Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Iga Swiatek and everyone you should and shouldn’t know heading into Wimbledon

Products You May Like

The tennis world has made the transition from France to England, from Paris to London, and — perhaps, most importantly — from clay to grass.

It has been fewer than three weeks since the conclusion of the French Open, but — ready or not — it’s time for Wimbledon. The players have made the switch from red to green — some better than others — and will now battle for the titles in the year’s third major.

With the absence of reigning champion Ashleigh Barty following her surprising retirement earlier this year, no awardable ranking points available, nor any participating players from Russia or Belarus, this certainly will be a fortnight unlike any other.

Still, the tournament should provide all the compelling drama and competition we’ve come to expect at the All England Club.

From Serena Williams‘ return to Rafael Nadal’s quest for 23(!) major titles, to three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic’s attempt to get his season back on track, there is something for every fan at Wimbledon this year.

So what are the biggest storylines going into this year’s tournament? Which players do you need to know about? Can anyone beat Iga Swiatek and put a stop to her 35-match victory streak? Does Nick Kyrgios — yes, we said it — actually have a chance to win it all? We try to answer all that and more ahead of Monday’s opening-round matches.

Serena is BACK

The 23-time major champion and seven-time winner at Wimbledon hasn’t played a singles match since tearing her hamstring in the first round at the All England Club in 2021. Now she’s back, as a literal and figurative wild card, and if her doubles run at Eastbourne this week has been any indication, she could be a factor.

She partnered with Ons Jabeur, and the dream pairing won their first two matches to advance to the semifinals. Due to a knee injury for Jabeur, they were forced to withdraw on Thursday but still impressed in their joint appearance at the event. Williams, 40, showed some signs of rust in their opening match, but seemed to play her way back into form with each point. So, you know, Serena things.

“I feel good,” Williams said Wednesday after their second match. “As good as one can feel after having such a long time off … It was actually good match play and match practice, which is exactly what I needed and what I wanted to do coming here, so I couldn’t have asked for more.”

But now the real question is: Will that preparation be enough? Williams, and all of us, will find out in her first-round showdown with world No. 113 Harmony Tan.

She has been candid about her future in the sport, telling reporters she was uncertain how much longer she would be playing, but she is taking it one day at a time. Even with retirement potentially looming and following a lengthy absence, if there’s one thing we should know by now, it’s that Serena Williams is always a contender. If she was able to reach the 2018 Wimbledon final in just her fourth tournament back after a complicated and difficult childbirth, why not now?

The Year of Nadal continues

After his monumental 22nd major title victory at the French Open earlier this month, Rafael Nadal’s status for Wimbledon was very much in doubt as he revealed the extent of his chronic foot injury and the lengths he had gone to play at the tournament. But after a week of training on grass in Mallorca and more treatment, he announced he intended to play at the All England Club for the first time in three years.

“My foot situation must be evaluated day after day, so at this moment I don’t have this certainty of being able to play,” Nadal said last week. “I just know that I want to play the tournament, but we must also be careful.”

The second-seeded Nadal is slated to face Francisco Cerundolo in the first round, and it certainly seems as if he’s on track to play. He looked more than healthy in a 6-2, 6-3 exhibition victory over Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday.

Nadal, 36, is a two-time Wimbledon champion, winning in 2008 and 2010 and reaching the semifinals in his last appearance in 2019. Between the injury and his lack of recent success on grass — he didn’t play in any lead-in tournaments either — Nadal isn’t exactly the favorite for the 2022 trophy. But he does have some extra motivation this time around, not that Nadal ever needs that. A victory would tie him with Williams for most major titles in the Open Era and put him three-quarters of the way to the elusive Calendar Slam.

No big deal, right?

Carlos Moya, Nadal’s coach, told Eurosport the Calendar Slam isn’t something Nadal is focused on, but didn’t deny it is something they were at least thinking about. “It is a realistic goal, right now he is the only one that can achieve it this year,” Moya said this week. “It is the first time in his career that he is in a position to achieve it, but we see it as something far away, it is only halfway.

“At the moment he doesn’t lose sleep, as a team few things keep us up at night and this is not one of them. We have to go little by little, it is not something that we talk about, it is not a primary objective, although we are not going to give up on it.”

Not in attendance

As notable as who is playing at the All England Club, it’s equally interesting who will not be there. The tournament made the unprecedented and unilateral decision in April to ban Russian and Belarusian players due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Despite heavy criticism from players and then the WTA and ATP’s decision to strip the tournament of ranking points, Wimbledon held firm.

As such, a number of big names and contenders will be not be in the draws, including current world No. 1 and reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, two-time major champion Victoria Azarenka, top-20 players Aryna Sabalenka, Andrey Rublev and Daria Kasatkina, and current doubles No. 2 and reigning Wimbledon doubles finalist Veronika Kudermetova.

For Medvedev, it perhaps couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time as the 26-year-old has been playing some of the best grass tennis of his career during the lead-in events. He reached the finals at ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Halle.

Of course, perspective is key, and as Ukrainian player Lesia Tsurenko said at the French Open last month, being unable to play in a tennis tournament is nothing compared to what her home country is going through.

“I honestly think that this is not a very big price for them to pay or to accept,” Tsurenko told reporters. “I think it’s not too much, it’s not much, really, it’s just one tournament.

“But, I don’t know, for them they feel like they are losing their job. And I also feel many bad things, I feel a lot of terrible things and I think compared to that, losing a chance to play in one tournament is nothing.”

The upcoming US Open announced earlier this month it would not be following suit and Russian and Belarusian players would be welcome to participate.

Other notable players who will not be at Wimbledon this year, for other reasons, include Roger Federer, Venus Williams, Naomi Osaka, Alexander Zverev, Leylah Fernandez, Dominic Thiem, Sofia Kenin and Sebastian Korda.

Four-peat for Djokovic?

Djokovic entered the season having won the 2021 Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon and with a firm hold on world No. 1. He looked poised to break the record for most Grand Slam titles by a male player and continue to dominate the tour.

But, well, 2022 hasn’t exactly gone to plan thus far.

He was deported from Australia in January when he failed to provide appropriate evidence to receive a vaccine exemption — and was unable to play in the year’s first major — and then lost in the quarterfinals to Nadal in Paris. He has played in just six tournaments on the year, and opted out of all of the lead-in grass court events.

Djokovic, 35, is currently ranked No. 3, and no matter what happens over the fortnight, he will lose 2,000 points and his ranking will drop at tournament’s end.

But still, despite it all, we’re still talking about Novak Djokovic here and no one has been more dominant in the past decade at the All England Club than him. He has won six titles, including the last three, and has a very favorable draw with many of the biggest threats on the other side. With other top players like Medvedev, Rublev and Zverev out, could this be the tournament to get Djokovic’s season back on track and put him firmly back in record contention?

Leading ladies

If you’re reading this, you’re likely well aware that Iga Swiatek is on an absolutely ridiculous 35-match win streak and has won six titles this year, including the French Open earlier this month. The world No. 1 has been all but unbeatable and on a level all of her own. So on paper it certainly seems as if she is the favorite to take home the Venus Rosewater dish — and she is the overwhelming betting favorite according to Caesars Sportsbook.

But Swiatek hasn’t played since Paris and withdrew from the German Open with “recurrent discomfort” in her shoulder. “I will focus on recovery and rest in order to be ready for Wimbledon,” she wrote on Twitter.

Without playing in any of the warm-up events on grass, and having never advanced past the fourth round at the tournament before, Swiatek’s streak could certainly be in jeopardy.

While Swiatek did win the junior title at All England Club in 2018, her lack of recent grass match play could translate into a massive opportunity for some other women — perhaps no one more so than Coco Gauff. There hasn’t been a first-time major champion at Wimbledon on the women’s side since 2013, but Gauff will do what she can to change that.

Gauff, 18, reached her first major final at the French Open and now returns to Wimbledon, the site of her first Grand Slam and Cinderella run in 2019. And she has only gotten better since that fourth-round debut appearance. Gauff reached the semifinals in Berlin — her lone grass tournament — and recorded an impressive straight-set victory over 2021 Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals. And, having already reached a Grand Slam final might allow her to play more freely this time around.

“I definitely feel like this helped my confidence a lot,” Gauff said after the loss to Swiatek. “I just think even when I was 15, 16, 17, I felt like so much pressure to make a final. Now that I made it, I feel like a relief a little bit.”

Because you have to play the best to be the best, or something like that, Gauff and Swiatek even practiced together at the All England Club on Thursday.

Unlike Gauff, Ons Jabeur didn’t fare well at the French Open — she was upset in the first round — but she arrives in London brimming with confidence. Jabeur won the title in Berlin (and beat Gauff in the semifinals) and became the highest-ranked African and Arab player in history at No. 3.

She played doubles only at Eastbourne this week with Williams — and joked she hoped to learn “even like 2% from it” — so she should be fresh, semi-rested and focused when play gets underway at the All England Club. She reached the quarterfinals in 2021 at the event, and has dramatically improved since. While the #Onsrena pair had to withdraw due to Jabeur’s right knee injury, the move was likely to ensure Jabeur would be at full health in time for Wimbledon and as ready as possible to have her best Grand Slam showing yet.

And, finally, no one is surging more right now than Beatriz Haddad Maia. The Brazilian entered the grass-court season without a singles title on tour. She then won the singles and doubles titles in Nottingham, and then followed it up with the singles title in Birmingham. Earlier this week, she became the first woman to win 11 consecutive matches on grass since Williams’ 20-match streak between 2015 and 2018. She made it to the semifinals in Eastbourne, and now brings a 13-1 record on the surface this year to Wimbledon.

Haddad Maia, 26, has never advanced past the second round at a major but with a career-high ranking of No. 29 — and rising — and an enormous amount of momentum on her side, she seems more than poised to make a deep run.

Will a man not named Nadal or Djokovic win?

Maybe! With the absence of Medvedev and Thiem, the last two men not named Nadal or Djokovic to win a Grand Slam, there are a number of players in the running for their first major title. Of course, with Djokovic and Nadal as the top two seeds and, well, being Djokovic and Nadal, it will be an uphill battle, but here are a few with a chance to keep your eye on as the tournament progresses:

Matteo Berrettini: The 26-year-old Italian missed the French Open following surgery on his right hand, but seems to have more than rediscovered his peak grass form since returning to action. The 2021 Wimbledon runner-up won the titles at both Stuttgart and Queen’s Club, and knows what it takes to reach the final at the All England Club. He’ll be doing everything he can to take it one step further this year.

Hubert Hurkacz: He reached the first major semifinal of his career last year at Wimbledon, and nabbed the trophy at Halle – recording impressive victories over Felix Auger Aliassime, Nick Kyrgios and Medvedev. Hurkacz also took home the doubles title in Stuttgart.

Carlos Alcaraz: The teenage phenom hasn’t played since his quarterfinal run in Paris due to a “slight elbow issue” and has limited experience on the surface, but as he’s already proven in his young career, he’s a quick learner and capable of beating just about anyone.

Nick Kyrgios: We can’t resist. When Kyrgios is at his best — which he often is on grass — he might just be the most dangerous man on tour. The 27-year-old Aussie recorded back-to-back semifinal appearances in Stuttgart and Halle before having to withdraw ahead of his second-round match at Mallorca with abdominal pain. Still, Kyrgios said the move was more precautionary as he didn’t “want to risk Wimbledon.” He enters the tournament as an unseeded contender who could lose early or win the whole thing. It’s truly anyone’s guess.

Back the Brits

It’s no secret the Wimbledon fans in attendance love the homegrown British players and cheer for them accordingly. Just ask Emma Raducanu, who started her magical 2021 summer with a fourth-round run at the All England Club. The then 18-year-old was a wild card, ranked outside the top 300, and playing in her first major. She delighted those on the grounds with her fairy-tale run — and then won over the world with her stunning victory at the US Open two months later, becoming the first British woman to win a Grand Slam since Virginia Wade in 1977.

Now Raducanu is back at Wimbledon, where it all began, and everyone knows who she is. The expectations and hopes for Raducanu remain sky high, but it’s been a challenging stretch for her since New York. She lost in the second round at the Australian Open and the French Open, and has struggled with injuries throughout. She had to retire in the first set of her first grass match of the season with an apparent abdominal strain and hasn’t played since. She’s made it clear in the weeks since she is determined to play at Wimbledon and seems to have truly tried everything to make it happen.

Of course, no matter how Raducanu fares, the fans will also have another Grand Slam-winning Brit to get behind. That, of course, would be Andy Murray, who won at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016, and remains a beloved fan favorite.

After years of stops-and-starts and hip surgeries, Murray looked to be in resurgent form in Stuttgart earlier this month, recording statement wins over No. 1 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and the always-electric Kyrgios en route to the final. However, he lost to Berrettini in three sets and suffered an abdominal injury during the match. He was subsequently forced to withdraw from the following week’s Queen’s Club Championship. It remains to be seen how he is feeling now but he is set to get his 2022 Wimbledon campaign underway against James Duckworth, with John Isner as a potential second-round opponent.

Murray, who reached the third round at the event in 2021, is not seeded but fellow countrymen Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans are. Raducanu is the only British women to be seeded at the event but Harriet Dart and wild cards Katie Boulter (who just recorded the first top-10 win of her career in Eastbourne), Katie Swan and Jodie Burrage all bring some momentum into the tournament.

Can’t-miss first-round matches


No. 8 Jessica Pegula vs. Donna Vekic

No. 10 Emma Raducanu vs. Alison Van Uytvanck

No. 16 Simona Halep vs. Karolina Muchova

Sloane Stephens vs. Qinwen Zheng

Marta Kostyuk vs. Katie Swan


No. 6 Felix Auger Aliassime vs. Maxime Cressy

No. 10 Jannik Sinner vs. Stan Wawrinka

No. 11 Taylor Fritz vs. Lorenzo Musetti

Jack Draper vs. Zizou Bergs

Nick Kyrgios vs. Paul Jubb

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

France wint brons op de Senior Plus Worlds
Rafael Nadal’s Early Exit from the Barcelona Open: A Lesson in Resilience
Emma Raducanu reaches quarter-finals in Stuttgart
Novak Djokovic trekt zich terug uit Madrid Open
The Growth of Padel in French Overseas Territories