After a two-year absence, Wimbledon makes its welcome and highly-anticipated return to the tennis calendar.
With the action set to commence on Monday in London, we chatted to our panel of experts for their thoughts on what might unfold at the All England Club.
Jelena Dokic - former world No.4 and now tennis commentator
Alicia Molik - former world No.8 and now Australian Billie Jean King Cup captain
Wally Masur - former world No.15 and now Tennis Australia's Director of Performance
Nicole Pratt - former world No.35 and now Tennis Australia's Women's Team Coach
Simon Rea - former coach of Nick Kyrgios and Sam Stosur and now National Development Squad Coach
Players hadn’t played on grass in two years, the grass season was cut by a week and Roland Garros has really only just finished. Who are the Wimbledon favourites when there is so little grass-court “form” to refer to?
DOKIC: "It's all about how the players adjust and adapt. Who's 100 per cent focused and who's hungry? I also think it would be crazy not to put some of the players who have actually done well in the last couple of weeks on grass as some sort of, not maybe a favourite to win the title, but to do well."
MOLIK: "If you look at who's been winning on grass, it's those who play pretty fearless and are prepared to finish points very early, without necessarily structuring points all the time. Look at Ostapenko, look at Jabeur. All these courts haven't had much play on them; they're slick, they're probably pretty green. The players who can get the ball shooting through the court quick (are looking good). And I think it's also going to be important for the players who can finish points by getting to the net quickly. Maybe we see some more of the doubles players do well in the singles?"
MASUR: "The best players have been so formidable in the majors. But there's no Nadal, Federer's a bit scratchy by virtue of those knee surgeries, Serena's similar, she just doesn't have the form that you would expect. It's a very different Wimbledon for those reasons. I immediately started thinking about clay-court results. Berrettini, for example, wins Queen's, which is pretty significant, and he played very well at the French too. Form by players that have done well just recently on the grass, plus some matches on the clay, I think that's going to matter."
PRATT: "The adaptability and form of Djokovic would certainly place him as favourite, with the absence of Nadal and Federer still under somewhat of a physical cloud. But if you talk about grass-court pedigree, you'd have to put Roger high on the list. I feel like it's a chance again for some of the younger guys to come through. Berrettini won Queen's, and I'd love to see Alex de Minaur go deep after winning Eastbourne. You can never count out Serena Williams; I've always said she needs match-play on other surfaces, but on grass she just feels at home. And Ash Barty still has one of the best records on tour this year; we'll have to see how she is physically coming into the tournament.”
REA: "It's tough to know where the form lines start and stop. So I guess you default to past winners, and some of the celebrated champions of all time in our sport. Straight away my mind goes to Serena Williams, and her weapons and physicality on grass. And straight away to the storyline of Roger Federer: is this the last time we get to see him on the hallowed turf? I also look at Angelique Kerber, who had success in the lead-up events, and obviously the unstoppable force that's Novak Djokovic at the moment."
Aside from Djokovic and Federer, so few players currently at the top of the men’s game have truly great results at Wimbledon. Does that make Novak and Roger the prohibitive favourites?
DOKIC: "Someone like Zverev plays too far back; Tsitsipas has got a little more heaviness on his shots, and his slice is good but still needs a bit of work. He can come in though. The fact there was no Wimbledon last year makes it hard to judge where we're at. In general, you can't go past Djokovic now, whatever surface you're on. I think Federer, it's hard to go past him too with his record at Wimbledon. Roger didn't exactly get a bad draw; he might be able to get into that second week. I think Berrettini is a little bit of a dark horse. Medvedev I think is going a little bit under the radar, because nobody considers him playing well on anything other than hard court."
MOLIK: "I think it does. I think sometimes a lot of players rely on having a bit of success on the surface to feel like they can do well on that surface at a Grand Slam. Throw a Berrettini in there, who's just one Queen's, and De Minaur is going to be one to watch, no doubt about it. But 100 per cent it favours those guys (Djokovic and Federer) that have the experience and calmness on the surface. They're not going to panic."
MASUR: "I think a lot of those younger guys are about to break their duck. You've got Rublev, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Berrettini – these guys are playing some really good tennis, and there's no reason they can't play well on grass. Djokovic in my mind is the favourite; realistically, Federer is a long way from where he needs to be to win Wimbledon, or to really go deep. He can, obviously, because he's brilliant, but he doesn’t have the volume of matches and miles in his legs. You get the feeling that over five sets, that catches up with you."
PRATT: "I do believe it is a chance for some young guys to have their best results at Wimbledon, like Tsitsipas, Sinner, Rublev, Medvedev. Interestingly at Wimbledon, every year is a little bit different. In regards to how close they cut the grass, to the subtleties in the balls – they say it's the same balls, but the reality is it's a different batch made every year. And you're not sure how conducive that's going to be to every player.”
REA: "I think it's just impossible, at the moment, to have anyone else in the conversation with Novak, such is his hold and dominance over men's tennis. Add in the grass-court factor, which is a surface that suits his game very well, and that he has to be at an all-time high in confidence. But I don't think the storylines stop there. Look at Medvedev; he could be someone, with his game style, who is reasonably well suited to a grass court. Also, look at what Zverev brings to the court, from a weapons and ball-striking perspective."
On the women’s side, do you expect the top women to rebound after what happened at Roland Garros, or does the field remain as open as ever?
