London: When it comes to Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic seems to use a unique plan — going into the year’s third Grand Slam without playing a single match on the grass court in the season. He did that in his last two trophy runs and the Serbian is going to do the same at the 2022 Wimbledon, starting here on Monday.
In each of his past two Wimbledon trophy runs, Novak Djokovic’s opening match on the London lawns was his first grass-court match of the season. Now seeking a fourth straight title at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, the Serbian’s preparations have not changed.
His last competitive match was a quarterfinal epic against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. By the time the top-seeded Djokovic takes to Centre Court on Monday against Soonwoo Kwon, he will have spent nearly a month between appearances.
“I didn’t have any lead-up tournaments to Wimbledon, but I’ve had success in Wimbledon in the past without having any official matches and tournaments,” said Djokovic.
“Over the years, I had success with adapting quickly to the surface, so there is no reason not to believe I can do it again.”
Djokovic discussed the delicate balance between rest and grass-court match play leading up to Wimbledon, explaining how later in his career, his priorities have shifted to the former.
“Over the years I learned how to play more efficiently on the surface as well”, he continued. “At the beginning of my career, I was still struggling a bit with movement and sliding.
“I think the movement is the biggest one really, the biggest adaptation that needs to be done on the grass coming from the clay, where players like myself slide quite a lot. On grass that’s not always possible. It is possible to slide, but you can’t do it as frequently or as often or maybe as free as you do it on clay.
“You have to be more careful with the movement, tactics, et cetera, different training regimens. Different positions on the court. You have to be lower; everything kind of skids through the court. It’s very quick and bounces low, contrary to the clay, which bounces high.”
Djokovic starts favourite for the title in this year’s Wimbledon which is unique in many senses. The event will not have any players representing Russia and Belarus as they have been banned from participation because of their country’s aggressive stance against Ukraine and have been stripped of the ranking points by both ATP and WTA.
This year the Wimbledon will also do away with a century-old tradition — of not having any matches on the middle Sunday of the fortnight-long competition. This year, matches will be played on all 14 days.
Djokovic will open his campaign on Monday against South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon, ranked 75th in the World, in the first match at the Centre Court, which is completing 100 years of its existence.
At the event he called his “childhood dream tournament”, Djokovic has an opportunity to match Pete Sampras by winning his seventh Wimbledon title. That would put him one shy of Roger Federer’s record eight.
“I would like to be in the [final] to eventually make history,” Djokovic said. “Pete Sampras winning his first Wimbledon was the first tennis match I’ve ever seen on the TV. So of course there is a lot of connection to this tournament. Pete has won it seven times… Hopefully, I can do the same this year.”
Leading the draw as the top seed, Djokovic could face countryman Miomir Kecmanovic in the third round, with Carlos Alcaraz a potential quarter-final opponent.
His main threat for the men’s singles title will be former champion Rafael Nadal, who is having a unique year of his own.
Never before has Nadal entered Wimbledon after winning the year’s first two Grand Slam events. But with the 2022 Australian Open and Roland Garros titles in tow, a trophy in his 15th Wimbledon would put him on the brink of the Grand Slam-winning all four majors in the same year. That feat that has not been achieved in men’s singles since Rod Laver in 1969.
Nadal, the second seed at Wimbledon, is set to open his campaign on Tuesday against Francisco Cerundolo. It will be his first competitive action since he lifted the Roland Garros trophy on 5 June.
Nadal last took the court for a competitive match three weeks ago, when he won his record-extending 22nd Grand Slam singles title and 14th Roland Garros crown. Now set to play Wimbledon for the first time in three years, the 36-year-old enters London halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam for the first time in his career.
But in typical Nadal fashion, the Spaniard is focusing on the present. Fortunately for the second seed, the current situation is positive with regard to his chronic foot injury. After playing Roland Garros with his foot “asleep” as a result of frequent injections, Nadal underwent a new treatment to numb the problematic nerves in his foot for what he hopes is a more permanent solution.
“(I am) quite happy about how (it has) evolved,” he told the press on Saturday ahead of his opening-round match against Francisco Cerundolo. “First of all, I can walk normally most of the days, almost every single day. That’s for me the main issue. When I wake up, I don’t have this pain that I was having for the last year and a half, so quite happy about that.
“And the second thing, practising. I have been overall better, honestly. Since the last two weeks, I didn’t have not one day of these terrible days that I can’t move at all… The feeling and overall feelings are positive, because I am in a positive way in terms of pain, and that’s the main thing.”
Despite the ongoing foot injury and a rib fracture that sidelined him for over a month following his run to the Indian Wells final, Nadal has compiled a 30-3 record in the season – a run of success that has surprised even him.
“I will never say a drama because drama are other things in life,” he explained. “Without a doubt, we are only playing tennis. But in terms of daily suffering, it has been tough in terms of every day going on the court without knowing if I am going to be able to finish the practice the proper way or finish the match the proper way. That’s tough to accept.
Nadal’s path to a third Wimbledon title could go through sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime – whom he battled in a five-set Roland Garros fourth round – or Eastbourne champion Taylor Fritz in the quarter-finals, with fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini potential semi-final opponents.
Matteo Berrettini and Stefanos Tsitsipas could clash in the other quarterfinal in the bottom half. Last year’s finalist Berrettini, who triumphed on the grass in Stuttgart and London this month, opens against Cristian Garin, while fourth-seeded Greek Tsitsipas plays Swiss qualifier Alexander Ritschard.
In the top half, fifth seed Alcaraz is making his second appearance at Wimbledon and starts against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, with third seed Casper Ruud playing Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Other intriguing first-round matches include Nick Kyrgios against British wild card Paul Jubb, last year’s semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov against Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech and Indian Wells champ Taylor Fritz against #NextGenATP Italian Lorenzo Musetti.