QUEEN’S CLUB — Wimbledon is less than a week away. The grass courts of Halle, Stuttgart, Rosmalen, Nottingham, Ilkley and more have all been worn from green to a burnt yellow as players desperately try to acclimatise to the most esoteric of surfaces.
The courts at SW19 remain a pristine green – for now – so what have we learned about the runners and riders for Wimbledon glory so far ahead of the third grand slam of the year?
Grand Slam worth the risk for Nadal
Rafael Nadal is clearly still in pain. His press conference in Mallorca was a positive one, on balance, in that he said he is going to “try and play Wimbledon” but it was not an entirely ringing endorsement of his fitness levels.
“I’m happy. I have n’t limped for a week and the evolution of training is progressing, ”Nadal said on Friday, more than a week after undergoing two sessions of nerve therapy to dull the pain in his foot.
“From day to day the pain has been different and that’s progress. I have to wait a little. My intention is to try and play Wimbledon and this week you have told me there is a chance.”
“A chance” is not a certainty. “Try” is not “will”. Nadal is taking a point.
why? Because he has the chance to do something he has never done before, in fact something no man has done in singles since Rod Laver in 1969: the calendar-year Grand Slam. It is a feat so prized that the pressure of trying to achieve it overwhelmed even the great Novak Djokovic as he fell at the final hurdle in last year’s US Open final.
For Nadal, having won the Australian and French Opens, this is a shot at a piece of history that his two great rivals Djokovic and Roger Federer will most likely never have. It is worth the risk.
Tsitsipas is the vulnerable seed
While Nadal’s stock has risen despite not playing, Stefanos Tsitsipas’ has dropped after playing rather a lot. He is making a habit of losing matches most people expect him to win.
His last three defeats have come against Nick Kyrgios, Andy Murray and Holger Rune. There is no particular shame in any of them, but as world No 6, the list of people in the world expecting to beat you should be vanishingly short.
On grass though, Tsitsipas seems to be a sitting duck and his poor form almost cost him a better place in the Wimbledon seedings too; he came perilously close to dropping below Carlos Alcaraz and missing out on the No 4 seed spot that assures him of no meeting with higher ranked players before the semi-finals.
Even with the protections of the draw though, anyone in the top 100 will fancy their chances against the Greek, whose tour-level record on grass is 10 wins and 10 defeats. He will play in Mallorca this week in search of improvement, but there is a lot of room for that.
Raducanu’s injury status is a concern
Everyone has an opinion on Emma Raducanu, from Andy Murray to Piers Morgan. Some are valid, some are not.
The facts are as follows: Raducanu had what she called a “freak” injury in Nottingham and lasted just 33 minutes before being forced to retire from her first, and to date only, grass-court match of 2022. She expected to recover from the side strain in time for Eastbourne, which started on Sunday, but then pulled out in what is understood to have been a precautionary measure.
She may yet try to get some match practice in at the Giorgi Armani Classic, an exhibition event at the Hurlingham Club the week before Wimbledon which will also host Nadal and Djokovic amongst others, but that would be something of a desperation move.
So the new star of British tennis will probably arrive back at the place where she first burst on to the scene 12 months ago undercooked by anyone’s measure. No one really knows how fit she is or she will be, and no one will know until she walks out onto court.
She will at least be protected against anything too awful in Friday’s draw by her top-10 seeding, although wildcard Serena Williams would represent a pretty dangerous banana skin, to say the least.
Underestimate Murray at your peril
Andy Murray is understood to have been frustrated but not gutted by the injury that ruled him out of Queen’s. Clearly he would have loved to play a tournament he has won five times, but privately, he was relieved that the abdominal strain appeared not serious enough to threaten his Wimbledon participation.
The former world No 1 hit at Aorangi on Saturday, Wimbledon’s private practice facility, to suggest he is working his way back to fitness, and could yet pick up an exhibition spot this week in an effort to bag some semi-competitive court time.
He had hoped to pick up enough points to reach a spot in the seeds for the draw, allowing him an easier passage to the second week, but instead will represent a tricky draw for any of the top 32 players.
Murray reached the third round here last year in far worse shape and with less training than he has had over the last two months. Wimbledon has been his sole focus since bringing back Ivan Lendl. There is not a player in the draw who wants to land in his section of it.
Berrettini will win Wimbledon (eventually)
Maybe not this year, maybe not next, but eventually, Matteo Berrettini is going to win Wimbledon. Of the top eight seeds (Djokovic, Nadal, Ruud, Tsitsipas, Alcaraz, Auger-Aliassime, Hurkacz) only the top two have title-winning credentials on grass courts, while the Italian now has two Queen’s titles in a row and a run to the Wimbledon final last year.
The reality of course is that Djokovic will be tough to topple and it feels like Berrettini may have to wait until the world No 3, who is nine years his senior, decides to hang up his racket.
If he wants to do it this year, he may think he is better off trying to avoid Djokovic in the draw. The Serb’s record on grass is undisputed but his record in finals at Wimbledon is even better; only one man, Andy Murray in 2013, has beaten Djokovic on the second Sunday on Center Court, and that includes Roger Federer’s three attempts and Nadal’s one.
Berrettini, the No 8 seed, may be better off landing in Djokovic’s corner of the draw and catching him a little colder in the quarter-finals.
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