Djokovic and Swiatek eye Wimbledon glory as top contenders for singles crowns
These are the five top challengers for the men’s and women’s titles at Wimbledon, which begins on Monday, 3 July.
Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
World ranking: 2
Despite turning 36 in May, Djokovic has shown no signs of slowing down after winning a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam title at the French Open.
With Roger Federer retired and Rafa Nadal nursing an ageing body battered by over two decades on the Tour, Djokovic is the last of the ‘Big Three’ keeping the door firmly shut on a new generation of players looking to upset the established order.
The Serbian has struggled with hamstring and elbow issues this year but has shown that pain thresholds are not insurmountable while his mental resilience shines through when he is backed into a corner.
Having won the Wimbledon title at the last four editions to take his tally to seven, Djokovic will be gunning for Federer’s record of eight men’s wins at the All England Club.
Carlos Alcaraz (Spain)
World ranking: 1
Alcaraz played only one grass-court tournament last year but his electric performances in the first week of Wimbledon showed the clay court specialist can adapt quickly to the unfamiliar surface.
The Spaniard was the top seed at the Queen’s Club Championships and was seen gingerly adapting to the slippery surface before making it his own in his ultimately successful quest for the title and the world No 1 ranking.
For a player who was competing in just his third grass court tournament, the 20-year-old showed that he has an aggressive net game to thrive on grass.
“I started the week not too well, but I adapted my movement and I ended the week with a lot of energy,” he said.
“To know that I’m (capable of) a good level on grass, obviously (to be) champion of every tournament feels special.”
Frances Tiafoe (United States)
World ranking: 10
Tiafoe’s rise up the rankings in recent years culminated with his first foray into the top 10 this month when he won his maiden grass court title at the Stuttgart Open.
The 25-year-old American, along with another emerging contender Taylor Fritz, has given the country a glimmer of hope that they could finally see a Grand Slam champion for the first time since Andy Roddick 20 years ago.
Brash and cocky without being arrogant, there was never a question that Tiafoe had the speed and athleticism to make it as a tennis player.
But to reach the top he has had to refine his game while he loves feeding off the crowd’s energy to take things up a notch.
“I’m going to remember that (breaking into the top 10) forever. And hopefully, I can ride that for a long time,” he said.
Daniil Medvedev (Russia)
World ranking: 3
If there was one player who was glad his clay court season was over despite winning a title in Rome, it was Medvedev who has never come to grips with the slow surface.
“I don’t know if people like to have clay in their bags, in their shoes, white socks, you can throw them into the garbage after the clay season. Maybe some people like it, I don’t,” he had said after his French Open exit.
Medvedev was unable to play at Wimbledon last year due to the ban on Russian and Belarusian players despite being world No 2 at the time.
At the tune-up tournament in Halle, he became the first player to rack up 40 tour-level wins this year, sounding a warning to the rest of the field.
Cameron Norrie (Great Britain)
World ranking: 13
With Andy Murray missing out on a seeding at Wimbledon, local hopes again rest on Britain’s highest-ranked player — Cameron Norrie, who impressed in his quarter-final run at Queen’s.
The well-travelled 27-year-old, who was born in South Africa, grew up in New Zealand and attended college in Texas, made Britain his home in 2013 when he was 17 and has since represented them in the Davis Cup.
A counter-puncher with a net game to boot, Norrie became only the fourth Briton to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon in the Open era, where he fell to Djokovic in four sets last year.
Iga Swiatek (Poland)
World ranking: 1
There will be a sense of deja vu for Swiatek who arrives at the All England Club as world No 1 and fresh from her French Open triumph for the second year running, but she will hope to master Wimbledon’s slick lawns this time around.
Swiatek, who won the Wimbledon junior title in 2018, has dominated the tour since replacing the retired Ash Barty as world No 1 in April but the majority of her success has come on hardcourts and clay.
The 22-year-old exited last year’s Championships in the third round and is yet to demonstrate her strengths consistently on grass. Swiatek has said she expects to be “uncomfortable” on the surface.
Swiatek began her preparations for Wimbledon, where her best result is a fourth-round appearance in 2021, with a comeback win at her Bad Homburg opener this week as she aims to solve the grass court puzzle.
Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus)
World ranking: 2
The big-hitting Belarusian has polished her game this year and has become less erratic with her shot-making, which helped her win the Australian Open in January.
The 25-year-old has also reduced what seemed to be an insurmountable gap to top-ranked Iga Swiatek during the clay court swing, beating her in the Madrid final, but was stunned in the French Open semi-finals by Karolina Muchova.
A Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2021, Sabalenka could not compete at last year’s Championships due to the ban on Russian and Belarusian players and will need to block out the noise to win a second major this year.
Sabalenka, who will compete under a neutral flag, was in the spotlight at Roland Garros when her stance on the war was questioned and has since distanced herself from Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko.
Elena Rybakina (Kazakhstan)
World ranking: 3
Rybakina is facing a race to be fit for her Wimbledon title defence and the odds of her success will depend on her recovery from a viral illness that forced her withdrawal from the French Open and this week’s tune-up Eastbourne tournament.
The 24-year-old has attempted to return to court since pulling out of Roland Garros but struggled with the lingering effects of the virus, losing in the second round in Berlin last week.
Moscow-born Rybakina missed out on ranking points at the 2022 Championships after its organisers were penalised for a ban on Russian and Belarusian players but has risen to a career-high world No 3 since winning her first Grand Slam.
Having won at Indian Wells and reached the Australian Open and Miami finals, Rybakina is most at home on hard courts but has shown she can compete on all surfaces and could be poised to bag another major if she recovers in time.
Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)
World ranking: 9
Kvitova won the second of her two Wimbledon crowns nine years ago but showed rivals she is ready to bid for a third after winning the German Open without dropping a set to claim her sixth grasscourt title and 31st overall.
The 33-year-old, who stunned Elena Rybakina to win the Miami Open, has not reached a Wimbledon quarter-final since her title run in 2014. She won her first Grand Slam at the 2011 Championships.
Kvitova remains one of the biggest threats on grass, however, and has now won 12 of her last 13 matches on the surface. She withdrew from her Eastbourne title defence this week, citing fatigue.
With two titles this year and a return to the top 10, Kvitova has the momentum for another memorable performance at the All England Club.
Karolina Muchova (Czech Republic)
World ranking: 16
Muchova has only made three main draw appearances at Wimbledon but reached the quarter-finals twice and was raring to go on grass after losing to Iga Swiatek in the French Open final.
Plagued by injuries throughout her career, Muchova was unseeded at Roland Garros and earned plenty of praise for her performances as she knocked out Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals and took a set off Swiatek in the title clash.
Muchova, who reached the last eight in 2019 and 2021, is now ranked at a career-high world No 16 and is more than capable of a deep run at Wimbledon. She was unseeded during her first-round exit last year but will be looking for redemption this time.
“I look forward to playing on the grass, on the fast surfaces,” she said. “That’s for sure the surfaces I prefer and like more.” Reuters/DM