The casual tennis fan’s guide to Wimbledon 2016
You may be aware of an upcoming tennis tournament in London.
While diehard tennis fans might scoff at the notion that someone could possibly be unaware that Wimbledon begins on Monday, June 27—it’s practically Christmas Day in the tennis world—we at Sports Illustrated understand that not everyone follows tennis religiously.
This makes us sad, but don’t be ashamed if you are one of those people. We get it: For most, the Australian Open happens in the middle of the night, and Memorial Day barbecues often get in the way of watching the French Open. And if you’re not watching Novak Djokovic lift his first French Open trophy, then you’re probably not watching Kyle Edmund and Jiri Vesely battle in the first round at the Miami Open. (That was a great match, by the way!)
We also understand that a lot of casual tennis fans start paying attention to the sport around this time of year, when they first catch a glimpse of the well–manicured grass at the All England Club. If you’re one of those fans—or even if you’re not—here’s what you need to know entering this year’s 130th edition of The Championships at Wimbledon.
Novak Djokovic is good at tennis
Novak Djokovic is the best men’s player in the world right now, by far. If you were building a model of the perfect tennis player, it’s hard to imagine he would be any different than Djokovic. Maybe a more interesting haircut? Either way, Djokovic hasn’t lost a best–of–five set match since Stan Wawrinka beat him in the 2015 French Open final, which is also the last time Djokovic didn’t win a Slam event.
After winning the French Open earlier this month—his first title at Roland Garros—Djokovic now holds all four major titles simultaneously. The last male player to accomplish that feat was Rod Laver in 1969. And barring something unforeseen, Djokovic will be a heavy favorite to win both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, which would complete the calendar Slam. The last male player to win all four in the same calendar year, of course, was Laver in ’69.
Then there’s the Golden Slam—winning all four Slams, plus Olympic gold in the same year—something only Steffi Graf has accomplished. Djokovic might do that too.
Plus, if he wins Wimbledon, Djokovic will have 13 Slams, which would put him just four behind Roger Federer for the most all–time. The G.O.A.T. debate isn’t going away anytime soon.
Serena has another chance at history
Last year, Serena Williams was head and shoulders above her competition—kind of like Djokovic today on the men’s side. Her Wimbledon title in 2015 was her 21st Slam of her career, putting her just one behind Steffi Graf for the all-time record in the Open Era.
Then, of course, came the shocking defeat to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals, denying Serena the calendar–year Grand Slam. This year, she reached the Australian Open and French Open finals, but fell to Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza, respectively. Suddenly, Serena’s aura of invincibility isn’t as strong as it was a year ago.
Serena tying Graf’s record seemed like a foregone conclusion at the end of last summer. And now…well, it still seems pretty inevitable. Despite the rise of Muguruza (more on that later), Serena is still the favorite entering Wimbledon 2016 and is highly likely to be the favorite at the U.S. Open. Sure, she’s lost her last two Slam finals, but she still made it to both championship matches.
Serena has made it clear she wants to focus on the biggest tournaments this season. She only has one title this year and has only played 28 total singles matches. At 34, Serena may not be in the same position entering the grass Slam as she was last year, but it would hardly be a shock if she topples Graf’s record before the season concludes.
What’s the deal with Roger Federer?
It’s been a bit of a weird year for Federer. After losing to Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals, he had the first surgery of his career after sustaining a knee injury while preparing a bath for his twin daughters.
Leave it to Roger to somehow make knee surgery adorable. But Federer’s ailments haven’t all stemmed from bath time.
He was set to return from surgery in Miami, but he withdrew from the tournament after catching the flu. And then he was forced to withdraw from the Madrid Open with a back injury before pulling out of the French Open because he didn’t feel fully healthy.
Federer, now 34, hasn’t really been able to get in a rhythm this season. The seven–time Wimbledon champion is royalty at the All England Club, and it’s easy to see him challenging Djokovic for the title, as he did the last two years before coming up short in the final. But considering his injury issues this year, it also feels possible that he’ll make a relatively early exit.
Worth noting: Federer has lost his last four best–of–five set matches against Djokovic, including two Wimbledon finals. His last best–of–five win over Djokovic was in the Wimbledon semifinals in 2012.
Who can beat Djokovic?
If Federer rediscovers the form he displayed late last season and early this year, he probably has the best shot to topple Djokovic. But that’s hardly a certainty: In his two grass court tournaments leading up to Wimbledon, he fell to rising stars Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev. These guys are two youngsters to watch.
Thiem in particular looks ready for the big stage. The 22-year-old has rocketed up the ATP standings this year, jumping from No. 20 in January to No. 8 this week. Earlier this month, won his fourth title of the year at Stuttgart but did lose to Djokovic in the Roland Garros semifinals this year.
Perhaps Djokovic’s biggest challenger is Andy Murray, who tends to play well enough in lead–up tournaments to convince you he’s going to win a Slam before falling to Djokovic yet again. This pattern repeated itself before this year’s French Open, which ended with—wait for it—a loss in the final to Djokovic.
Will Wimbledon be any different? Murray enters the tournament after collecting a title at Queen’s Club, where he came from behind to beat Milos Raonic in the final. The World No. 2 is certainly capable of beating Djokovic, but nearly everything has to go his way.
And keep your eye on Raonic, whose powerful serve and big strokes make him an enticing semi–dark horse.
One name you don’t need to watch out for this year at The Championships: Rafael Nadal. He’s not playing due to a wrist injury.
Garbiñe Muguruza is (possibly) the next great women’s player
At the French Open, Muguruza dropped the first set of her tournament—and won every set thereafter, including a 7–5, 6–4 victory over Serena Williams in the final to win her first Grand Slam title.
Sure, the women’s draw at the French Open was hit hard by injury and early upsets. But that shouldn’t take away from the Spaniard’s excellent tournament, including an absolutely fearless performance against Serena.
It seems entirely plausible that Muguruza, now the World No. 2, will emerge as the chief rival to Serena in the last years of the 21–time Slam champion’s career.
Muguruza is just 22, but she already seems tied to Williams in so many ways. She introduced herself to so many tennis fans with her shocking second–round upset of top–seeded Serena at the 2014 French Open. She reached her first Slam final at Wimbledon last year, where Serena beat her in straight sets. And of course she broke through at this year’s French Open final against the world’s top player.
It’s far too early to say the sun is setting on the Serena Williams Era, but Muguruza looks like a strong contender to eventually replace her as the next World No. 1.
Which Americans should I be watching?
Serena Williams, obviously. But if you’re looking to get patriotic around July 4th and you aren’t satisfied with just watching one of the greatest tennis players of all-time, there are plenty of other Yanks for you to pull for in London.
On the women’s side, Madison Keys has the potential to make a deep run. She lost in the fourth round at both of this year’s Slams, but she enters Wimbledon after winning a grass–court title in Birmingham. Keys made the quarters at Wimbledon last year, and she seems poised for another breakthrough.
Shelby Rogers, 23, had a great French Open, making a surprising run to the quarterfinals before bowing out to Muguruza. Venus Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at the All England Club since 2010, but the four–time Wimbledon champion is always worth monitoring. Sloane Stephens is only 23, but she has plateaued a bit since making the Australian Open semis and Wimbledon quarters in 2013.
On the men’s side, Americans aren’t expected to fare so well. Last year, Denis Kudla’s fourth–round appearance marked the best finish for an American male. John Isner, the World No. 17 and the highest–ranked American male, has never made it past the third round at Wimbledon. Isner’s most prominent moment at the tournament remains his marathon match against Nicolas Mahut in 2010.
One American to keep an eye on is Taylor Fritz, who was born in 1997—the year before Roger Federer turned pro. Only 18, Fritz is set to make his debut in the Wimbledon main draw this year. It’s worth noting that Fritz, the world No. 63, is one of only four players in the ATP Top 100 under 21 years of age. Fritz actually played Federer earlier this month at Stuttgart and took the second set 7–5 before succumbing in the decider.
Good news: Wimbledon is easy to watch
The Australian Open is for insomniacs, and the French Open is for people who have Tennis Channel. (You should definitely be one of those people.) But Wimbledon is on during semi-normal hours, from around 7 a.m. ET to the late afternoon on most days, and the entire tournament is televised by ESPN and ESPN2.
Have to work? No problem: You can stream matches on WatchESPN.
Oh, don’t try to watch on Sunday, July 3
Per tradition, tournament takes a break on the first Sunday after the competition starts, meaning that there’s no tennis to watch on July 3. Known as “Middle Sunday,” this day is a rest day and also a time for the Wimbledon grounds crew to vacuum the courts and clear off any “kicked up debris from the first week’s play.”
Britain could have an epic July 10
It is theoretically possible for Andy Murray to play for the Wimbledon title on the same day that England competes in the final of the 2016 UEFA European Championship in France.
This scenario assumes that England has not already exited Euro 2016 after surely losing on penalty kicks, but let us dream momentarily: Andy Murray lifts the trophy around 5 or 6 p.m. GMT, and then England overcomes decades of major–tournament failure to prevail in the Euro 2016 final just a few hours later.
The double triumph would likely mark the greatest day in English sport since the Three Lions lifted the World Cup on July 30, 1966. It could happen!
Also, let’s not forget about the rest of the United Kingdom: Wales and Northern Ireland also technically have a shot at winning Euro 2016—though of all the British athletes who could be playing for a title on July 10, Murray looks like the best bet.