Pristine green grass courts, sparkling white tennis outfits and an air of old-school gentility — it’s time for the Wimbledon Championships. Starting on 1st July, 128 players in the men’s and women’s draw respectively will compete for the most prestigious prize in the sport.
The Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal have combined to win the last 10 Grand Slam titles and there hasn’t been a first-time men’s champion at any major since Marin Cilic at the 2014 US Open. And judging by the current state of men’s tennis, this seems unlikely to change at Wimbledon. Since 2003, they have won 14 of the past 16 Wimbledon titles – Federer with eight, Djokovic four, and Nadal two.
This year, defending champion Djokovic is the leading favourite and he opens his campaign against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber. Second seed Federer and third seed Nadal have been drawn in the same half and are projected to meet in the semi-finals. But Nadal has a tricky path to the final four. Mercurial Australian Nick Kyrgios, who beat Nadal in the last-16 at Wimbledon in 2014, is a potential second round opponent and Canadian youngster Denis Shapovalov could meet him in the third round. If Nadal makes the last-16, he could potentially face 2017 Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic.
While both Djokovic and Nadal opted not to play any grass warm-up tournaments before Wimbledon, Federer had the perfect preparation by clinching his 102nd career title at Halle. Kevin Anderson, who was the runner-up in 2018, has been seeded fourth this year thanks to Wimbledon’s seeding formula but he has played only two matches since March because of a right arm injury. His quarter of the draw presents the ideal opportunity for players like Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka, Alexander Zverev and Karen Khachanov to emerge as a surprise semi-finalist.
There are also plenty of dark horses desperately trying to change the status quo: 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas who is seeded seventh, 18-year-old Felix Auger Aliassime who is having a breakthrough season, and 17th seed Matteo Berrettini who has won two tour-level titles in 2019.
On the women’s side, unpredictability is the only constant. Not only is it near impossible to point to one player as the leading favourite, it’s also difficult to narrow down the list of realistic contenders to less than a dozen. Nine different women have won over the last 10 Grand Slams and this trend looks set to continue at Wimbledon.
Recently crowned French Open champion and World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty sits atop a loaded top quarter of the women’s draw. The Australian followed up her Roland Garros title with another title on grass at Birmingham and is riding high on confidence. Despite a career record of 2-3 at Wimbledon, she is the bookmakers’ favorite.
Barty’s section features four previous champions — seven-time winner Serena Williams, defending champion and 5th seed Angelique Kerber, the winner from 2017 Garbine Muguruza and making her return from a long injury layoff Maria Sharapova. This “Quarter of Death” also includes other strong grass-court players Julia Goerges, Belinda Bencic, Donna Vekic, Kaia Kanepi and Alison Riske. Expect plenty of fireworks and upsets in the early rounds.
Two-time champion Petra Kvitova (6th seed) and 4th seed Kiki Bertens head the second quarter. There are fitness concerns hanging over Kvitova, who skipped the French Open with a left forearm injury. But if she is at her 100%, the Czech will be a force to reckon with on her favourite surface. Keep an eye out for 17-year-old giant-killer Amanda Anisimova, home favourite Johanna Konta and former US Open champion Sloane Stephens as well in this part of the draw.
If the top half is packed, the bottom half is wide open. Third seed Karolina Pliskova claimed her third grass-court title of her career on Saturday, beating Kerber at Eastbourne. However, she has reached the second week of Wimbledon only once before. If there is going to be another first-time Grand Slam winner, Pliskova appears to be the most likely candidate.
Naomi Osaka, the second seed and reigning two-time major winner, could also make a deep run at Wimbledon this time around. In her previous two outings, she had exited in the third round but a relatively easier quarter of the draw could help her at least make the second week. A perfect example of the current depth and variety in women’s tennis will be on display in the very first round when 15-year-old American Cori Gauff, the youngest player to qualify at Wimbledon in the Open era, faces 39-year-old Venus Williams, a five-time champion at the All England Club.
This is a golden period for the WTA in terms of competitiveness and diversity and it will be fascinating to see which player breaks through from the plethora of talent in the next two weeks.