For those who still enjoy their tennis the old-fashioned way - on grass - this is an encouraging moment.
Wimbledon begins Monday on the well-tended lawns of the All England Club, and after business as usual concludes on July 8, most of the world’s best players will return for a rare, if not quite unprecedented, encore less than three weeks later when the Olympics are played at the same spot.
Meanwhile, Wimbledon officials, according to Britain’s Daily Mail, are preparing a push to add a third week of grass-court tennis to the sport’s overstuffed schedule between the French Open and Wimbledon, perhaps as early as 2014. That would be welcome considering that grass was once the dominant surface in a sport whose original name, after all, is lawn tennis.
But for now, what matters most is what will happen at Wimbledon during Wimbledon, and the potential men’s and women’s champions are hardly legion.
The last nine major titles for the men have been won by Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal, who have also set a record by meeting in the last four Grand Slam finals. Expand the research a few years and 28 of the last 29 major titles have been won by Djokovic, