LONDON – As opening day for the third Grand Slam of the year nears, the top players took to the podium for their pre-tournament press conferences to talk about grass court preparation, lead-up tournaments, Serena's dominance on tour, coaches and more.
Roger Federer says the new three-week break after the French Open has lead to his best preparation ever for Wimbledon.
"It's changed everything, to be honest. You might think that a week is not a lot, but a week is so much for us players.... The body might feel it after Wimbledon. But the good thing is you can heal problems you might have carried over from the French rather than taking chances right away running onto the grass, or not playing a warm-up event. Wimbledon comes around very quickly. You come in with many more doubts into the tournament. I could rest and relax and then really train and prepare properly for a change for a good grass court season."
News flash: Serena Williams, a five-time champion at Wimbledon, actually doesn't love playing on grass.
"Oddly enough, it never has been my favorite surface, but I've always done really well here. I think my game is really suited for the grass. It's never been someplace like, I love playing on the grass, which is just really weird. But, again, my game works for it, so..."
Maria Sharapova's grass court preparation was delayed after she needed more time to get over the lasting effects of the illness she played through at the French Open.
"I was hoping I could play a warm-up tournament leading up to this. But due to the circumstances, the way I was feeling, actually I had to go back home and do some tests, run through all that. It took a little while for me to really refresh and recover and give myself just a chance to feel good again and get back to work. I planned on going to Florida. But then I needed to do a few things back in California for my health. Then just came here as soon as I got the green light to start the training. It's been a really good 10 days. To finally have that energy, I think that's quite important as an athlete."
Will Stan Wawrinka ever get tired about questions his shorts?
Q. Are you surprised by how much of a fashion icon you became after the French Open?
STAN WAWRINKA: It's not me, my shorts (laughter).
She's said it once and she'll say it again: Serena does not feel any pressure to complete the Calendar Grand Slam. Yet.
"I don't feel any pressure to win all four. I've been saying that, but I really don't feel that pressure. Maybe if I would happen to win here, then maybe I might start feeling it after that. Ultimately, I'm taking it one day at a time and I'm not thinking that far."
Sharapova was asked to identify the most remarkable aspect of Serena's current era of domination.
"I think it always comes down to consistency. It's such a fine line. It's one thing to do it at one event or two events, but in order to have that level to be able to do it consistently I think is pretty incredible."
Simona Halep needed a break after losing in the second round of the French Open.
"I can say that wasn't a good clay season for me this year. I was disappointed after I lost in the French Open. I took some days off, home with my family and my friends. I didn't play tennis for about five days, which was good. I relaxed myself. I took the pressure off of my head. I just said that I have to enjoy again, just to work hard every day. So I started to work harder more. Now I feel pretty confident that I can play good tennis again."
Serena was asked about her Sound of Music dance routine she posted on social media last week.
SERENA WILLIAMS: I have a dance team. Yes, a dance team.
Q. A competitive dance team?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yes, it is a competitive dance team.
Q. What sort of competitions do you do?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Like I said, wait for it. It's coming. It's coming. No, we do competitions. Just local. Our dream is to perform on Ellen. Yes, that's right.
Q. I think you could probably do that if you wanted to.
SERENA WILLIAMS: I think so, too (laughter).
Federer, still on his quest to win Slam No. 18, has nothing but positive takeaways from his 6–7, 6–4, 7–6, 5–7, 6–4 loss to Novak Djokovic in last year's Wimbledon final.
"I wasn't playing great, and I made the finals. Again, I did end up playing a great tournament. I played some really good tennis. I didn't expect myself to right away make the finals. To be honest, I was still somewhat on the way back. But things went faster than I thought they would. Whereas this year I feel my game is better. I've gotten used to the [new] racquet. This is not the first time I'm at Wimbledon with Stefan Edberg. The work I've put in with Severin, my coach, I could really aim for Wimbledon this year. Whereas last year, it was all about getting back."
One of the most important things Amelie Mauresmo has done as Murray's coach? Being loyal.
"I feel last year, there was—not me, myself—I know there were a lot of people doubting me. I feel like she stuck with me during that period. I had an extremely tough loss at the end of last year (referring to his 6-0 6-1 loss to Federer at the ATP Finals). She was one of the people that really stuck by me and supported me. I'm glad that I've been able to kind of repay her faith in me with some good tennis this year."
