Wimbledon: Where Champions Are Born

Novak Djokovic (photo: Wimbledon.com video)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, June 27, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

The Wimbledon Championships have arrived. Monday begins the 135th edition of Wimbledon. The event’s history dates back to 1877, with the first women’s singles championship staged in 1884. This is the 54th Wimbledon of the Open Era, which began in 1968, and saw the introduction of prize money. Due to the pandemic, Wimbledon was dark in 2020.

This year’s Wimbledon has World No. 3 Novak Djokovic as the men’s top seed as he goes for his fourth straight singles crown and seventh overall. The women’s top seed is Iga Swiatek, who brings a 35-match winning streak into the British fortnight. She reached the fourth round last year and hopes to improve upon that performance.

Wimbledon marks the return of seven-time Wimbledon women’s champion Serena Williams and it will also feature two-time Wimbledon winner Rafael Nadal, who comes into this year’s event having won the year’s first two major titles at the Australian Open and the French Open.

As defending champion, Djokovic has the honor of playing the first match on Centre Court Monday afternoon against No. 75 Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea. Swiatek will open on Centre Court on Tuesday afternoon against 252nd-ranked qualifier Jana Fett of Croatia. Nadal will play No. 42 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina in his first-round match and Williams, who is ranked No. 1,204 and received a wild card into the main draw, was drawn against No. 115 Harmony Tan of France. Both Nadal and Williams make their first appearances at this year’s Wimbledon on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, Djokovic and Nadal as well as Swiatek and Williams sat for media interviews at the All England Club. Here are some of the highlights of what each had to say and what we might expect from this dynamic quartet of tennis stars:

Novak Djokovic

• On his preparations:

“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. I just had one exhibition matches a few days ago in Hurlingham.

“Over the years, as I said, I had success with adapting quickly to the surface, so there is no reason not to believe that I can do it again.

“Of course, I’m very pleased and happy to be back at the tournament that was always my childhood dream tournament, the one that I always wanted to win. So, of course, wonderful memories from [the] last three editions of Wimbledon for me. Hopefully, I can continue that run.”

• On the prestige of Wimbledon but without any rankings points this year:

“Well, it would probably affect more other players than myself, to be honest. I don’t want to say the ranking points are not important for me. Of course, they are. But not as they were, you know, up to recently.

“Now, I’m not really chasing the ranking as much as I have, until I was breaking [the] record for longest weeks at No. 1. Then, after that, it just wasn’t as I think important in terms of priority for me.

“Of course, I understand that 90-plus percent of the players who are playing in this tournament and the ones that are not playing are going to be, you know, more affected by points. I mean, of course, this year I didn’t have a chance to defend 4,000 points, in Australia 2,000, 2,000 here. That affects my ranking in general, of course, But my priorities are different now. So, of course, I’m not as affected, so to say.”

Rafael Nadal

• On the condition of his chronic foot injury:

“Well, is obvious that if I am here, it’s because things are going better. If not, I would not be here.

“So, quite happy about the things, how evolved. I can’t be super happy because I don’t know what can happen. But I only can speak about the feelings that I am having the last two weeks. There is a couple of things that are so important for me, no?

“First of all, I can walk normal 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 second thing, practicing. I have been in overall better, honestly, no? Since the last two weeks, I didn’t have not one day of these terrible days that I can’t move at all. Of course, days better; days a little bit worst.

“The feeling and overall feelings are positive, no, because I am in a positive way in terms of pain, and that’s the main thing.”

• On the influence Roger Federer has had on his career and how their friendship has evolved:

“I mean, we shared a lot of important things together, no? I think in some way all the things that we achieved, difficult in some way to think in the tennis the last 15, 20 years without thinking about the rivalry that we have because we have been playing in every big stadium, not in New York, that’s the only thing that bothers me a little bit, that we never played in New York. But in the rest of the most important events of the world, we shared court, fighting for the most important things.

“I think in some way we push each other. When you have somebody very good in front – I can talk about myself – I always wanted to think that my motivation never comes to me because of the others, just it’s a personal motivation. But, of course, have somebody like him, like a rival, that he’s amazing good, helps you to let you know the things that you have to do to be better.

“In some way it’s easier to have a way to improve when you have an example in front that is better than you, for not always but [a] lot of times.

“That’s it. And our relationship has been I think always very positive, very friendly. Even our rivalry on court has never bothered our relationship outside of the court.”

Iga Swiatek

• On learning she had been selected to open on Centre Court on Tuesday:

“Oh, no, we didn’t really request that. I know that there have been some discussions about who should open, and I feel privileged that I’ve been chosen. There are many players here who have won Wimbledon and had the great tournament.

“Yeah, it’s a great thing for me. I wasn’t expecting that because still I only made it to fourth round last year and that’s my best result.

“Yeah, I feel privileged and proud of myself mostly. Hopefully, it’s going to be a good show.”

• On being the pre-tournament favorite and coming into Wimbledon on a long winning streak:

“Honestly, I still feel like I need to figure out grass. Last year for sure, it was that kind of tournament where I didn’t know what to expect. Then, match by match, I realized, maybe I can do more and more.

“Still, this year, I only played, like, 10 days on grass. So, it’s not a lot. I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. But I’m just trying to stay open-minded and kind of take positives from the situation and realize that I can play without expectations.

“I have so much, I don’t know, successes this season that I don’t have to kind of show everybody that I need to play well on every tournament because it’s tennis, we have ups and downs. So, I try to play without expectations and just see what this tournament brings me.”

Serena Williams

• On how close she came to retiring from tennis:

“I don’t know. I didn’t retire. I just needed to heal physically, mentally. And, yeah, I had no plans, to be honest. I just didn’t know when I would come back. I didn’t know how I would come back.

“Obviously, Wimbledon is such a great place to be, and it just kind of worked out.”

• On the experience of playing doubles at Eastbourne last week in preparing for Wimbledon:

“You know, Eastbourne was a good experience. I went into this saying, you know, I’d play Eastbourne. I would never be ready for singles, I’ll just kind of play doubles and see how I felt. Definitely probably could have played singles there.

“But the doubles were great. Played with Ons [Jabeur], who has been playing well. And it was good. I felt more prepared that I thought I would like a month or two months or three months ago. Way, way, more. So, it was kind of surprising, but also, it’s just a fun time, just to be out there and to enjoy it. I don’t know, just be out on the court against was cool.”

Monday’s Wimbledon order of play

Wimbledon noteworthy

Both Madison Keys of the United States and Borna Coric of Croatia withdrew from Wimbledon because of injuries over the weekend.

Keys, who was seeded 19th at Wimbledon, pulled out because of a hurt abdominal muscle. Her place was ten by another American, Coco Vandeweghe, twice a Wimbledon quarterfinalist, who lost in qualifying. Vandeweghe’s first-round opponent will be No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan.

Coric earned a main draw berth as a result of a protected ranking because he had been injured. He cited a shoulder problem as the reason for withdrawing. Coric, who was drawn to face No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, was replaced by 107th-ranked lucky loser Stefan Kozlov of the United States.

“Quotable …”

“The walk to the court is definitely the most nerve-wracking because you see the members’ enclosure, it’s a very beautiful area. They have, I don’t know if they’re guards or whatever, they’re standing like in front of Centre Court looking straight. I didn’t expect that the first time when I came in. I remember being like, Wow. You kind of want to take a picture of it. Obviously you can’t, but …

“Yeah, the other slams, it’s more of an urban type of area, where here it’s definitely a lot more historical. The culture, you can really feel it. That’s the biggest thing I remember of Centre Court.”

Coco Gauff on her first memories of Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court