After calling off last year’s tournament due to COVID, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club—and why is it, by the way, that we hear so little about their croquet?—today kicks off the 2021 installment of what the tennis world calls, simply, “Wimbledon.” Will there be fans? Yes—they’ll have to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative PCR test to be admitted, and capacity will be kept at about half, until the finals—which will be full capacity.
As for the on-court action: Is this Serena Williams’ tournament to lose? In a word: Yes—though that doesn’t mean a record-tying 24th Grand Slam is a slam dunk for her by any means. Vastly in her favor is the fact that some key would-be challengers of hers aren’t playing—after leaving the French Open early, Naomi Osaka has opted to skip Wimbledon as well; Simona Halep—the defending champion, since she beat Serena in the 2019 final on Centre Court—is out with a calf injury; and while the world’s number-one-ranked player, Ash Barty, is putting a brave face on the aftermath of her recent hip injury, it seems doubtful that she’s going to be playing at 100% throughout the two-week tournament.
Still, there’s a handful of players in Serena’s quarter of the bracket who could derail her path to the semis—Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina, and Coco Gauff among them—it would seem like Serena’s power, her massive serve, the shorter points (grass, for the uninitiated, is the fastest surface of any of the Slams) would all seem to favor her on what has been her favorite and most successful surface to play on.
It’s likely going to come down to fitness—both physical and mental. Serena hasn’t been playing a ton of tournaments and, at 39, it’s a real question whether or not she can summon the will to win seven matches one after the other to claim an historic victory. TLDR? Don’t bet against her—but keep an eye on two-time champion Petra Kvitova and 2017 Wimbledon winner Garbiñe Muguruza.
On the men’s side, with Rafael Nadal opting to sit the tournament out to “rest”—there’s chatter on the tour that he’s suffering from a serious foot injury but is simply too gentlemanly to use that as a crutch to explain his semifinal defeat at the French Open at the hands of Novak Djokovic—there’s a few storylines worth following: Can Roger Federer, at the age of 39, extend his record at his favorite tournament to nine titles? Can Stefanos Tsitsipas translate his Slam success on French clay onto Wimbledon’s ryegrass? Can the home-country favorite, Andy Murray, rise to the occasion for a third time after a lengthy spell away from the game due to injury?
So, yes, there’s a lot of questions—and then there’s essentially one question: How can Novak Djokovic, the world’s number-one-ranked player fresh off an epic victory at the French and seemingly playing at the top of his game at 34, not win this year’s Wimbledon? (A win here would tie Djokovic with Federer and Nadal at 20 careers Grand Slams each—itself a mind-boggling thing to behold.) He’s that rare veteran player who seems to play with the mental and physical intensity of a journeyman with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove—and he seems unhampered at the moment by injury, fatigue, doldrums, complacency, or much of anything—or anybody—else that can get in his way.
Except for one guy—and yes, that guy is Roger Federer. Fingers crossed they meet in the finals.
(One more quick thing: When’s the last time you watched mixed doubles? Well, the thrillingly unpredictable Nick Kyrgios is pairing up with Venus Williams to have a go at it here—well worth a look.)
Enjoy the tournament.