Wimbledon Starts Tomorrow

By Jane Voigt

July 2, 2017 — The Championships Wimbledon are to tennis as the Super Bowl is to American football: la creme de la creme. And, literally, at Wimbledon that creme will be poured over thousands of pounds of strawberries before the fortnight comes to a close on July 16. Let the games begin. 

To put this, the third Grand Slam of the year, in perspective we have to note its age … 140 years old. It’s first run was in 1877, when its name was changed from The All England Croquet Club to The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. It still operates as a private member club, meaning the Championships are operated separately yet under the name as the club. 

As you would expect, the venue looked nothing like it does today with its 42 acres, 18 grass courts, 8 American Clay courts plus 5 indoor courts. This acreage also includes the 22 practice courts in Roehampton, where the qualification tournaments are conducted and, during the competition, main draw players warmup.   

Members of The All England Club enjoy tennis from May to September, except Centre Court and Court 1. They are only used during the 2 weeks of the Grand Slam. 

Meticulous care of the lawns is a year-round job for 18 groundskeepers, which expands to 22 during the Championships. Immediately after the gates clatter to a close, the groundsmen dig up Center Court and Court 1. Nine tons of 100% Perennial Ryegrass, which has been used since 2001, are used annually on all the courts. This seed improves durability and strengthens the sward, which is literally the upper layer of soil that’s covered with grass. 

You can bet that during the upcoming weeks, people will write that the courts are slower than they used to be, which isn’t exactly true. However, the ball does bounce higher due to the ’sward.’ The durability aspect is necessary because of the prevalence of the baseline game. Without that seed and the harder packed soil, the courts’ baseline would erode and cause an excruciating number of bad bounces. Imagine the complaints. To keep a steady eye on the bounce from the Slazenger tennis balls, it is measured every day. And to keep the grass shorn to perfection, it is cut everyday to an exact 8mm in height. 

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Number one in the world and top seed, Angelique Kerber, was at peak performance when she finished as runner-up to Serena Williams last year. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com

All this for the players and the history of Wimbledon, which is expected from a tournament bound by tradition. 

When day one gets underway the magnificence of the lawns treats our eyes to a splendor seen but once a year. The sound of the ball bouncing off the grass and players’ racquets are subtle and unique. The lawns absorb sound, making for a grand gallery of sensuous entertainment, even if it’s interrupted by players’ screeches and bellows.

Speaking of which … how about the players lined up to hit the grass tomorrow? 

For the first time, none of the four top women’s seeds — Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina — is a former champion. And, as usual, the so-called Big Four on the men’s side have locked up the top four spots: Andy Murray (defending champion), Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. 

Each quarter has its mix of tough first-round match-ups, but some of the more intriguing ones include, for the women

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Top-seeded and defending Champion Andy Murray. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

  • Ninth seed and 2012 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska versus former number one (2008) and four-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist Jelena Jankovic. 
  • Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 7 seed, and Qualifier Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, the first Arab woman to play the main draw at Wimbledon since 2005. 
  • Aussie Ashleigh Barty, 2017 Eastbourne finalist, versus fourth seed Elina Svitolina. 
  • Former number one and 2-time semifinalist Victoria Azarenka, returning to the tour after giving birth to a son, and upcoming American teen Catherine ‘Cici’ Bellis. 

Intriguing first-round matches for the men

  • Fernando Verdasco, No. 31, versus 31-year-old and former number-ten Kevin Anderson of South Africa who has returned to the tour after two surgeries. 
  • Sergiy Stakhovsky versus Julien Benneteau. Both rely on serve-and-volley strategies. Stakhovsky upset Federer in the second round of Wimbledon in 2013.
  • American John Isner (No. 23) versus American upstart and qualifier, Taylor Fritz.
  • Juan Martin del Potro, semifinalist in 2013, and Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia. Both men are coming back from injuries. 
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Roger Federer showing off his Baccarat trophy at Indian Wells Tennis Garden this spring. Photo credit Karla Kinne tennisclix.com.

There is no clear-cut favorite for the women because Serena Williams is out, expecting her first child this fall. Angelique Kerber lost to Williams in last year’s final when she was in peak performance mode. However, the German has struggled this season to play past the first or second round of tournaments. That being said, watch for Karolina Pliskova, this year’s Eastbourne champion, and French Open Champion Jelena Ostapenko (No. 13), plus two-time Wimbledon champion and this year’s Birmingham winner, Petra Kvitova (No. 11) to play deep into week two. 

Federer, at 35, is the favorite to win his 8th title and 19th major overall. If he pulls off the victory, he’ll become the oldest champion at Wimbledon since Bill Tilden in 1930. 

Murray says he’s feeling good, but his disappointing loss in the first round of Queen’s Club cast a shadow over expectations. He’ll be under plenty of pressure from the British press that hound him and publish what can seem like harsh commentary on their native son. 

Djokovic has again called on Andre Agassi for coaching help, although no money is exchanging hands. The Serbian and 3-time champion (2011, 2014, 2015) has also hired former player, Mario Ancic, to be at his side during Wimbledon. 

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Rafael Nadal can never be counted out, even though he hasn’t performed well in four of the last five years. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com

Nadal has been practicing on the grass courts of Majorca, his home. Hopefully it has polished his already robust game and honed his lawn skills, which demand that he frequently bend his aging knees. The Spaniard, who did not play last year due to a wrist injury, has had a miserable time at this major. After his runner-up position in 2011 he has lost in the: second round (2012); first round (2013); fourth round (2014); and second round (2015). 

The loses are even more remarkable when considering that he lost to players ranked outside the top 100: Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, Nick Kyrgios and Dustin Brown. Yet, we can never count out the 2-time champion, especially as he comes in on the tails of his 10th Roland Garros.

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013