Before June 13, the last time that at least one of the Big Three — Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer — wasn’t ranked in the Top Two was way back in November 2003. But two of these living legends aren’t fading away. Far from it. Rafael Nadal, 36, and Novak Djokovic, 35, have grabbed five of the last six major titles. And they’re as hungry as ever to win more.
The tennis gods delivered harsh blows to the new Top Two. The Wimbledon ban of Russian and Belarusian players sidelined No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, and torn ankle ligaments from a nasty fall in the French Open semifinals will prevent No. 2 Alexander Zverev from competing until August. Two other notable Russians, No. 8 Andrey Rublev and No. 22 Karen Khachanov, will also miss The Championships.
Wimbledon 2022 draw: Nadal vs Auger-Aliassime, Djokovic vs Alcaraz among potential quarterfinals
Despite a weakened field and no ranking points awarded — the ATP’s and WTA’s retaliation against the Wimbledon ban — the tournament remains the sport’s most prestigious event. It’s also the green pasture where Djokovic has reigned for five of the past eight years. (Wimbledon wasn’t played during the peak Covid year of 2020).
Do any of the leading contenders have the right stuff to dethrone Djokovic? Let’s see if you agree with these predictions.
Felix Auger-Aliassime — When “FAA”, as he is often called, went five sets against Nadal at the French Open, that was only the third time that had happened in 112 matches on clay. But the Canadian lost, just as he had in another five-setter against Medvedev at the Australian Open in January. Coming close has been the story of 21-year-old Felix’s young career so far. He lost his first eight tournament finals until he won Rotterdam in February with impressive wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas and Rublev.
With a lean, 6’4” physique perfect for tennis, Auger-Aliassime made the Wimbledon quarterfinals a year ago and is much too athletic and talented not to win a major. No. 9-ranked FAA’s most auspicious career stat is that he’s won 89% of his service games on grass. His wicked slice serve, particularly wide in the deuce court, is a big reason for that along with his powerful, topspin forehand. With a good draw, he could make the semifinals.
Carlos Alcaraz — “What a combination when you can hit 100 mile-an-hour forehand winners and 25 mile-an-hour drop shot winners,” raved Courier about Alcaraz’s wonderful blend of power and touch. At the Madrid Open in May, the 19-year-old Spaniard became the first player to beat Nadal and Djokovic at the same clay-court event. He missed the Queen’s tournament in June due to a reoccurring elbow injury and is very inexperienced on grass. In his only Wimbledon appearance, he was beaten decisively by Medvedev in the second round last year.
“My goal until the end of the year is to try to win one of the three remaining Grand Slams,” the ambitious, No. 7-ranked Alcaraz said in a May interview with Marca . “It is a great motivation for me and I will fight for it.” While the muscular, high-energy teenager is a strong contender, he’s not quite ready to win Wimbledon.
Stefanos Tsitsipas — “Tsitsipas is 6’4” and moves like a gazelle. It’s hard to imagine this guy isn’t going to win Wimbledon,” said Courier a year ago. Not so fast! No. 6-ranked Tsitsipas owns a dismal 3-4 career record at Wimbledon and lost in the first round in his last two appearances. This grass-court season, he won only one match each at Stuttgart and Halle until he captured the final tune-up event at Mallorca, Spain. “The Greek Freak” moves well and volleys deftly, but his long backswings can backfire on fast, unpredictable grass.
Though Tsitsipas is occasionally compared stylistically to Federer, he lacks the Swiss’s versatile slice backhand, effective serve, and tactical smarts. His career 27-36 record against top-10 opponents is not encouraging. Most problematic, though, is his relatively weak one-handed backhand. That alone will kill his chances to win Wimbledon.
Marin Cilic — Taking a cue from the Big Three who have played superb tennis well into their 30s, the rejuvenated Cilic recently romped to his first French Open semifinal at age 33, a surprising result on clay, his least successful surface. The 6’6” Croatian won the 2014 U.S. Open and reached the final at the 2017 Wimbledon and 2018 Australian Open.
Cilic still has the stamina as his 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2) Roland Garros quarterfinal victory over Rublev, lasting four hours and 14 minutes, attests. Equally important, he has the nerves as his spectacular 10-2 deciding set tiebreaker proves.
The former world No. 3 relies on booming serves, often more than 130 mph, and powerful groundstrokes without much nuance. That combination will take Cilic far at Wimbledon in his comeback year.
