Wimbledon, the only one of the four annual Grand Slam tournaments played on grass, begins Monday at the All England Club in London. The oldest tennis tournament in the world, Wimbledon carries with it all the expected pomp and circumstance, including a strict adherence to a traditional all-white dress code. The grass favors big servers and versatile, explosive players. This year, 128 players will compete for a trophy. Here are six to watch:
Wimbledon’s eight-time winner and defending champion, Roger Federer, has reason to keep an eye on 21-year-old Alexander Zverev of Germany. Though Zverev, who is 6 feet 6 inches, has not won a Grand Slam, he went 21-4 on clay this year and reached the quarterfinals at the French Open, his best showing yet in a major. He has several Masters 1000 wins — last year he beat Novak Djokovic in the Italian Open and Federer in the Canada Masters. This year he has charged up the rankings with his energetic and aggressive baseline play. He also has a big serve, the kind favored on Wimbledon’s grass. He has admitted only one weakness: placing too much pressure on winning a Grand Slam event. If he can rely on his physical game and get outside of his head, Zverev could see results and, perhaps, his first Grand Slam.
Juan Martín del Potro
Another challenge to Federer’s Wimbledon reign is 29-year-old Juan Martín del Potro of Argentina, ranked No. 4 in the world. After four wrist surgeries — three to his left and one to his right — del Potro returned to tennis in 2016. It’s been a long hard crawl to regain his form, but he has finally managed to deliver in 2018. He has seen a series of wins this year since returning to the top 10 in January for the first time since 2014. “Everybody knows that I was close to quitting this sport two years ago, but I never give up,” he told the news media at the French Open where he lost to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. Coming off a win against Federer at Indian Wells, with his game seemingly peaking, he may have the right mental edge to go up against him again at Wimbledon.
The always exciting and sometimes controversial bad boy of tennis returns to Wimbledon this year after retiring in the first round last year. The 23-year-old Australian is coming off an elbow injury with a good start in the grass-court season in advance of Wimbledon, reaching the semifinals of the Stuttgart Open, where he lost to Federer. He also beat Andy Murray at the Queens Club and made it to the semifinals. If he can keep his behavior in check — he was most recently fined 15,000 euros (about $17,500) for simulating a lewd act — he is capable of fulfilling his potential and making a solid run in London.
Serena Williams, 36, made a promising return at the French Open, her first Grand Slam since giving birth to her daughter. Williams was scheduled to play Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals in one of the sport’s great rivalries, but withdrew after a painful pectoral muscle injury that affected her serve. She has won Wimbledon seven times and has not lost there since 2014 (she did not play Wimbledon in 2017). After some false starts, Williams could be ready to finally make an uninterrupted comeback if her health holds. Williams, ranked No. 183 in the world, was unseeded at the French Open. After outspoken critics, including Caroline Wozniacki and the three-time Wimbledon winner John McEnroe, argued she was being unfairly punished for taking time off to have her baby, officials announced she will be seeded 25th at Wimbledon.
We may see another match between Sharapova and Williams at Wimbledon — always a thrill for fans. Williams has beaten Sharapova 19 times, losing to her only twice. With Williams injured and still rusty from her maternity leave, this may be the year Sharapova wins it all. Since returning to tennis in 2017 after a 15-month suspension for testing positive for the banned substance meldonium, Sharapova, 31, has steadily climbed the rankings and broke back into the top 150. She made it to the fourth round at last year’s United States Open and won a title last October in China. This year, Sharapova has continued the climb and is ranked No. 24, making it to the quarterfinals of the French Open where she lost in straight sets to world No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza.
With her first Grand Slam title at the recent French Open, we are just beginning to see the potential of top-ranked Simona Halep. The 26-year-old Romanian snapped her 0-3 record in Grand Slam finals at Roland Garros, beating Sloane Stephens in a gutsy match, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. “I was calm, I was focused and I didn’t give up any moment,” she told the crowd after the match. With newfound confidence, Halep is expected to make a run at Wimbledon.