By Giri Nathan
It’d be nice if there were a grass-court “season.” I know the ATP brass have been mumbling about setting up a Masters on turf, which I need badly. If grass took up some space in the calendar, instead of feeling like an injury-recovery purgatory sandwiched between two Slams, it might be more interesting to make form- and surface-specific Wimbledon predictions. But let’s just throw this notion out there and see how it looks on the screen: Wimbledon will see a first-time champ on both tours. Hmm. That looks fine, actually. It helps that we can at least rule out several of the usual suspects.
On the men’s side, the path is clearer than it has looked in a while. Daniil Medvedev, who looked superb on grass, except for the two championship matches he botched. In ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Medvedev was somehow broken four times in a single set by world No. 205 Tim van Rijthoven. In Halle last week, he melted down so pyrotechnically that his coach, Gilles Cervera, abandoned the grounds mid-match. But, like all his Russian countrymen, the world No. 1 seed won’t even be invited to the action at the All England Club this year.
The old heads will be around, if under the radar. Rafael Nadal underwent radiofrequency ablation on his problematic left foot in early June. The procedure appears to have gone well; as of writing, he’s in the draw, and was seen training with Matteo Berrettini. (Scandalously, the two played on Centre Court—a practice set! Before the tournament! Nothing’s sacred anymore.) It’s unimaginable to go from limping around town to winning a major title in the span of a month…though I am now consulting the historical record and learning that he did actually do that last month. I guess I’m just betting against it happening again. Novak Djokovic, who rebooted his dull season at Roland-Garros, has been lying low for the past three weeks. But he’s also won Wimbledon four times without playing a single grass tune-up match, so maybe the guy knows what he’s doing.
But like Charlie Brown staring down the football once again, I really do believe in these other contenders. Is it time for Hubert Hurkacz to go a little farther than last year’s Wimbledon semifinal? Grass always struck me as the sensible surface for him: He has a massive serve, simple ground strokes, a slick habit of ghosting his way to the net, and crisp volleys once he gets there. He dispatched Felix Auger-Aliassime, Nick Kyrgios, and Medvedev in Halle last week. Then there’s last year’s finalist Matteo Berrettini, who sat out this whole clay season after a hand surgery but just won the title at Stuttgart, with his serve-forehand combo looking as nasty as ever. And as for Carlos Alcaraz, there’s no need to restate the case. Even if he’d never touched his sneaker to a blade of grass, I’d like the prodigy’s chances. The one cause for concern is the heavy wrapping he sported on his right elbow in his exhibition match Thursday, which he’s worn on occasion.
On the women’s side, Iga Swiatek has radically simplified the business of predicting major champs. The WTA hasn’t seen dominance like her current 35-match streak since prime Serena Williams. That cuts the other way, too: The cost of all that success is fatigue, and she withdrew from her warm-up in Berlin to rest her shoulder. The world No. 1 who can’t stop winning said she’d be happy to claim just one or two matches on a surface she still finds “tricky.” It’s hard to imagine a Slam over the next five years that she won’t seriously contend for, but this might not be the one.
Swiatek’s convalescence was a convenient window for the rest of the tour to sneak in some wins of their own. That includes Ons Jabeur, who also happens to be the one who dispatched Swiatek from Wimbledon last year in the fourth round. Now a career-high No. 3, the Tunisian has always radiated pure talent—look no further for the WTA’s most audacious drop shot—and she’s finally begun assembling the results to match: a 1000-level in Madrid last month, and a 500-level title in Berlin last week. After one entertaining doubles match alongside a freshly returned Serena, Jabeur pulled out of Eastbourne due to injury, but that’s likely just self-preservation before the main event. Between her and Coco Gauff—who has made the fourth round in both of the Wimbledon trips of her short career and is coming off a major final—I’m envisioning some fresh faces at the end of the fortnight. So please don’t wake me up from my nap after the Novak-Iga double.
Above: We give Herbie’s chances an enthusiastic, “Aaayyyy.” (Getty)