Sport works best when there is space for both the familiar and the novel. Familiar to make it more watchable and easier to follow; novel to keep it from getting boring, provide for the thrills that accompany a prodigy’s rise and reinforce the notion that sport is still the preserve of the young.
Of late in tennis, these two strands have existed in entirely different worlds, limited to the men’s and women’s Tours respectively. It’s only at the Majors that they have an opportunity to entwine and ensure eclectic, first-rate tennis whichever way you look.
'Manic Monday' at Wimbledon 2019, when all 32 of the singles pre-quarterfinalists will have their moments under the sun -- or under a steady, spitting drizzle which is never far off in these parts -- will bear testament to this.
There is Roger Federer, who is into the second week of Wimbledon for an astonishing 17th time in 21 years , and will hope to become the oldest men’s singles Slam champion, Rafael Nadal, who will be gunning for a record-equalling third French Open-Wimbledon double, Novak Djokovic, who will look to defend his crown, and Serena Williams, seeking her 24th singles trophy to tie Margaret Court.
Then there is the irresistible 15-year-old American Cori 'Coco' Gauff, ranked 313 in the world, whose run from the qualifying -- to which she was awarded a wild card -- has captured the imagination of millions world-wide. Until Friday, all three of her main draw matches had made it to the top-eight of BBC’s most-watched list, with the third round win over Polona Hercog topping with 5.2 million viewers, comfortably beating Nadal-Nick Kyrgios at 3.7m.
Nadal will open proceedings on Centre Court against Joao Sousa and Serena on Court 1 takes on Carla Suarez Navarro, but it will be Gauff’s clash against Simona Halep -- second on Court 1 -- that will headline the day.
Gauff’s biggest achievement thus far has been her steadfast refusal to fall off the emotional cliff, a trait that characterises most break-out stars following their biggest moments. The triumphs over five-time Wimbledon winner Venus Williams and 2017 semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova were stunning, enough for a lifetime’s worth of stories. But the Hercog contest was a severe test of patience, judgement and skill, which she passed with flying colours.
In Halep she will face the most-rounded of her opponents yet, a Grand Slam champion and former World No.1 who looked menacing in her thrashing of Victoria Azarenka on Friday. Gauff, though, is not someone to flinch.
Two others to exhibit similar youthful exuberance, albeit to a lesser degree, are 23-year-old Matteo Berrettini and 21-year-old Ugo Humbert, who will take on Federer and Djokovic respectively. Berrettini is coming off a stellar grass season (just one loss from 12 matches) and was recently marked out for success by none other than Federer himself. However, Monday’s clash may come too early for the Italian. Humbert, meanwhile, dispatched the highly rated Felix Auger Aliassime in straight sets but Djokovic will present a significant step up.
One player who has quietly slipped under the radar has been World No.1 Ashleigh Barty. It hasn’t stopped the reigning French Open champion from being at her efficient best on her favourite surface, losing just 12 games. A victory over fellow grass-lover Alison Riske, can potentially land her at Serena’s doorstep in the last eight.
Doubles specialist Divij Sharan, partnering Marcelo Demoliner, remains the lone Indian in the field, and will take on the top-seeded pair of Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo.