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Tennis back to grass roots, but Medvedev, Rublev, Sabalenka among top Wimbledon absentees

After the longest unbroken stretch on one surface in the tennis calendar—eight full weeks, 19 men’s and women’s tour tournaments plus the majestic French Open finale—clay is replaced by grass for the shortest season.

Tennis returns to its roots, and arguably to its most prestigious home, for just five weeks, and only three of those host men’s and women’s tour events. Indeed so short and packed is the grass swing that the ATP and WTA both squeeze two tournaments into each of three back-to-back weeks: 12 altogether.

And all because the final fortnight is taken up by the oldest, and perhaps the grandest, Grand Slam tennis event in the world, Wimbledon.

short but sweet

This intense, short, green summer harks back to where ‘lawn’ tennis began, and it is the surface that used to dominate the Slams. The Australian Open was played on grass until its switch to hard courts in 1988. The US Open was played on the green stuff until 1974, when that too changed to hard courts.

Only Roland Garros has stayed as true to its origins, but unlike Wimbledon, the French Open is preceded by a long, points-rich season of five showpiece 1000 tournaments, a handful of 500s and a wide variety of 250-level tournaments.

What is more, the WTA heads back to clay after Wimbledon for five more events, with the clay calendar also boosted by a scattering of 125-level venues through the seasons. The men, too, have more shots at clay points and titles, first in the South American ‘golden’ trio in February and again in five more post-Wimbledon European tournaments.

But grass—well it is adored by many, disliked be a few, and is always a challenge, posing one of the toughest surface transitions from the sliding, high-bouncing clay to the slick, low-bouncing turf that rewards fine footwork and strong , flexible legs like no other.

And this year, more than usual, there are changes and difficulties to accommodate.

good news

First, the positive news: Wimbledon’s total prize money for 2022 will be a record £40,350,000, an increase of more than 15 percent compared with 2021 and over six percent more than 2019, when the event was last played to a full capacity crowd. For 2020 it was canceled amid the global Covid pandemic, while last year saw the capacities rise gradually to something close to normality by the end of the fortnight.

And therein lies another positive: there will this year be no restrictions on numbers. Indeed The Championships may set a new Wimbledon record once an extra day in the schedule is added: The tournament will play on middle Sunday for the first time.

The bad news: enforced absences

But… and it is a big but. The All England Club and Lawn Tennis Association took the bold step of excluding all Russian and Belarusian players from taking part following the invasion of Ukraine. Its reasoning was “it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players.”

This has had two big impacts. First, the man who is about to top the rankings for the second time, Daniil Medvedev, is Russian, as are No8 Andrey Rublev, No23 Karen Khachanov, and No40 Aslan Karatsev.

In the women’s ranks, No6 Aryna Sabalenka and No19 Victoria Azarenka, are from Belarus, and Daria Kasatkina heads four top-30 Russian women.

A still bigger blow followed by the rest of the players. The men’s and women’s tours announced that they would not allocate ranking points for Wimbledon, insisting that the exclusion of any individual other than on merit was discriminatory, and thus against the ethos of the tennis community.

The grass tournaments run by the LTA ahead of Wimbledon are also closed to Russian and Belarusian players, while those outside the UK are not, so the tours will award points to players across the board at their events, on the basis that there are alternative options for the banned players.

The bad news: dropped points

But for Wimbledon, the ranking impact if not the financial impact, will be widely felt, not least by last year’s champion, Novak Djokovic, who this week extended his record for weeks at No1 to 373. But already he will be overtaken at the top from next week by Medvedev after failing to defend his French Open title, and will now drop 2,000 points as a result of the Wimbledon fall-out, too, without the chance to replenish them.

Other big losers will be last year’s runner-up Matteo Berrettini, who is making his return on grass after missing the entire clay swing with a hand injury. He, along with Wimbledon’s 2021 semi-finalists Denis Shapovalov and Hubert Hurkacz, are all playing tournaments before Wimbledon—and Berrettini has the Queen’s title to defend as well—but Djokovic is holding fire. After all, with the ranking record he already holds, his eye is surely on the trophy itself at the All England Club, where he will arrive as a favorite to claim his 21st Major with a possible sixth Wimbledon title.

The scene will be rather different on the women’s side, as the defending champion Ash Barty retired from tennis earlier this year. But the other point losers will include runner-up Karolina Pliskova along with semi-finalist Angelique Kerber. The fourth woman in the semis last year was Sabalenka, who will not be at Wimbledon at all.

missing in action

Neither seven-time champion Serena Williams nor eight-time champion Roger Federer will play—the latter still rehabilitating from his third knee surgery. It will be the first time that Federer, now age 40, has missed the tournament since his first in 1999. Williams, also 40, has made 20 appearances dating back to 1998.

Also likely to be absent is the man who becomes No2 in the world for the first time next week, Alexander Zverev. He sustained a serious ankle injury during his semi-final against Rafael Nadal at the French Open semis, and has gone on to have surgery this week. He has yet to formally withdraw, but with three torn ligaments in his right ankle, it looks unlikely he will be fit enough to take part in this year’s grass swing.

Regrouping for Wimbledon

After their outstanding spring seasons, women’s No1 Iga Swiatek and men’s No7 Carlos Alcaraz have both opted out of any grass preparation ahead of Wimbledon, but will be among the hot tickets there come the end of June.

Swiatek’s fellow Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal is also taking time out after his record-breaking run to attempt to heal a chronic foot problem, and the treatment to deaden a painful nerve has already begun. Will he play Wimbledon? Only time will tell.

For the British teenager Emma Raducanu, champion at the US Open, there is an enforced hiatus to recover from a muscle pull she picked up this week in Nottingham’s Rothesay Open. She expects to recover in time to make an even bigger impact at Wimbledon than her breakout fourth-round debut last year.

Grass tournaments [with top-20 players]*

this week

Nottingham WTA250 [Sakkari, Raducanu: Final is Haddad Maia vs Riske or Golubic]

S’Hertogenbosch WTA250 [Sabalenka, Bencic: Final is Sabalenka or Rogers vs Alexandrova]

S’Hertogenbosch ATP250 [Medvedev, Auger-Aliassime, Fritz: SFs are Medvedev vs Mannerino, Van Rijthoven vs Auger-Aliassime]

Stuttgart ATP250 [Tsitsipas, Berrettini, Hurkacz, Shapovalov: Final is Berrettini vs Murray or Kyrgios]

next week

Find ATP500 [Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Rublev, Auger-Aliassime, Hurkacz, Carreno Busta, Bautista Agut]

Queen’s ATP500 [Ruud, Norrie, Berrettini, Fritz, Shapovalov, Schwartzman, Cilic, Opelka]

Berlin WTA500 [Jabeur, Sabalenka, Sakkari, Pliskova, Muguruza, Kasatkina, Gauff, Bencic]

Birmingham WTA250 [Ostapenko, Halep]

W/b19 June

Eastbourne WTA500 [Kontaveit, Badosa, Jabeur, Sakkari, Pliskova, Collins, Muguruza, Gauff, Krejcikova, Ostapenko]

Bad Homburg WTA250 [Sabalenka, Kasatkina, Bencic, Kerber, Halep]

Mallorca ATP250 [Medvedev, Hurkacz, Shapovalov, Carreno Busta, Bautista Agut]

Eastbourne ATP250 [Norrie, Sinner, Fritz, Schwartzman, Cilic, Opelka]

Missing from Wimbledon*

No6 Sabalenka

No12 Kasatkina

No15 Fernandez

No19 Azarenka

No24 Kudermetova

No28 Samsonova

No30 Alexandrova

No36 Sasnovich

Plus Svitolina, Vondrousova, Sherif, Gracheva, Cristian, Pavlyuchenkova

#1 [imminently] Medvedev

No8 Rublev

No23 Khachanov

No37 Harris

Plus Karatsev, Ivashka, Federer, Nishikori

*at time of writing

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