Jannik Sinner — Italian coach Simone Vagnozzi started working with No. 13-ranked Sinner in February, and the early results have been solid. The 20-year-old Italian advanced to the quarterfinal at Masters 1000 events in Miami, Monte Carlo, and Rome and made the fourth round at Roland Garros.
“The speed of the first serve is improving and the speed of the second serve,” Vagnozzi told ATPtour.com . “How he changes the direction on the second serve is important as well. We are also working on adding more variety — hitting drop shots and coming to the net more.”
Team Sinner became stronger when Jannik announced on June 19 that he hired Darren Cahill. The highly respected Aussie previously coached Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, and Simona Halep.
The slender, 6’2” Sinner is renowned for his calmness and fighting spirit. Both attributes helped him stave off match points and go on to win in four matches already in 2022. Sinner lost his only previous Wimbledon match last year. With his expanded shot-making and groundstroke power, this rising star should make the second week this time.
Hubert Hurkacz — The mild-mannered Pole enjoyed his best Grand Slam performance last year when he upset Medvedev and Federer to reach the Wimbledon semifinals. Since then, however, 10th-ranked Hubie has faltered a bit, going only 4-8 against top-10 opponents, although, importantly, the last two came recently over Auger-Aliassime and Medvedev when he won the grass-court event in Halle, Germany.
With a big serve and a sound volley, the agile, 6’5” Hurkacz is extremely comfortable on grass. His backhand is yet another strength, though his Eastern forehand is one of the least offensive forehands among top-15 players.
On his tactical maturity, Martina Navratilova said, “Hurkacz is a really smart player. I haven’t seen him hit the wrong shot yet.”
Don’t be surprised if Hubie repeats his semifinal showing of 2021.
Rafael Nadal — Rafa’s surprising Australian Open title and unsurprising French Open title made him the undisputed GOAT with 22 majors, two more than Djokovic and inactive Federer. It also propelled him halfway to a calendar Grand Slam. A new radiofrequency treatment for his chronic foot malady was successful enough that the Spanish superstar recently announced he will play Wimbledon.
Nadal’s only titles at the All England Club came way back in 2008 and 2010, though he reached the semifinals in 2018 and 2019. Rafa’s complete game and smart tactics can flourish on any surface. What’s more, his slice serve in the ad court and his excellent volleys will prove highly effective on grass. However, his lack of matches on this specialised surface will hurt. He hasn’t played there since 2019 and will not enter a tune-up event on grass. As a result, his ceiling this year is likely the semifinals.
Matteo Berrettini — A year ago, the Italian Stallion raced all the way to the Wimbledon final. Belting rocket serves — his serve rating is No. 4 on the ATP Tour — and bullet forehands, Berrettini produced solid wins over Auger-Aliassime and Hurkacz before Djokovic stopped him 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. Most impressively, he ranks No. 2 in the Under Pressure standings.
Matteo’s slice backhand, a liability on other surfaces, is often a strength — except for passing shots — on grass because it skids low and fast. Further, he’s shortened his forehand backswing to tailor it for grass, so he can hit approach shots more effectively. It’s no surprise that in his first tournament since March after undergoing surgery on his right hand, Berrettini captured the BOSS Open in Stuttgart, edging Andy Murray, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3. He then won his second straight Queen’s Club title. That gave him a terrific 19 wins in his last 20 matches on grass, the only setback coming against Djokovic.
If the handsome, 6’5” Berrettini lands on the opposite half of the draw from the top-ranked Serb, he’ll have a good chance to make the final again.
Novak Djokovic — A year ago, Djokovic captured his sixth Wimbledon title and 20th major to create a three-way tie with archrivals Nadal and Federer. He looked unstoppable until Medvedev thwarted his bid for a rare Grand Slam in the U.S. Open final. Then he sabotaged his Australian Open chances by refusing to get a Covid vaccination and was deported. Winning Rome signalled a return to top form, even though Nadal whipped him in four sets at the French Open.
“I think about winning more Slams and breaking records,” said the Serb after winning his 18th major. “And most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in majors, trying to win more major trophies.”
With that motivation, the best serve return in history, and a complete game, The Djoker is the oddsmakers’ strong favourite and my pick.
Dark Horses — Keep an eye on Miomir Kecmanovic. This season, the 22-year-old Serb power hitter, coached by 2002 Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian, has already beaten Berrettini, Auger-Aliassime, Cilic, Korda, and Taylor Fritz. The racquet-smashing and umpire-baiting Nick Kyrgios, who says “Expect the unexpected” about his chequered performances, has wasted much of his vast talent for years. Even so, the explosive Australian shot-maker, now 27, made the semis at Stuttgart and Halle, and could take out a seed or two. Holger Rune, a 19-year-old Dane whose on-court persona is almost as aggressive as his game, has notched wins over Zverev, Tsitsipas, and Denis Shapovalov this year and gained the French Open quarterfinals. “I have a big ego, I’m really passionate, and I love tennis,” said Rune. Those ingredients have fuelled many champions.
The unexpected retirement of No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in March, and the prolonged slump of four-time major champion Naomi Osaka created a gaping void in women’s tennis. Iga Swiatek quickly filled it with a winning streak not seen since Serena Williams and Justine Henin reigned.
The Wimbledon ban of Russian and Belarusian players prevents several top-30 players from competing — No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka, a semifinalist a year ago, No. 13 Daria Kasatkina, No. 20 Victoria Azarenka, No. 22 Veronika Kudermetova, and No. 28 Ekaterina Alexandrova. Osaka withdrew from the tournament because of a lingering Achilles tendon injury.
Can Swiatek, a clay-court star whose two Grand Slam titles have come at Roland Garros, switch gears to prevail on the Wimbledon grass? And who has the game, the athleticism, and the fortitude to challenge her?
Let’s analyse the top contenders and find out.
Ons Jabeur — The 27-year-old Tunisian made history as the first Arab girl to win a junior Slam title at 2011 Roland Garros, the first Arab woman to win a WTA title at the 2021 Viking Classic Birmingham, and the first Arab man or woman to make the top 10 in singles. Now ranked a career-high No. 4, Jabeur has racked up an impressive 15-2 record on grass since the start of 2021.
“She’s a guile player, not a power player, with a game that’s based on having great touch,” said ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert. Indeed, the entertaining, 5’6” trickster relishes drop shots so much she’s nicknamed “the drop shot queen.”
Although Ons upset 2017 champion Garbine Muguruza and Swiatek to reach the Wimbledon quarters last year, it’s doubtful her lightweight, finesse game will advance farther this year.
Karolina Muchova — Don’t be deceived by her No. 80 ranking. In the past 18 months, Muchova has knocked off then-No. 1 Ash Barty at the 2021 Australian Open, then-No. 2 Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Maria Sakkari (twice), Paula Badosa, and Bianca Andreescu.
The versatile Muchova boasts a strong, 5’11” physique, exceptional speed, effective flat and kick serves, and aggressive volleys. Touted as a future top-10 player by all-time great Martina Navratilova, the 25-year-old Czech will break through at Wimbledon, and with a favourable draw, could reach the final.
Coco Gauff — Coco has been tabbed for stardom ever since she upset the fading Venus Williams three years ago at The Championships to become the first 15-year-old to reach the Wimbledon fourth round since teen queen Martina Hingis in 1996. Gauff made her first Grand Slam final at the recent French Open, though she didn’t defeat a top-30 opponent. Despite beating only two top-15 foes this year, Badosa and Pliskova, she recently reached a career-high No. 12 after making the semifinals in Berlin.
Coco’s strong first serve, solid backhand, elite speed, and competitiveness are major strengths. But her extreme Western grip can make her forehand error-prone, particularly on low balls, which are common on grass. Her second serve can also let her down, as she’s averaging nearly four double faults a match. Gauff, listed at 12-1 by oddsmakers, needs another year or two to learn the subtleties of playing on grass before she can contend for the Wimbledon title.
Anett Kontaveit — The late-blooming Estonian shot up to a misleading No. 2, thanks chiefly to excellent results on true-bouncing hard courts. Kontaveit won five tournaments and reached two finals, including the WTA Finals last November.
But her one-dimensional, hard-hitting style lacks athleticism and improvisation. As a result, the 26-year-old Kontaveit has yet to advance past the third round at Wimbledon or defeat a top-25 opponent there. With a limited shot repertoire, she’ll struggle again on grass and lose early.
