Top gun Djokovic chases another milestone at Wimbledon
LONDON: Novak Djokovic targets a record-equalling 20th major and sixth Wimbledon title from Monday which will edge him tantalisingly closer to becoming only the third man in history to complete a calendar Grand Slam.
The world number one has already won a ninth Australian Open and second French Open this season.
That has put him halfway to emulating Don Budge (1937) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) in sweeping all four majors in the same year.
It is a feat even his closest rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have never managed.
“Everything is possible,” said 34-year-old Djokovic after winning the French Open earlier this month when asked if the Golden Slam of all four majors and Olympic gold was a realistic target.
Djokovic memorably captured a fifth Wimbledon in 2019, saving two championship points to defeat Federer in the longest ever final at the All England Club at four hours and 57 minutes.
He was deprived of defending his title in 2020 when Wimbledon was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Djokovic has won seven of the last 11 Slams as he ramps up his assault on the record of 20 majors held jointly by Federer and Nadal.
The Serb starts his defence on Monday against British world number 250 Jack Draper who was born just six miles (9.5km) from the All England Club.
Nadal, the Wimbledon champion in 2008 and 2010, has already withdrawn from this year’s tournament, still scarred by the bruising loss to Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals.
Eight-time winner Federer, meanwhile, will be 40 in August and won just one match on grass at Halle in the build-up to Wimbledon.
Federer, who underwent two knee surgeries in 2020, won the last of his eight Wimbledon titles in 2017 and the most recent of his 20 majors in Australia in 2018.
The Swiss star has lost three finals to Djokovic at the All England Club — 2014, 2015 and the epic 2019 clash.
Federer, in the opposite half of the draw to Djokovic, begins his campaign on Tuesday against France’s Adrian Mannarino against whom he holds a 6-0 head-to-head advantage.
The rest of the current top 10 have endured relatively mediocre Wimbledon records.
Only 33-year-old Roberto Bautista Agut, a surprise semi-finalist two years ago, has reached further than the last 16.
Daniil Medvedev has made only the third round but was buoyed Saturday by a first grass court title in Mallorca.
Dominic Thiem has withdrawn due to a wrist injury.
Alexander Zverev had a best last-16 run in 2017 but was a first-round loser two years ago while Andrey Rublev has yet to get past the second round.
Of the remainder of the top 10, French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini are Djokovic’s most likely threats.
Tsitsipas made the last 16 in 2018 before exiting in the first round two years ago.
The Greek, however, is one of the form players of 2021, winning titles in Monte Carlo and Lyon before forcing Djokovic to recover from two sets down in the Roland Garros final.
Queen’s Club champion Matteo Berrettini is also a dangerman for Djokovic.
The Italian made the last 16 in 2019 where it took Federer to stop his progress.
He was also the first man to win the Queen’s title on debut since Boris Becker in 1985 — the German went on to win a maiden Wimbledon just weeks later.
Andy Murray, the 2013 and 2016 champion, will hope to ride a national wave of emotion at least into the second week.
But the injury-plagued Briton, a former world number one, is down at 119 in the rankings and has won just two matches all season.
Sixteen years on from his debut at the event, Murray faces Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round.
Serena Williams turns 40 on Sept 26 and the arrival of that landmark birthday will be all the sweeter if she has at last equalled Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
The tennis legend could even hold the record outright if she wins both Wimbledon and the US Open but despite holding her own in the top 10, there is a fear that age is impacting on her powers.
A fourth round loss at the French Open to Kazakh 21st seed Elena Rybakina reflected this although clay would be her least preferred surface despite three Roland Garros titles.
However, her chances of an eighth Wimbledon crown have improved with the withdrawals of world number two Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep, who beat her in the 2019 final.
That was one of four Grand Slam finals Williams has played since she drew within one title of the controversial Court’s record at the 2017 Australian Open.
Fellow American tennis legend Chris Evert believes Williams is still capable of winning at Wimbledon where she has been the losing finalist on her last two visits.
Williams’s opponent in the first round Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus may be the world number 100 but she reached the last 16 in 2018 beating two-time champion Petra Kvitova on the way.
World number one Ashleigh Barty will go into Wimbledon without a warm-up tournament on grass.
However, she says she has recovered from the hip injury which forced her to withdraw from the French Open.
The 25-year-old has the added motivation of it being the 50th anniversary of fellow indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley won the first of her two Wimbledon titles.
Barty — who won the junior Wimbledon title in 2011 — will open on Centre Court on Tuesday in what is sure to be an emotion-filled encounter with Carla Suarez Navarro.
The 32-year-old Spaniard, playing in her final Wimbledon, remarkably returned to the circuit this year after an eight-month battle with cancer.
Barty, despite never getting further than the fourth round, says she dreams about winning the title.
Barbora Krejcikova is the form player after her surprise triumph in the French Open.
Grass, though, is a foreign surface to the 25-year-old Czech but she has done her research having discussed it both with her late compatriot and former coach Jana Novotna (Wimbledon champion in 1998) and legend Martina Navratilova.
Krejcikova takes on 18-year-old Dane Clara Tauson in her opening match.
One player who will remind spectators of what fun it was to watch tennis before coronavirus will be American teenager Coco Gauff. As a 15-year-old she lit up the 2019 tournament both on and off the court after reaching the last 16 having come through the qualifiers.
Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2021