Wimbledon preview: Winner winner, Jannik Sinner?

Wimbledon continues Great British summer of sport

The traditional Wimbledon logo, two white tennis rackets crossing with a white tennis ball underneath on a green background

It’s that time of year again when a green, leafy London suburb bursts into life with the hum of excitement and the distant thwack of tennis balls.
The world’s best tennis players descend on a sleepy corner of the capital for the 137th edition of the sport’s oldest and most prestigious championships.

Wimbledon gets underway on Monday for the zenith of the grass court season and the third major of the year.

For all the drama of the Euros, where else can you buy strawberries and cream for £8 a pop and a pint of Pimms for twice that. Where else can you do what us Brits simply do better than anyone else and stand in a queue for hours?

Speaking of fruit, whose name will be etched on to the pineapple-topped trophy to go down in the annals as a Wimbledon champion?

Familiar faces, new champions…

Jannik Sinner, Italy’s first ever no.1 singles player, has four titles under his belt this year (a win/loss record of 38-3) and will start as favourite in the men’s draw. Defending champion and fellow ‘young’un’ Carlos Alcaraz has added the Roland Garros title to his resume since his triumph last year in SW19 and is a strong contender again.

At the time of going to print, we don’t yet know whether Novak Djokovic will be fit enough to go for an eighth crown on the hallowed turf of Centre Court. But – if he is – you can be sure he won’t be far away. The Serb will be seeded second, so if all goes to plan would face Alexander Zverev in the semis and then Alcaraz or Sinner in the final. Should the 24-time major winner opt to skip SW19 and instead focus on the Paris Olympics (the one big title missing from his collection), this will be the first Championships without Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer since the turn of the century.

Other names to watch out for include Poland’s powerful seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz, American dark horse Taylor Fritz and recent King of Queen’s Tommy Paul.

Jack Draper’s breakthrough fortnight – a first ATP title in Stuttgart and a win over Alcaraz at Queen’s – has raised excitement levels among British fans. The emerging 22-year-old has usurped Cameron Norrie as the nation’s no.1 player and will be seeded at SW19. Draper has found consistency and his strong grass court game makes him an outside bet for the title.

Despite the fact both are more at home on the European clay, perennial second weekers Stefanos Tsitsipas and French Open runner up Zverev, both bidding for their first majors, cannot be ruled out.

A fond final farewell

We can’t move on without a word to Sir Andy Murray on what will almost certainly be his final Wimbledon. We really hope he recovers from his latest injury in time to earn a richly deserved swansong. To bow out fittingly as one of Britain’s finest ever sportsmen at the place he loves – and is loved – so much. He’s earned the right to choose when he hangs up his racket, and will no doubt be roared to the rafters as he brings down the curtain on a glittering career.

Swiatek not so Iga

Andy Murray lifts the Wimbledon title in 2013 on Centre Court

Not since the great Serena Williams (2015&2016) has there been a successful defence of the ladies singles. Since then, Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Ash Barty, Elena Rybakina and Marketa Vondrousova  have all got their hands on the Venus Rosewater Dish and this year’s field looks as much of a ‘free for all’ as ever.

Iga Swiatek, fresh from her fourth French Open title in Paris, will start as the world no.1 and top seed. But she has consistently failed to convert her considerable clay court dominance into tangible success on grass. Swiatek has never gone beyond the quarter finals at Wimbledon and does not adapt well to the switch in surface.

Vondrousova was a shock winner last year as the unseeded Czech defied the odds to topple hot favourite Ons Jabeur under the Centre Court roof. Ranked sixth this time, she will again be among the leading contenders, especially with injury and illness doubts surrounding big hitting Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka and Kazakh Rybakina.

Coco Gauff catapulted herself into the national spotlight with a record breaking run to the last 16 aged 15 in 2019. Now the world no.2, she had a US Open under her belt. French Open finalist Jasmine Paolini won her first WTA 1,000 title earlier this year and, having never gone beyond the first round here, will be expected to fare significantly better this time around. Don’t rule out the trio of top-20 Americans, either, in the form of Jessica Pegula, and former Grand Slam finalists Danielle Collins and Madison Keys.

Raducanu returns

Emma Raducanu is back in business having been awarded a wildcard spot for the Championship. Her third Wimbledon and, incredibly, only a ninth major, it’s easy to forget she’s still only 21. Raducanu’s life has been changed from promising youngster to the next big thing in the British game after her historic US Open victory in 2021. It hasn’t been easy with increased pressure, media attention and a catalogue of injuries, resulting in her dropping outside the world’s top.100. But Raducanu is raring to go and is well placed to go deep into the second week of a major for the first time since THAT fortnight in New York. If she can return to that form and level, then Raducanu could be, whisper it, a dangerous ‘floater’ in the draw.

So bring it on. Two weeks of sun (and rain, too, surely, this is Wimbledon after all), strawberries, serves, seeds and Sinner. Ready? Play…

Australian Open 2023: History beckons for maestros of Melbourne

Of the 256 men’s and women’s singles players headed to Melbourne for the first tennis major of 2023, only four remain.