Maria Sakkari — The best woman in Greek tennis history suffered a crisis of confidence after she failed to convert a match point against eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova in the 2021 French Open semifinals. “I felt like I lost that bravery after the French. I was more hesitant. I was not going for it so much,” she recalled at the U.S. Open three months later. With the support of coach Tom Hill, hitting partner and brother Yannis, along with her psychologist, she regained her mojo enough to overcome 2019 champion Andreescu there in a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 marathon lasting 3-1/2 hours.
A superbly fit athlete with a well-rounded game and a zest for competition, Sakkari still has some scar tissue from that heartbreaking loss to Krejcikova. Even though Maria rose to a career-high No. 3 on March 21 and now ranks No. 5, a key question remains: Will she be able to handle her nerves, especially on the pivotal points?
Sakkari has never gone past the third round at Wimbledon. If she’s brave, she should easily surpass that this year.
Amanda Anisimova — What the 20-year-old American lacks in consistency, she more than makes up for with her high ceiling. In the first five months of 2022, Anisimova won the Melbourne Summer Set 2 event and defeated Osaka (twice at majors), Sabalenka (twice), Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic (twice), Danielle Collins, and Victoria Azarenka. But she’s also failed to get past the second round in four tournaments, including Indian Wells and Miami.
A statuesque, 5’11” blonde with classic strokes and a potent serve, Anisimova most resembles five-time major winner Maria Sharapova, who initially inspired her. At 17, Amanda told The New York Times , “I definitely want to become No. 1 in the world and win every Grand Slam.” Aside from reaching the 2019 French Open semis, she hasn’t come close to either goal — so far.
Anisimova boasts the heavy weapons to beat anyone, and my crystal ball shows Anisimova will upset an elite player or two and go far at Wimbledon.
Iga Swiatek — Just turned 21, Swiatek has captured six straight tournaments and is riding a 35-match winning streak. She idolises Rafael Nadal, and like him, her concussive topspin forehand is her biggest weapon. Taking the advice of new coach Tomasz Witorowski, Iga has become more aggressive. She combines her potent forehand with excellent speed and court positioning (often inside the baseline) to dictate rallies. Swiatek’s only weaknesses are a backhand that occasionally errs, and a volley that needs to be more penetrating.
Is the slender Pole destined for greatness? Or is she simply a red-hot player capitalising on the unusually weak competition? Swiatek won’t win Wimbledon, but how far she goes will nevertheless provide important answers.
Paula Badosa — It usually takes a heavy hitter to stop the rampaging Swiatek. Two of the Pole’s three losses this year were dealt by sluggers — Danielle Collins at the Australian Open and Jelena Ostapenko at Dubai. World No. 4 Badosa, whose parents are fashion designers, possesses similar groundstroke power, has a bigger serve, which exceeds 115 mph, and moves better than Collins and Ostapenko.
The comely, 24-year-old Spaniard upset Swiatek 6-3, 7-6 at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and nearly three months later captured her biggest title at Indian Wells. Since then, the 5’11” Badosa has racked up a terrific 14-2 record in tiebreakers, often the deciding factor in close matches.
Paula keeps resistance bands in her tennis bag, and she’ll encounter plenty of resistance during the fortnight. But Badosa will survive a near-upset or two and then claim her first Grand Slam title.
Dark Horses — At Roland Garros, Zheng Qinwen outhit two-time major titlist Simona Halep 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 before extending Swiatek to 6-7, 6-0, 6-2, despite stomach pain, in the fourth round. The 19-year-old from China draws inspiration from Li Na and displays the same sound technique and offensive style. Linda Fruhvirtova, a 16-year-old Czech, ranks only No. 175 and will have to qualify, but her impressive maturity helped her upset No. 66 Danka Kovinic, No. 24 Elise Mertens, and No. 16 Azarenka at the Miami Open. Beatriz Haddad Maia, a late-blooming Brazilian at 26, is on a grass-court roll. The 6’-tall, lefty power hitter captured tune-up events at Nottingham and Birmingham, upsetting Sakkari, Halep, and Camila Giorgi along the way, to rank a career-high No. 29. And let’s not count out seven-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams. The 23-time major winner, now 40, received a wild card to play her first singles event since retiring injured from a first-round match here a year ago, but stranger things have happened in unpredictable women’s tennis. As Badosa admitted, “No one wants to play Serena, [especially] on grass.”
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