When it comes to Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic appears to have a unique strategy: he enters the year’s third Grand Slam without having played a single match on grass.
He did it in his last two trophy runs, and the Serbian will do it again at the 2022 Wimbledon, which begins on Monday.
Novak Djokovic’s opening match on the London lawns was his first grass-court match of the season in each of his previous two Wimbledon title runs. The Serbian’s preparations have not changed as he seeks a fourth consecutive title at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
His most recent competitive match was a marathon quarterfinal against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. The top-seeded Djokovic will have been off the court for nearly a month when he takes on Soonwoo Kwon on Centre Court on Monday.
“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 in the run-up to Wimbledon, explaining how his priorities have shifted to the former later in his career.
“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 is the early favourite to win this year’s Wimbledon, which is unusual in many ways. Russia and Belarus will not be represented at the event because they have been barred from competing due to their countries’ aggressive stance against Ukraine and have had their ranking points stripped by both the ATP and WTA.
This year, Wimbledon will also break a century-old tradition by not holding any matches on the fortnight-long competition’s middle Sunday. Matches will be played on all 14 days this year.
Djokovic will begin his campaign on Monday against South Korean Soonwoo Kwon, who is ranked 75th in the world, in the first match at the Centre Court, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
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.”
Djokovic, the top seed, could face countryman Miomir Kecmanovic in the third round, with Carlos Alcaraz a possible quarter-final opponent.
Former champion Rafael Nadal, who is having a remarkable year of his own, will be his main rival for the men’s singles title.
Nadal has never entered Wimbledon after winning the first two Grand Slam events of the year. With the Australian Open and Roland Garros titles already in hand, a trophy in his 15th Wimbledon would put him on the verge of completing the Grand Slam by winning all four majors in the same year. This is a feat not accomplished in men’s singles since Rod Laver in 1969.
Nadal, the second seed at Wimbledon, will begin his campaign against Francisco Cerundolo on Tuesday. It will be his first competitive appearance since lifting the Roland Garros trophy on June 5th.
Nadal last competed on the court three weeks ago, when he won his record-extending 22nd Grand Slam singles title and 14th Roland Garros title. For the first time in his career, the 36-year-old will compete at Wimbledon for the first time in three years, putting him halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam.
But, in typical Nadal fashion, the Spaniard is only concerned with the present. Fortunately for the second seed, the situation with his chronic foot injury is improving.
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 could face sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime or Eastbourne champion Taylor Fritz in the quarter-finals on his way to a third Wimbledon title, with fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini as potential semi-final opponents.
In the other bottom-half quarterfinal, Matteo Berrettini and Stefanos Tsitsipas could meet. Berrettini, who won on grass in Stuttgart and London earlier this month, faces Cristian Garin in the first round, while fourth-seeded Greek Tsitsipas faces Swiss qualifier Alexander Ritschard.
Fifth seed Alcaraz is making his second appearance at Wimbledon and will face Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, while third seed Casper Ruud will face Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Other intriguing first-round matches include Nick Kyrgios versus British wild card Paul Jubb, Denis Shapovalov versus Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech, and Indian Wells champion Taylor Fritz versus #NextGenATP Italian Lorenzo Musetti.
(Inputs from IANS)