Wimbledon fortnight will test the best and the rest

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray ahead of Wimbledon 2024
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray ahead of Wimbledon 2024 (PC: X)

Last year, at The Championships in Wimbledon, when Novak Djokovic lost the gentlemen’s singles final to Carlos Alcaraz, there were loud utterances: “Changing of the guard.” Novak’s loss to the Spaniard was defining and tennis fans thought, this was the end of the Serbian’s raging run. How wrong it was, as Novak went on to win the US Open in raucous New York, his 24th Grand Slam title, less than two month later.

As ‘The Championships’ rolls into action at the well-manicured lawns of London’s most famous suburb for a fortnight – Church Road, SW 19 – all eyes will be on the men and ladies, as they are addressed in the season’s third Grand Slam. Yes, a lot has happened in the last 12 months, what with Alcaraz showcasing his skills as an all-court player and the rise of Jannik Sinner enchanting.

If you think all this makes them a choice as an outright choice to win the title on July 14, hold your horses. Grand old man Novak Djokovic, limping at times and in and out of hospital these days, is not ready to give up. Gunning for his eighth title at Wimbledon, and 25th Grand Slam title, his presence at the All England Lawn Tennis And Croquet Club is surprising, in many ways. To undergo a torn right knee meniscus surgery at the French Open and then resume training so soon, it has been baffling. This is Novak, someone who defies the odds. He loves this pressure, and how he is “not fit” tag.

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Novak Djokovic ahead of Wimbledon 2024
Novak Djokovic ahead of Wimbledon 2024 (PC: Novak Djokovic/X)

“I didn’t come here to play a few rounds and prove to myself and others that I can actually compete in one or two matches. I really want to go for the title,” Djokovic told the tennis writers a few days back. Was he talking sense or was this hype? Be sure, Novak will not talk needlessly, he has done all kinds of stuff on grass already in the last one week to test his knee flexion, range of movement, and how much he will have to bend it, for the tennis ball can stay low.

The story is about Novak and the others who can win Wimbledon this time, though Andy Murray has entered as an emotional man seeking a farewell at a venue he simple loves. Tennis on grass is different and Wimbledon does not make things easier for any player. Each one competing on grass knows, conditions are different. There is more standardised bounce over the last 15 years and the tennis ball is heavier. Yet, when it comes to sorties to the net, playing a bit of serve and volley or changing the monotonous trend of baseline rallies, men and women ready to experiment can do well.

It takes seven matches to win a Grand Slam. Add do it the fickle English weather, a player has to be ready to face all kinds of challenges to emerge as champion.

This holds true for the ladies as well. Even though much if the hype is on the men, the distaff side will witness even more hard tennis. World No.1 Iga Swiatek, whose bull run at the French Open makes it so simple for her every year, knows the conditions in Wimbledon and the ambience is different.

Iga Swiatek in Wimbledon
Iga Swiatek in Wimbledon (PC: Iga Swiatek/X)

As one whose best run at Wimbledon has only been a quarter-final appearance over the last few years, Polish star Iga knows she has to do well this time. Or else, people will say, she is just a one-dimensional player. Two years ago, in the lead up to the French Open and then Wimbledon, she was breaking all kinds of records. But then, the big deal is, win The Championships. It defines greatness, it defines a tennis champion. Someone like Ivan Lendl hated grass, yet he kept trying to win it. End result, failure after failure!

No, Iga Swiatek is no Lendl, she has the game and grace to win on grass. What she needs is more confidence, enjoy the surface, just as fans devour strawberry and cream, which is a must at Wimbledon. Mind over matter, Iga needs to do it this time, even though there are many dangerous opponents lurking out there.

Who would have imagined, in 2023, Marketa Vondrousova would win the Venus Rosewater Dish, symbol of supremacy in the ladies section. Marketa has not been heard of, too much, after that. More famous names which ring a bell are Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina, Ons Jabeur, who loves Wimbledon, plus wild card Naomi Osaka.

For those who have romanced tennis on grass, the fortnight ahead is most beautiful, where dreams are realised as well as dashed. Possibilities are immense, and even the bookmakers are sensitive to what can unfold at Wimbledon. Suspense? That’s an obvious at Wimbledon from today, Monday afternoon.

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