DOKIC: "It's still very open. We don't know if Ash Barty is 100 per cent, that's a big unknown. If Ash comes through the draw fit and healthy, that top half automatically gets so much tougher. Osaka and Halep are out; automatically right there you've got an open draw. You've got past champions, like Serena, Kvitova and Muguruza, who perhaps haven't done so well going into Wimbledon, and some haven't even played on grass. Serena knows how to deal with that; others, like Krejcikova, she wins Roland Garros but hasn't really played on grass. There are just so many unknowns."
MOLIK: "I think it's as open as ever, and I think we're going to see a more open draw at Wimbledon. Because I think what happened at the French has given probably 50 or 60 other players the motivation to think: 'that could have been me'. When the peers around your ranking are really successful at a Slam, I know from my own experience that it was a real driver to think 'that could be me'."
MASUR: "Barty is under an injury cloud, there's no Osaka, Halep's out injured. There's your top three. I find this really difficult to tell. In that past, reputation seemed to count for a lot. A lot of girls would play some really good tennis, and then they'd bump into Sharapova, or Serena, and they were almost beaten before they got on the court. That doesn't seem to be the case now. I've always felt the Czechs, Kvitova and Pliskova, are awfully dangerous, but maybe they're more dangerous for a match or two, as opposed to a sustained run right now?”
PRATT: "My gut's telling me that the floodgates are open. I think it's up for grabs. What Krejcikova said after winning the French Open: 'if I can do it, anyone can do it', I think that has bounced around the locker-room. I think everyone would be talking like that, thinking they have a chance. There’s a cohort of players who are going to be fearless and the belief is there that they can do it like others who have done it before them."
REA: "There's clearly a window that exists there. So it's open to all comers; no time like the present for anyone ranked outside of that top five or 10 to strike while the iron is hot."
Who is your pick for the women’s title – and why?
DOKIC: "I'm leaning towards Ash; I'm going with the assumption that she wouldn't play if she was not feeling like she could really give it a go. She says she's ready; I'll go off of that. I genuinely think her game is so suited to grass. But Serena still made the fourth round of Roland Garros, and when you've won as many Wimbledons as she has, it's hard to go past her. When she's in the draw, you have to look at her as one of the favourites."
MOLIK: "That's so tough. I'd love Ash to win it, that's what my heart says. It's a tournament she's grown up loving, and she probably loves grass more than any player out there. This is probably the Slam, out of all the Slams of all time, that's a bit make-or-break for Serena, I feel. I just hope that she has a level of calmness about her, that she should have with all of her experience on the surface. Even though she's not No.1, she's just always one to beat."
MASUR: "I'll be honest with you, I'm not leaning towards anybody. If I said something, it wouldn't be authentic; I don't know who can win the women's. I do think it's just so wide open.”
PRATT: “There are a lot of different reasons why you could say Ash is the favourite, or Serena's the favourite. You could say Krejcikova; she's just won the French Open. Sofia Kenin had a great season last year; is grass the surface that's going to enable her to rebound from the troubled year she's had? You can never count Kvitova out on grass; if she can get through the first few rounds, then she becomes very dangerous. There's so many different storylines. Being Australian I'm going to say Ash Barty, but at the same time she hasn't had the match play leading in. I'll come back to the point that it's anyone's.”
REA: "I'd be struggling to narrow it down to one. I've got my fingers and toes crossed that Ash is healthy; at her fittest I think will be the player to beat. Outside of Ash, I would say the two lefties, Kerber and Kvitova, at their best could really take some stopping. Sabalenka has established herself firmly at the top, has had a very good year and is a quality ball-striker. And a veteran like Azarenka, she's had good results and beat Kerber in a recent lead-up tournament."
Who is your pick for the men’s title – and why?
DOKIC: "Djokovic. When you win Roland Garros, and do what he's done, your level of confidence is such that you almost feel like you can't lose. And people kind of forget almost that he's done so well at Wimbledon. I think he'll be very tough to beat again over five sets. If he plays the way that he's been playing, who can really come through and beat him?"
MOLIK: "Novak. He's only behind (in the major tally) by one and he's going to be so hungry, and he's going to be pretty damn relaxed. It's so dangerous, isn't it?"
MASUR: “Djokovic has won there before, he's an awesome mover on the surface, and the world's best returner – which is pretty important on grass. Not much is made of the Djokovic serve, but he serves well when he has to on the big points. And on grass he just gets that little bit of help, and he's pretty accurate with it. He's extremely motivated, and I can't help but think that they idea of tracking down Nadal and Federer's record is a massive motivation for him.”
PRATT: "Djokovic knows his body and mind so incredibly well, that I don't think there'll be a sense of fatigue (following Roland Garros). He will finely-tune himself, and him and his team will make sure that he's ready to go from the first round, and manage his energy levels all the way through. He's definitely for me the one to beat.”
REA: "Djokovic. I think it's more clear than it's been in recent memory, in terms of a dominant favourite. I can't recall a more dominant favourite, and I say that with absolute reverence for everything that Roger Federer's achieved there. It's just hard to remember a period of dominance, in my lifetime of being around the sport, that matches what Novak's producing at the moment. He looks like he's continuing to improve. Anyone who want try to and knock him off is going to need to produce something pretty special."