It has been another compelling fortnight of Grand Slam action, from defending champion Rafael Nadal’s early exit to former finalist Andy Murray’s latest acts of derring do.

Only one of the top four women’s seeds made it beyond the round of 16, and an unranked outsider went all the way to the semi finals in both singles draws – unfancied Pole Magda Linette and world no.37 Tommy Paul respectively. Belarussian 24th seed Victoria Azarenka evoked memories of her win here a decade ago with an unlikely run to the last four, only to fall at the penultimate hurdle to Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

Saturday’s women’s final offers us a fascinating power battle between two ladies who are about as opposite from one another as it is possible to be. The quiet and introverted Rybakina takes on Azarenka’s compatriot, the outgoing and extroverted Aryna Sabalenka, playing in her first Grand Slam final after winning a major semi final at the fourth time of asking.

Unheralded and still a relative rookie despite her status as reigning Wimbledon champion, Rybakina has crept through the draw almost unnoticed. She began her Australian Open campaign on the outside courts but has dropped only one set en route to the final. The 24-year-old Kazakh has beaten three former Grand Slam champions in successive matches.

Australian Open; Rybakina Sabalenkatennis major, Djokovic, Grand Slam,
Aryna Sabalenka (L) and Elena Rybakina (R) will do battle in the Melbourne final on Saturday

Iga Swiatek, the world’s best female player and winner of two of the last three majors, was vanquished 6-4 6-4 in the fourth round. Jelena Ostapenko, winner at Roland Garros six years ago, had no answer in the last eight before that aforementioned straight setter over Azarenka, who triumphed here in 2012 and again a year later, completed the hat-trick. No one has managed such a feat since Jennifer Capriati 21 years ago.

It’s a tough match to call: purely on rankings alone, Sabalenka will start as favourite but she has never been this far before. Rybakina, 23, will look to take her experience at Wimbledon on to the Rod Laver Arena and her calm demeanour could work in her favour against a vocal opponent who likes to make her feelings known.

The fire and ice meeting pits the calm and composed Rybakina against the fiery and combustible 24-year-old from Belarus. Both players are big hitting baseliners with serve likely to dominate so don’t expect many long rallies. Indeed, Rybakina’s serve has been her biggest weapon but she has also been formidable off the ground in mild conditions suitable for flat groundstrokes.

Sabalenka will return to world no.2 regardless of what happens in the final and could become the first player to win a major whilst competing under a neutral flag. Rybakina will break into the top 10 and could rise as high as #8 with victory on RLA.

If the women’s draw has proved unpredictable, then perhaps the men’s has panned out exactly as we expected. Ever since Nadal and No.2 seed Casper Ruud were both KO’d in the second round, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic – as the highest ranked men left – have been on a collision course. Djokovic did not start his Melbourne campaign particularly well with wobbles in his opening two matches, but since then he has been an unstoppable runaway train.

Bidding for a record extending tenth title at Melbourne Park, Djokovic has a 100% record in Australian Open finals and will start as strong favourite in this cross-generational clash of champion versus challenger. The two players have met once before in a major final when Djokovic demonstrated his remarkable powers of recovery to come back from two sets down and triumph on the Roland Garros clay in 2021.

Victory would, of course, not only extend the Serbian great’s phenomenal record in Melbourne. He will be desperate to equal his great friend and rival Nadal’s record of 22 (TWENTY TWO) Grand Slam titles in the latest installment of the ageing pair’s long and gruelling struggle for supremacy. Djokovic infamously missed last year’s tournament – won by Nadal – after being deported over a row over his vaccination status. Nadal took full advantage and added to his success here with his own Herculean feat as he secured a mind boggling 14th French Open win before Djokovic came roaring back at Wimbledon – his seventh title in SW19. That is only scratching the surface of these two men’s extraordinary exploits.

Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina meet in the women's finalNovak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas face off in the men's final
Djokovic will contest his 33rd major final; Tsitipas will play in only his second

But in Tsitsipas, Djokovic faces one of the contenders to his crown when the time comes for him to hang up his racket. Still only 24, the Greek burst into the spotlight in Melbourne in 2019 when he beat Roger Federer en route to the last four as a 20-year-old. Tsitsipias has lost three previous semi finals at this tournament, but has fully justified his ranking with a deep run this time around. His first three matches were all won in straight sets before a five setter epic against Jannik Sinner set up a last eight meeting with unseeded Czech Jiri Lehecka. Tsitsipas survived a third set wobble in his win over Karen Kachanov in the semis to make the showpiece here for the first time.

At a tournament with a hard-court surface on which he thrives, and in a city where he is warmly backed by its large Greek population, Tsitsipas has long appeared destined for success at the Australian Open. An aggressive baseliner, Tsitsipas uses his athleticism and power to try and dominate the points and wear down his opponents with punishing groundstrokes off both his forehand and backhand.

But to lift the trophy, he must beat a man eleven years his senior who has not lost a match here since 2018 – a record 27 consecutive wins. Everything falls in favour of Djokovic but all the pressure and expectation will be on the shoulders of the man from Serbia.

The winner of Sunday’s high stakes encounter will also become the new world number one.