two times Nadal played Wimbledon, he lost in the semis—a tight four-setter to Federer in ’19, a scintillating five-setter to Djokovic in ’18.
At Roland Garros, Nadal explained how he’d had multiple foot-numbing injections throughout the tournament. Earlier this month, he said he does not intend to do that to play Wimbledon.
So the big question is: How healthy will Nadal be? Through match after match, will his foot be able to withstand the demands of grass?
Steve, what Wimbledon storylines interest you?
The clay and grass seasons mirror the type of tennis that’s played on each surface. The clay swing, which lasts for two months, is long and arduous, with lots of shifts in momentum. The grass season, which lasts for three weeks, is a summery, ace-filled breeze that’s over before many of us realize it has begun.
So here we are, in the blink of a Nick Kyrgios racquet smash, just a few days away from Wimbledon. Has anyone really had time to adjust their games to grass? It would be hard to believe. Like many fans and observers, I wasn’t sure what The Championships would bring this year, without Russian players or rankings points. But your first entry to this Rally has me ready and feeling good about the next few weeks. As you say, that are a lot of possibilities.
It’s hard to argue with your choice of Nadal as the top storyline. He’s going for the Grand Slam, and he has managed to win two straight majors after overcoming doubts about his fitness to play in either of them. So despite the fact that he just had an experimental procedure on his foot; hasn’t won Wimbledon since 2010; and hasn’t played it since 2019, who says he can’t pull off another Houdini act? As you note, his performances at All England were on the upswing before the pandemic—if I had to pick a greatest match ever played, I might take that two-day semifinal loss to Djokovic from 2018. Whatever happens this year, the 36-year-old Rafa’s presence alone will elevate the event, the way his Indian Summer 2022 has elevated this season of men’s tennis so far.
But my thoughts right now go to two other players who have recently come close to winning the Grand Slam, Serena and Djokovic. Like Rafa, Serena’s announcement that she’ll play injected new life and needed star-power into the women’s event, which won’t include Naomi Osaka or the defending champion, Ash Barty. Just to watch Serena in action, for the first time in a year and possibly for the last time ever, will be must-see viewing. Can she win it and tie Margaret Court at 24 Slams? Let’s talk again if she survives the first two rounds.
And what about Djokovic? What is his mood and mindset right now, after such a strange and disappointing first half of 2022? Twelve months ago, he, rather than Nadal, was the player who was chasing the Grand Slam. And he, rather than Nadal, was the player who appeared set to take the lead for good in the Big 3’s major-title chase. Now Djokovic finds himself trailing Rafa 22 to 20 in Slams, and is coming off a puzzlingly erratic loss to the Spaniard at Roland Garros. His ranking has even dropped to No. 3 in the world. We’ve seen a lot of Rafa this year; the history of their rivalry, and the history of the Big 3, says it’s time for Djokovic to stage a counterattack.
Joel, with the absence of the Russians and Alexander Zverev on the men’s side, and Barty on the women’s side, are there lower-ranked players or surprising names you could see making a once-in-a-lifetime run for the title?
When it comes to Cinderella Wimbledon contenders, I’ll take two from each gender.
On the men’s side, it’s impossible for me to overlook a pair of big servers, John Isner and Nick Kyrgios.
Of course, Isner’s most notable moment at Wimbledon came when he won the epic of all epics, in 2010 beating Nicholas Mahut, 70-68 in the fifth.
But more recently, just four years ago, Isner made it to the semis, along the way beating a young Stefanos Tsitsipas and 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic. In the semis, Isner lost what in relative terms must be considered a mini-epic, losing to Kevin Anderson, 26-24 in the fifth. No matter how much slower grass is than it once was, to see Isner in action at Wimbledon will always be an intimidating sight. That Isner’s now 37 years old hardly matters. More than any of the majors, Wimbledon is the one for those who strike bold.
Which naturally leads me to Kyrgios. Though I find much of his demeanor tiresome, once the point starts, his ability to do so many things with the ball is mesmerizing. Sharply whipped forehands, crisp backhands, touch supreme and a powerful dart of a serve can constantly keep Kyrgios in the mix. Hopefully, he’s put in enough training work on and off the court to stay healthy the entire fortnight.
Among the women, I’m intrigued by how Wimbledon might go for two very powerful players, Madison Keys and Petra Kvitova. Keys and Kvitova both have the two weapons that can best win points on grass – a great serve and a big forehand. I’ve always found Keys’ service motion mesmerizing, a bit like Pete Sampras’ delivery. It was also impressive to see how well Keys played on her way to the semis at the Australian Open earlier this year.
As for Kvitova, she’s won Wimbledon twice (though, yes, the most recent was eight years ago) and my belief is that someone who’s won a particular major more than once must always be given contender consideration. So let’s see how Kvitova’s lefty mix holds up as the fortnight unfolds.
In the big picture, I’ll also concede that while I greatly enjoy watching the world’s best players compete on clay, my tennis temperament—formed on fast California hard courts—tilts more towards the opportunism so frequently rewarded on the grass.
How do the surfaces shape your view of the game, Steve?
When it comes to clay, grass, or hard courts, I’ve never had a preference, either for playing or watching. What I like is that each of them is part of tennis, each is equally valid as a playing surface, and each produces a unique style of play and atmosphere. Is there another sport that can claim three identities? From a fan viewpoint, there’s something refreshing about the fact that we can spend the entire clay season focused on Carlos Alcaraz, and then, once Roland Garros is over and the grass season begins, we can put him in the backseat for a little while and bring other guys, like Berrettini and Hurkacz, to the forefront of the discussion.
On the men’s side this year, wouldn’t it be nice to see someone new win Wimbledon? The last player outside the Big 4—Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Murray—to do it was Lleyton Hewitt all the way back in 2002. While Djokovic and Nadal are the top two seeds again, the field is a little more open than usual. With Medvedev and Zverev absent, Casper Ruud, a clay lover who has never won a match at Wimbledon, has moved up to the No. 3 position; that alone should give hope to a lot of people. Berrettini and Hurkacz, who made the semis last year and won grass-court titles on Sunday, are definite contenders. Kyrgios, Opelka, and Isner will threaten anyone with their serves. Shapovalov made the semis and Auger Aliassime the quarters last year. And Taylor Fritz, despite some struggles over the last month, has won a grass title in the past. So much will depend on Djokovic’s form. If he’s at his best, he’s still the heavy favorite. If he’s off, the list of possible champions get considerably longer.
On the women’s side, I have to start at the top. Can Swiatek be as dominant on grass as she was on clay? She doesn’t need to be, really; three-quarters of her best might be enough to win her the title. But as perfectly as she has been playing for the last four months, she’ll still need to adjust to the speed and bounce at Wimbledon. Her best result there so far is a fourth-round loss to Ons Jabeur last year. That said, I don’t see any reason why her hit-a-winner-on-every-shot game plan can’t work on grass. Her baseline missiles will be even more difficult to track down now.
Just as important: Who is in the form and frame of mind to challenge Swiatek? Virtually the entire WTA Top 10—Kontaveit, Badosa, Jabeur, Sabalenka, Sakkari, Pliskova, Muguruza—was out of Roland Garros by the third round. I think that Jabeur, who won a title this weekend on grass, will rebound from her Paris disappointment.
Berrettini-Hurkacz was a semifinal last year; could it be the final this time?
Swiatek-Jabeur was a fourth-round match last year; could they play for the women’s title on the final Saturday?
In both cases, there would be worse ways to end The Championships.