Djokovic the underdog for Wimbledon with Sinner and Alcaraz shining

Estimated read time 6 min read

As Novak Djokovic cleared out his locker room and made his sad departure from the French Open 25 days ago, weeks of uncertainty seemed to lay ahead. Early in his dramatic fourth round-match against Francisco Cerundolo, Djokovic slipped on the clay and tore his medial meniscus in his knee. Considering he had deliberated over his previous elbow surgery for months, his decision to immediately commit to knee surgery underlined that time was not on his side.

Instead, he is back. Djokovic has spent the past week training on the grounds, hitting with numerous top players and seemingly gaining strength. Then, on Friday, the Serb beat Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-4 at the annual Hurlingham Club exhibition.

Results are irrelevant in a friendly, but it was far more important that Djokovic served well, struck the ball cleanly and although he was cautious with his movement when changing directions, he looked fine.

Djokovic declared himself “painless”. It was abundantly clear he would be competing at Wimbledon.

As Andy Murray attempts to return 10 days after surgery, this is, primarily, yet another reinforcement of how unbelievable that generation is. The logical choice for a 37-year-old in this predicament would have been to take his time and to play things safe, ensuring that he is properly healed for the Olympic Games in Paris on clay.

While the Olympics may not be the central achievements, Djokovic has continually described it as one of his biggest goals and Paris will surely be his last realistic shot at a gold medal, the one major distinction that has evaded him in his career. He said that even his wife, Jelena, had asked him why he was so intent on competing at Wimbledon.

“I wouldn’t call it a fear of missing out,” he said. “I would just say it’s this incredible desire to play, just to compete. Particularly because it is Wimbledon, the tournament that always has been a dream tournament for me when I was a kid.

“I always dreamed of playing Wimbledon. Just the thought of me missing Wimbledon was just not correct. I didn’t want to deal with that.”

Jannik Sinner will fancy his chances after winning his first grass title at HalleView image in fullscreen

In the same breath, though, a 24-time grand slam winner works through long, painful days of rehab for a reason. “I didn’t come here to play a few rounds and prove to myself and others that I can actually compete in one or two matches,” he said.

“I really want to go for the title. The last three days have given me enough optimism and good signs that I can actually be in a state to compete on the highest level for the next few weeks hopefully.”

If there were any lingering doubts from Djokovic about his ability to compete, they may well have disappeared on seeing the top-heavy draw. Safely in the bottom half as the No 2 seed, Djokovic faces Vit Kopriva, a qualifier, in the opening round and the first seed he is projected to face is Tomás Martín Etcheverry, who has won one main draw match on grass in his career.

Still, Djokovic undoubtedly begins the tournament as the underdog in a year when he has failed to win a title even when he has been healthy. For once, the favourites are headed by the two youngest players inside the top 10, who continue to establish themselves as the future of the sport while landing in the top half. A year on from his five-set comeback win over Djokovic in last year’s Wimbledon final, Carlos Alcaraz returns to Wimbledon as the third seed after a fascinating year.

After the euphoria of his Wimbledon triumph, a defining moment in his career, it was a struggle to maintain his level in the following months. There was fatigue, pressure and injuries.

But Alcaraz is a special player and he rebounded by winning the French Open despite being injured for most of the buildup.

Alcaraz took time off to properly celebrate his Paris success by partying in Ibiza and the turnaround for Queen’s was difficult. Up against an excellent Jack Draper, the Spaniard was vulnerable and he lost in the second round.

Still, he has since had ample time to prepare and unlike in the build up to his French Open triumph, he has no injury concerns.

“I’m feeling great,” he said. “After Queen’s, I had a lot of days to adapt my game, to practise, to get better.

“I remember after the losing in Queen’s, the next day I started practising my movement, my shots, just to be more comfortable moving on grass, playing on grass this year. I had a great practices with great players just to see how is my level. I’m ready to start the tournament.”

Carlos Alcaraz trains for WimbledonView image in fullscreen

Becoming the world No 1 is an incredible achievement and not everyone is immediately prepared to carry the weight that comes with it. For Jannik Sinner, though, his first tournament atop the rankings was simply another opportunity to continue the consistency he has established over the past year.

A week ago, the Italian began his Wimbledon preparations by winning in Halle, his first title on grass. He may not have the three major titles that Alcaraz has won at a younger age, but with his cool head and less volatile game, he has sustained an extremely high level for a longer period than Alcaraz.

Sinner, the top seed this year, has won 58 matches and lost five (92% win rate) since last September and has become difficult to defeat.

Sinner and Alcaraz will begin Wimbledon as the favourites to add to their trophy cabinets at a time when many of the supporting cast, such as Alexander Zverev, the fourth seed, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, have still been unable to find their best on grass. But Djokovic is here to win, and his status as the underdog could actually allow him to play with more freedom after a difficult season on the court.

With another major title on the line, Wimbledon should provide more insight into how these young stars are prepared to handle the pressure and continue building their major title count.


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