While the French Open has long been the time of Rafael Nadal, Wimbledon has become that of Novak Djokovic prepared in his way.
He is still not the best grass-court player of the Darwinian era in tennis for men. Roger Federer, absent from the tournament of the current year, still he gets that nod with his eight singles titles at the All England Club Wimbledon. However, Novak Djokovic, who used to pose with a homemade replica of the winner’s trophy in his youth, and always prepared his way by himself, has been arguably the best in recent years with his acrobatic baseline style and is arguably the finest grass-court player in the history of Wimbledon. The men’s field when the Wimbledon major draw kicks off on Monday.
One of his former trainers of Federer, Paul Annacone, said it is hard not to make Novak the prohibitive favorite. People talk about groundwork and lack of matches and things like that. However, when you have played Wimbledon so many times and been there at the end so many times, he does not think it is that important.
The stone-faced Swede, Bjorn Borg, broke the mold in Wimbledon preparation, winning the event five times in a row from 1976 to 1980 without playing an official grass-court preparation tournament. But the mold was restored and redistributed for nearly 30 years before Djokovic broke it again, possibly forever.
He has won five Wimbledon titles (2011, 2014, 2015, 2019, and 2021) without playing a tune-up event on tour. He will strive to do the same another time in the current year as he attempts to win the Wimbledon championship for the fourth time in a row.
Djokovic said you could rest a little bit every day and restart help, but we are all different.
Speaking of the grass courts, he added that he didn’t have too much trouble adapting quickly to the surface. He struggled in his career, starting with movement and sliding. Over the years, he is also a learned sportsman to play more efficiently on the surface.
Djokovic will open the game on center court against unseeded Kwon Soon-woo of South Korea. Djokovic had seemingly weathered the storm of the booming start of Nadal. However, he could not maintain his momentum and ‘blew a lead’ in the fourth and final set. Djokovic hasn’t prepared his way to play a competitive match at Wimbledon since his deflated and frankly baffling loss to Nadal in the 2018 Open quarterfinals in France.
He spent some downtime with his wife and their young children before arriving in London to play very well in a grass-court exhibition event at the Hurlingham Club the previous week.
Nadal also followed the same template, racing against the clock to recover from radiofrequency ablation, which numbs nerves by using radio waves, to treat his left foot injury before playing, not so convincingly, at Hurlingham. Unlike his arch-rival Djokovic, Nadal has never won Wimbledon without an official grass-court tournament. Also, his two titles, in 2008 and 2010, came after competing at ‘Queen’s Club.’ Nothing like Djokovic, Nadal has not played at Wimbledon since 2019.
The organizers canceled the tournament in 2020 due to the pandemic, with Nadal skipping in the previous year due to a chronic foot problem that has remained his concern throughout his magnificent on-and-off 2022 campaign. He has won the first two stages of the Grand Slam, i.e., the Australian Open in January and then the French Open during the current month, in spite of taking painkiller injections to numb his left foot before the seven rounds in Paris.
But he said the radiofrequency treatment had relieved his daily pain and given him the freedom to leave aggressively with his left foot. There certainly seemed to be a spring to his step and urgency to his mood as he practiced at the end week at the All England Club.
He said that, first of all, he can walk normally most days, almost every day. That is the main problem for him. When he wakes up, he doesn’t have this pain that he’s had for the last year and a half, so he is really happy about that.
World watch out, but even though Nadal has moved mountains in 2022, it will still be an uphill fight to attain the level of Djokovic on grass.
They can meet only in the final as the top two seeds of the tournament, with top-seeded Daniil Medvedev and second-seeded Alexander Zverev absent. Medvedev, a Russian, is among the players excluded from Wimbledon in the current year due to the war in Ukraine. Zverev, a German player, tore ligaments in his right ankle in his semifinal loss to Nadal at the French Open on June 3rd.
However, there are still clear, big-serving threats to a Djokovic-Nadal rematch. It would be the record of the Open Era for the 10th matchup of Men in a Grand Slam final.
Hubert Hurkacz, a lovable Pole who beat Federer last year in the quarterfinals, is a grass-court wizard and maltreated Medvedev to win the title in Halle, Germany, this month. He is in the middle of the draw of Djokovic at Wimbledon. Matteo Berrettini, the mighty Italian who lost to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final during the previous year and just won grass-court taper events in Stuttgart of Germany and at the ‘Queen’s Club,’ is in Nadal’s half.
However, Nadal, who faces Francisco Cerundolo, an unseeded Argentine, in the first round on Tuesday, could have a big test if he meets Sam Querrey of the United States in the second round.
Querrey- ranking has slipped, but he remains hazardous on grass and is the last man to beat Djokovic in a full match at Wimbledon. He defeated him in the third round in 2016 when Djokovic began a tailspin that would last nearly two years.
Djokovic is in another difficult phase, partly to his fault, for refusing to be vaccinated against covid-19, unlike any other major male tennis player. That led to his expatriation from Australia in January before the Australian Open. It could keep him out of the US Open later this year unless the United States lifted its entry ban on unvaccinated foreigners.
Djokovic said that, of course, he is aware of that. That’s extra motivation to do well here. Hopefully, he can have a very good tournament, as he has done in the last three editions. So he’ll have to wait and see. He would love to go to the United States, but that is impossible today.
He has played just 21 games in 2022, which is fourteen less than he had played in this same stadium last season. But grass, once the main texture of professional tennis, is now a sideshow and a received taste. Djokovic has prepared to acquire it in his way, and he liked to chew on a blade of Center Court grass after his Wimbledon titles.
As the best returner in tennis for men, he can still ‘break serve’ on a surface which supports the server. As the most flexible player in tennis for men, he can bend into all sorts of positions to deal with the lowest bounce on grass. Also, he can shut down the baseline and keep opponents off balance by serving and volleying on important points.
Annacone said that it was a rough recipe. And while they talked about how much he dominated on hard courts, his winning percentage was higher on grass.
That is true: His career singles winning percentage is 84 percent on hard courts, just shy of his 85 percent on grass.
Now, in a gloomy season, it is time for the legitimate Wimbledon favorite to try to widen and reduce the gap with Nadal, who has 22 Grand Slam singles titles to Djokovic’s 20.