How will Serena Williams fare in her return? Are top seeds Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek the hot favourites? And can Rafael Nadal take another step closer to the Grand Slam?
These are some of the biggest storylines ahead of Wimbledon, the third major tournament of season 2022 which begins on Monday in London.
Our experts discuss these storylines – more of which you can listen to on the latest episode of The AO Show podcast – and pick their likely champions at the All England Club.
Todd Woodbridge: 22-time major doubles champion 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 previous Australian Davis Cup captain
Nicole Pratt: former world No.35 and now Australian Billie Jean King Cup coach
Simon Rea: former coach of Nick Kyrgios and Sam Stosur
Serena Williams makes her return to the tour after a year away. How do you see her faring at Wimbledon?
WOODBRIDGE: "It's going to be so tough for her. I think given that at Wimbledon last year she had to leave in a way she didn't like, this might be that opportunity where she says 'you know what, at some point I have to say farewell to the tour'. And this might be it. It's going to be very hard for her to go deep in this tournament. Not because she's not a good enough player, but the lack of match play… Every match she plays; how does the body pull up? Is she going to be able to sustain the physical requirements to go deep into the tournament? That's going to be really tough. Also when you haven't played matches, nerves become an issue, no matter how great a player you have been.”
MOLIK: "I think it will be a stretch for Serena to get to the second week. In the first week, that's already three matches, one of those matches could potentially be a three-setter... I just feel like something's going to prohibit her physically from competing at her best. That's why I have doubts about Serena getting to the second week. I'd love her to – it would be a dream story.”
PRATT: "I think it's possible to play at a very high level, at the age that she is, for a match. Where the issue lies is your recovery. That's what starts to decrease over time. But that's the beauty of the Grand Slams: there's a day off between matches, weather permitting. If she has a long match, and let's say it rains, and she's got to back up the day after; that is going to be tough, at that age, no question. (But) if there is ever a surface I think Serena can do well on, with limited match play, it is grass at Wimbledon.”
REA: "There's every tendency to talk about what's not possible and why it can't be done, and the obstacles and hurdles… yet for one of the greatest champions we've seen in our sport, or in any sport, anything’s possible. We continue to have remarkable storylines told, or reborn, in our sport; who's to say there couldn't be another twist? If she's alive at the halfway point of the tournament, it feels like in a horse-race she'd be coming home with a full head of steam in the second half of the event. So look out, if she can make it to that middle weekend.”
World No.1 Iga Swiatek takes a 35-match winning streak into the tournament, but has little experience on grass. Is she still the favourite?
MOLIK: "I still think she's the favourite to a degree... I am a little concerned, given she hasn't played much on grass. Movement patterns are going to have to differ greatly, which might then impact her speed around the court. When she's pushed wide on clay or hard court, she slides. On grass, you have to decelerate, with smaller steps and footwork. I think having not played a match prior in the lead-in is probably going to be really difficult for her.”
MASUR: "I think the women's draw is quite open in the absence of Ash (Barty). When you get to those tight situations, just being on autopilot and doing it without thinking, because you've won so many matches and you're so confident... Swiatek will have that plus. I don't see why she can't do well, if she's confident in her movement. If the grass feels good underfoot, she's got a lot of game, she's got a great ability to defend on that backhand side. Her forehand has quite a lot of work on it, and sometimes on grass you want to flatten it out. If her mindset is right, I don't see why she can't win it.”
PRATT: “When Swiatek gets into those key moments, there’s that belief she can get across the line. And not only get across the line, but once Iga's had a lead, she's just dominated. We've been talking about the 6-0 sets that she's consistently had. So I think she'll still be the favourite. But I think the surface will challenge her mentality.”
REA: "Yeah I think so. And I think perhaps an antidote for the increased expectations is the lowering of expectations in her own mind, in terms of what she's capable of doing on the grass; that may allow an element of freedom, and to release the shackles, and to not be overburdened. If she's able to get through what could be those sticky first few matches ... then perhaps it's a campaign that gathers in momentum across the fortnight.”
Who are the biggest threats on grass who could stop Swiatek’s winning run?
WOODBRIDGE: "I really like watching Ons Jabeur. And I think she's one of the most exciting players because she brings variety to the game. She had a bad French, and I think she's desperate to play well at Wimbledon. Grass suits her game style. Being able to partner Serena on the doubles court last week (in Eastbourne), it's that ability as a player to feel like you belong. The pictures I've seen her with Serena suggest that she is confident, she likes being in that environment. And that's perfect for her preparation, I think. Hard for her to win it with her serve, at this point, but I think she's going to go deep.”
MOLIK: "I think Muguruza always does play pretty well on grass. Good returner, got a lot better at moving forward. Jabeur could surprise, because she had a really disappointing French campaign, and she's just so dangerous. Someone who could get to quarters or semis could be like a Giorgi, who can play lights-out tennis. And on grass, she can play where you can't touch the ball. I also look to recent winners like Beatriz Haddad Maia. I really do look to the form over recent weeks, of who's been performing.”
PRATT: "Pliskova's back... she's someone you can never count out, if she's healthy. She's obviously had her injuries of late. Coco Gauff: we know she plays well on grass, and she'll be taking a lot of confidence from the French.”
