LONDON: Ranked a lowly 1,204 in the world and without a competitive singles match in 12 months, Serena Williams will sweep into Wimbledon targeting what would be her greatest triumph.
The seven-time champion at the All England Club will also be chasing down a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon where eight-time champion Roger Federer, the world’s top two men’s players as well as valuable ranking points will all be missing.
The odds have rarely been so stacked against the great American who can become the first unseeded woman to win Wimbledon.
With her 41st birthday just three months away, Serena hasn’t played a singles tie on tour since limping out of Wimbledon in tears in the first round against Aliaksandra Sasnovich in 2021.
The American star has been frustratingly marooned on 23 Slams since winning a seventh Australian Open in 2017 while pregnant.
She was runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2018 and 2019 as Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 majors remained out of touch.
“I didn’t retire. I just needed to heal physically, mentally. I had no plans. I just didn’t know when I would come back. I didn’t know how I would come back,” said the 40-year-old on Saturday.
Serena warmed up for Wimbledon by playing doubles with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne and starts her All England Club campaign against France’s Harmony Tan, ranked 113 and who is making her tournament debut.
When Serena played her first Wimbledon in 1998, current world number one Iga Swiatek was still three years away from being born.
The 21-year-old Pole arrives at the tournament with a second French Open title secured and on a 35-match win streak. She faces Croatian qualifier Jana Fett in the first round on Tuesday.
The women’s draw remains open with defending champion Ashleigh Barty having retired earlier this year.
Four-time major winner Naomi Osaka, rarely a serious threat on grass, has withdrawn with an Achilles injury.
The Japanese star, the world’s highest-earning sportswoman, had already expressed reservations over taking part.
She feared the status of Wimbledon had been reduced to that of an exhibition tournament after the ATP and WTA stripped it of ranking points.
That was in response to the ban imposed on Russian and Belarusian players in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine.
Three of the top 20 women will therefore miss Wimbledon — Aryna Sabalenka, a semi-finalist last year, 2018 quarter-finalist Daria Kasatkina and Victoria Azarenka, a 2011 and 2012 semi-finalist.
The decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players also means there is no place for men’s world number one Daniil Medvedev or eighth-ranked Andrey Rublev.
For the first time since his debut in 1999 — notwithstanding the Covid-cancelled 2020 edition — Federer will be a no-show as the 40-year-old recovers from knee surgery.
Germany’s world number two Alexander Zverev, is also missing through injury.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, ranked three and four, are therefore the top seeds meaning if they are to face each other for the 60th time, it can only be in the final.
Djokovic is bidding for a seventh title at the All England Club to move level with US great Pete Sampras.
Nadal, fresh from a 14th French Open victory and a record-extending 22nd major, is halfway to the first men’s calendar Grand Slam in more than half a century.
Djokovic, the champion in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2021, will be playing in his final Slam of the year.
His refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 will rule him out of the US Open later this year.
As of today I’m not allowed to enter the States under these circumstances. That is an extra motivation to do well here,” said Djokovic who gets play at Wimbledon underway on Monday against Kwon Soon-woo of South Korea.
A bruising quarter-final loss to Nadal at the French Open which saw him deposed as champion in Paris will also provide extra motivation.
Nadal won the last of his two Wimbledon titles in 2010 having captured his first with an epic triumph over Federer two years earlier.
The 36-year-old Spaniard arrives at Wimbledon with the Australian and French Opens secured.
He is halfway to becoming only the third man — and first since Rod Laver in 1969 — to complete a calendar Grand Slam.
]Should Djokovic or Nadal falter, then Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, runner-up to Djokovic in last year’s final, would be the most likely beneficiary.
World number 11 Berrettini has won back-to-back grasscourt titles at Stuttgart and Queen’s.
I don’t know if I’m the favourite as Novak and Rafa (Nadal) are always there; Rafa has already won two Slams and no-one expected him to win in Australia,” said 26-year-old Berrettini of his Wimbledon chances. I don’t feel like I’m the favourite but I know I can do it, I can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes.”
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2022