Rafael Nadal: Mathlete.
Q. Traditionally this tournament has had a lot of great left‑handed winners. There seem to be fewer left‑handed players on the tour, especially the top ranks of the tour, apart from yourself. Why do you think that might be?
RAFAEL NADAL: There is less lefties than righties, no? Is a question of percentage.
Laura Robson opened up her pre-tournament interview with a big smile, remarking, "It's been awhile." She's tempered her expectations for what will be her first main draw match in nearly a year and a half, especially after taking a 6–0, 6–1 loss in Eastbourne qualifying to Daria Gavrilova.
"I don't think anything is worse for an athlete than doing over a year of rehab. So even though last week I got absolutely pummeled, getting pummeled is better than not playing anything at all."
Murray admitted his perspective on his career has changed as he's gotten older.
"I kind of realized at the end of last year that I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to play at the top level again, so I need to do everything possible that I can [with] my training, really dedicate myself 100% to the time I have left. Obviously I want to try to enjoy it as best as I can. A lot of the sort of ex‑players that I've heard talk about it, the ones I've spoken to, have said, 'At the end really make sure you get every last ounce out of yourself because these will be the best years of your life. It doesn't get better when you finish playing (smiling). So enjoy it as best you can.'
Asked about Serena's quest for the Calendar Grand Slam, Federer noted how impressed he was that both Williamses continue to play at such a high level.
"I think to be mentally ready for the challenge when she wants to be up for it, I think that's what's so admirable about her," Federer said about Serena. "Also Venus, I must say. We don't talk about Venus that often because Serena has been so dominant. Actually that they're both still playing is more of a surprise to me. But that they are playing, it doesn't surprise me they're actually playing well. It goes hand‑in‑hand. I wouldn't imagine them still playing and playing poorly. Let's put it that way. They're too good for that."
In reference to Federer's quote, Serena was asked whether she envisions herself retiring while she's still on top, a la Justine Henin, who retired while holding the No. 1 ranking.
"I just don't think about that. I don't think about when I stop, I'm going to stop at my peak. That's something I definitely want to do, but I don't sit down and think about when I'm going to stop. I think about practicing, technique, training. Whenever that day comes, hopefully I will be on top. I wouldn't want it any other way."
Novak Djokovic acknowledges coaching from the player's box is common in the sport.
"We can't pretend like that's not happening in tennis. Of course, there's situations when it happens, and not just with the top players, with everybody. This is a very competitive sport. You're alone on the court. Of course, there's certain rules. But also there are times when, you know, the team of the player communicates with the player when he gets to go and take the towel in the corner, which is closer to the box, or, you know, different ways. I think it's all fine as long as it's not regular. I think it just depends. Also that's up to the chair umpire or supervisor to decide if somebody's breaking the rules or not. I think as long as it's something that you can tolerate, let's say, within the ways of communication, I think it's fine."
Djokovic insisted he's moved on from his French Open loss to Stan Wawrinka.
"That's the match that I wanted to win, but it didn't happen, mostly because I lost to a better player that day. I had to admit, no question about it, I could only just congratulate him because he was the one that was taking his chances, stepping into the court, being brave, coming up with some incredible shots. He deserved to win. There's no doubt about that. Maybe I could have done a few things differently. But it's all behind me now. I'm experienced, and something that tennis has taught me over the years, to move on, and to be able to do that very quickly."
Reflecting on that French Open loss, Djokovic said he experienced a level of appreciation and respect he felt before.
"Speaking of the closing ceremony, I felt something I never felt before in any Grand Slam final with any of my rivals that I played against before, this connection with Stan. It was a really tough match, but when the match was over, I felt something that was very special. I thought we shared these unique moments on the court and we showed to the world that even if we fight for the biggest title, we still have respect for each other and appreciation. The way we greeted each other at the net, then after when he came to my bench, I appreciate it very much. I think that shows his greatness, as well. That's the way it's supposed to be.
Defending champion Petra Kvitova is the only woman who has beaten Serena this season. The two could meet in the final but Kvitova, who is struggling with an illness, says it's a long way to go.
"I think that every match with her is different. Doesn't matter if you going to beat her once that you're going to beat her again. It's not like that. I think Serena is one of the players which you can really beat, but not every day."