REA: "Anett Kontaveit; I've always believed that her game could be really well suited to the grass, a fearsome ball-striker and weapons everywhere you look, and loves to play up in the court and take time away from her opponent. Karolina Pliskova is one, if healthy, whose game and weapons are really well suited to grass. Jessica Pegula continues to go from strength to strength. Beatriz Haddad Maia won back-to-back grass-court titles and obviously comes in with real momentum. The experienced Alison Riske always seems to play her best tennis on grass. Ons Jabeur has momentum and has got herself to No.3 in the world. Angie Kerber's always capable of playing so well on grass, and Belinda Bencic, similarly.”
Three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic is an even bigger favourite on the men’s side. Is there anyone who can stop him winning a seventh Wimbledon title?
WOODBRIDGE: "Matteo Berrettini, having come back from a long injury, winning two tournaments, runner-up at Wimbledon last year, you've got to think if his body recovers well from these victories, that he has to go well. My order (for the title) would be Djokovic, Nadal, Berrettini.”
MOLIK: "Nick Kyrgios has arrived surprisingly early for his grass-court swing... I think he's a player who can take down Djokovic. Hubert Hurkacz as well, with his recent win (in Halle). Probably the only other player for me is Stefanos Tsitsipas, I feel, who can pose a danger to Novak Djokovic. Mentally will it play too much on him knowing that he is the favourite, he's won here so many times?”
MASUR: "There are some dangerous unseeded players; Andy Murray is such an accomplished, experienced grass-courter. You've also got (players like) Marin Cilic, Reilly Opelka. It is hard to go past Djokovic; just the strength of his return game, the pressure he applies over five sets on the biggest servers in the world ... he kind of takes the value of the serve away pretty quickly. Never discount Rafael Nadal; he's so stubborn. Curious he could win the French Open under the circumstances in which he did. Probably one of the few players that doesn't have PTSD when he plays Novak.”
PRATT: "Novak for me is clearly the favourite. It was great to see Berrettini win the title in Stuttgart. And he's made the final of Wimbledon, so we know he can play on grass and feels good. He'll be a contender.”
REA: “It's going to take something special from someone to unseat Djokovic from that perch. And there was nothing I saw at Roland Garros, in his performance across the fortnight at Roland Garros, and in that hotly-contested, hard-fought battle for the ages between him and Nadal, that would change my answer there. He's been building in momentum.”
Rafael Nadal is halfway to a calendar Grand Slam – is it possible he takes another step closer at Wimbledon?
WOODBRIDGE: “I think it's a real possibility that he could do that. If this (foot nerve) treatment has worked as well as they hope, he's got confidence. He's fresh going into the tournament, he knows how to do it. Interesting, with Rafa, is how well he deflects the attention, the stresses of everybody talking about winning three in a row... mentally he plays the game, both on and off the court, as well as anybody, to de-stress. I think his story is going to be the one that is the most interesting.”
MOLIK: "He's had a couple of weeks practice, in Mallorca we saw images of him practising. He's here early, so everything is pointing to a serious preparation. He's making a serious tilt at this.”
MASUR: "I thought it was a great comment from Nadal, after he won the French, and they spoke about history and being the Greatest Of All Time, and all of those stats, and he said: look, I just want to play, I just want to compete. Watching Rafa over the years, the big thing is that he's always in the present. The only thing that matters is the next practice session, the next match. He doesn't play the tournament before it starts. He resets after every point. I think that's a pretty good mindset, to navigate victories over so many Slams over two weeks and all the little variables you have to deal with.”
PRATT: "You can never, ever count Nadal out. And he's in a moment in time, that, it's phenomenal – he'd be going for his third Slam of the year, at the age that he is. He's a champion, who finds a way. That match between him and Djokovic at the French was extraordinary; toe to toe, and obviously Nadal owns Roland Garros, that is what probably got him across the line... that's a little bit different at Wimbledon.”
REA: "Long odds, I think. Fantastic seeing him get to the starting line, and I think the event will be that much richer for having one of the great champions of all time there. If you'd asked me a fortnight ago, off the back of Roland Garros, I would have considered him highly unlikely (to play). So that's something worth celebrating. We haven't seen Rafa at Wimbledon as consistently as the last decade's played out, and when we have seen him he's been more vulnerable. I suspect that might be the case again.”
Favourite for the men’s singles title?
WOODBRIDGE: "I think Novak is the most likely, I think he's got enough form coming in.”
MOLIK: "I'm going to go with Novak."
MASUR: "I'm going to go with Novak, I think he will win it. But I think there's going to be a lot of interesting storylines, with some dangerous players in the men's draw.”
PRATT: “Djokovic is the clear, clear favourite.”
REA: "I think Djokovic has to go in as an absolute prohibitive favourite.”
Favourite for the women’s singles title?
WOODBRIDGE: "It’s hard to go past the world No.1, but Swiatek’s run has got to end at some point. She hasn’t played any matches on grass leading in so she’ll do well to get through the first week, especially when the surface is slicker and softer. So instead it might be wise to look at a former No.1 and Wimbledon champion in Angelique Kerber – she can get on a roll at Grand Slams if she’s confident, and at this stage of her career I think grass is her best surface.”
MOLIK: "I'm going to go one out of the box here and go with Muguruza.”
MASUR: "I think there's a number of players. I don't know why, but I've always felt in women's tennis the movement is so key, because there's not necessarily the big serve to dominate proceedings. Serena's probably an exception to that… but I find movement so important. If Simona Halep can get it together upstairs, I don't mind her. She's a natural mover, and so athletic.”
PRATT: "I feel Swiatek's the favourite, for sure, still. Even though she has limited experience on the grass. And the reason that I say that is a winning habit is strong, right?”
REA: "If it's not Swiatek as the favourite, then who is it?”