In her first singles match in a 12 months, Serena Williams could have faced considered one of the brand new leaders of the sport that she once dominated.
As an unseeded wild card at Wimbledon, Williams might have been drawn to play No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who has won six tournaments in a row. Or Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American who’s on the verge of breaking into the highest 10 and just lost to Swiatek within the French Open final.
But when Friday’s draw was done, Williams was spared a longtime threat in the primary round. As an alternative, she is going to play Harmony Tan, an unseeded French 24-year-old who’s ranked 113th and will likely be making her main-draw debut at Wimbledon.
The match will almost definitely be played on Centre Court, where Williams has won seven Wimbledon singles titles, six women’s doubles titles and two Olympic gold medals when the All England Club staged the tennis event on the 2012 London Games.
But though Tan will likely be stepping on to that famous patch of grass for the primary time, Williams may even be in recent territory. At age 40, she stays arguably the most important star in women’s tennis (Naomi Osaka makes it a debate), but Williams has played little or no tennis within the last three years and played none in any respect on tour for nearly a 12 months until returning in Eastbourne this week for 2 doubles matches with Ons Jabeur.
They won them each before Jabeur withdrew with a right knee injury as a precautionary move before Wimbledon, where unlike Williams, Jabeur is considered one of the leading favorites for the title despite never reaching a Grand Slam final.
That may be a reflection of Jabeur’s shotmaking talent and up to date victory on the grass court tournament in Berlin, but it’s also a reminder that the ladies’s game is in transition. The reigning Wimbledon women’s champion, Ashleigh Barty, sent shock waves through the game by retiring in March at age 25, weary of the travel removed from her home in Australia and lacking the drive to proceed pushing for the most important prizes.
Swiatek, a 21-year-old from Poland, has stepped convincingly into the gap, winning 35 straight matches, and he or she could make it 36 by defeating a Croatian qualifier, Jana Fett, in the primary round of Wimbledon. But Swiatek has played little on grass at this early stage in her profession and below her, the hierarchy on tour is continuously shifting.
In winning her six straight titles, Swiatek beat six different players within the finals. Anett Kontaveit, seeded No. 2 at Wimbledon behind Swiatek, has lost in the primary round in three of her last 4 tournaments and has not played a match on grass this season, attributing her recent struggles to her continuing recovery from Covid-19.
This 12 months’s Wimbledon, which begins Monday, is not going to offer a full-strength field for girls or men. Wimbledon barred Russian and Belarusian players from competing, partly due to pressure from the British government after the invasion of Ukraine.
The tours responded by stripping Wimbledon of rating points for the primary time, and despite extensive discussions, each side held firm to their positions.
Wimbledon has maintained its prize money at normal levels, and though there was speculation that players might skip the tournament due to lack of points, that has not materialized. Of the best ranked players, the one ones who will likely be absent are either injured, like Alexander Zverev, Leylah Fernandez and Osaka or barred, like Daniil Medvedev and Aryna Sabalenka.
Wimbledon is the one major tennis tournament to bar the Russians and Belarusians, and the ban has excluded 4 of the highest 40 men, including No. 1 Medvedev and No. 8 Andrey Rublev, each of Russia. But Novak Djokovic, who has won the last three editions of Wimbledon, and his longtime rival Rafael Nadal are each in the boys’s field. So is Andy Murray, now unseeded and attempting to get well from an abdominal injury after an encouraging run to the ultimate on grass in Stuttgart.
Roger Federer, an eight-time Wimbledon singles champion who remains to be recovering from knee surgery at age 40, will miss the tournament for the primary time since 1997 (he won the boys title in 1998 before playing within the foremost attract 1999).
Djokovic, who has an excellent draw, will face Kwon Soon-woo of South Korea in the primary round. Nadal, playing Wimbledon for the primary time since 2019, will face Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina. Murray, the British star, will face James Duckworth of Australia.
Wimbledon’s ban has excluded six of the highest 40 women, including No. 6 Sabalenka, a Belarusian who was a Wimbledon semifinalist last 12 months; No. 20 Victoria Azarenka, a former No. 1; and No. 34 Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who was Serena Williams’s most up-to-date opponent at Wimbledon.
Sasnovich advanced last 12 months when Williams retired within the opening set of their first-round match after reinjuring her right hamstring in a slip on the fresh grass on Centre Court. Partly in response, Wimbledon, for the primary time, allowed players to coach on Centre Court before the tournament to wear within the grass and improve the footing in the course of the early rounds.
Williams, who has played more at Wimbledon than anyone in the ladies’s field, already knows her way across the grass, but she has been increasingly susceptible to injuries and can now should try to search out form in a rush.
Tan, despite her world rating, has the tools to create some doubt and trouble. She is an efficient counterpuncher who likes to vary pace with slices and drop shots and will force Williams to dig low and move greater than she might like firstly of her comeback.
Williams, along with her first-strike power and deep experience, definitely looks like the favourite, but when she gets past Tan, she is going to quickly run into clearer threats. She could face No. 32 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo, a tenacious Spaniard, within the second round and will then face No. 6 Karolina Pliskova, who lost to Barty in last 12 months’s Wimbledon final. Williams has never played Tan or Sorribes, and he or she has split her 4 previous matches with Pliskova, losing to her within the semifinals of the 2016 U.S. Open and quarterfinals of the 2019 Australian Open.
Advance past the third round and Williams could face Gauff for the primary time, in a match that will surely generate major interest. Nevertheless it seems most premature to start out talking in regards to the fourth round when Williams has played no singles in any respect in a 12 months.
That is the second longest break of her remarkable profession, rating only behind the 13-month break she took after winning the 2017 Australian Open when she was already two months pregnant along with her daughter, Olympia.
She looked understandably rusty and slow off the mark within the early stages of her doubles matches with Jabeur in Eastbourne, but she soon found her timing and got here up with some trademark first serves under duress in each victories. Her ball striking when in position was often solid, however the trick will likely be putting herself in prime position in singles, where there’s so far more court to cover and the potential for prolonged rallies if Williams cannot dominate along with her serve and full-cut returns.
The brand new wave of ladies’s players, led by Swiatek, have adapted to the ability and generate loads of it themselves. A deep Williams run could be quite an achievement, but when there’s any Grand Slam where she could achieve it with so little preparation, it will be Wimbledon.