Djokovic and Nadal lead title race at Wimbledon

LONDON (AFP) – Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are the headliners in the title race at Wimbledon where eight-time champion Roger Federer, the world’s two best players as well as valuable ranking points will all be missing.

Djokovic is aiming for a seventh title at the All England Club to level up with American great Pete Sampras.

Nadal, fresh off a 14th victory at Roland Garros and a record 22nd major, is halfway to the first men’s Grand Slam on the calendar in more than half a century.

The third Slam tournament of the season has already made political waves even before the first pitch was served today.

The decision to ban Russian and Belarus players following the invasion of Ukraine means there is no room for world number one Daniil Medvedev or eighth-placed Andrey Rublev.

The ATP and WTA, which control the men’s and women’s tours, retaliated by stripping ranking points from the tournament.

Spaniard Rafael Nadal. PHOTO: AFP

For the first time since his debut in 1999 – despite the 2020 edition being canceled by Covid – Federer will be absent as the 40-year-old recovers from knee surgery.

Also missing is Germany’s world number two Alexander Zverev, who suffered severe ankle ligament damage in a horrific injury in his French Open semi-final against Nadal.

Djokovic and Nadal, ranked three and four, are therefore the top seeds, which means that if they have to face each other for the 60th time, it can only be in the final.

EXTRA MOTIVATION
Djokovic, champion in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2021, will play his last Slam of the year.

His refusal to get a Covid-19 shot will rule him out of the US Open later this year.

“As of today, I am not permitted to enter the United States under these circumstances.

“It’s extra motivation to do well here,” said Djokovic, who plays at Wimbledon today against South Korea’s Kwon Soon-woo.

A bruising quarter-final loss to Nadal at Roland Garros, which saw him deposed as champion in Paris, will also provide further motivation.

Nadal won the last of his two Wimbledon titles in 2010 after claiming his first with an epic triumph over Federer two years earlier.

The 36-year-old Spaniard arrives at Wimbledon with the Australian and French Open assured.

He is halfway to becoming just the third man – and the first since Rod Laver in 1969 – to complete a Grand Slam on the calendar.

Nadal endured a bittersweet relationship with Wimbledon.

Two titles have come with three lost finals as well as injury absences in 2004, 2009, 2016 and 2021.

There was a question mark over his durability over the two weeks at Wimbledon after playing the entire French Open with his troublesome left foot anesthetized.

Nadal has since taken a course of radiofrequency stimulation, a treatment aimed at reducing nerve pain in his foot.

“I can walk normally almost every day, almost every day,” said the 36-year-old Spaniard, who will face Argentine Francesco Cerundolo in his opener tomorrow.

“When I wake up, I no longer have this pain that I had for a year and a half.”

BERRETTINI IS WAITING
If either Djokovic or Nadal falters, then Italian Matteo Berrettini, Djokovic’s runner-up in last year’s final, would be the most likely beneficiary.

World number 11 Berrettini won back-to-back titles on grass at Stuttgart and Queen’s.

“I don’t know if I’m the favorite because Novak and Rafa (Nadal) are still there; Rafa has already won two Grand Slams and no one expected him to win in Australia,” Berrettini, 26, said of his Wimbledon chances. “I don’t feel like the favorite but I know I can do it, I can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes.”

Of the remaining top 10, French Open runner-up Casper Ruud has lost in the first round on his previous two trips to Wimbledon.

Stefanos Tsitsipas has fallen at the first hurdle three out of four times but is coming off a maiden title on grass in Mallorca on Saturday.

Spanish teenage star Carlos Alcaraz only made his main draw debut in 2021, reaching the second round.

Felix Auger-Aliassime made the last eight last year while 10th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz, the grass-court champion in Halle last weekend, was a semi-finalist in 2021.

Along the way, the Polish player beat Federer in the quarter-finals, the Swiss star’s last appearance on the tour.

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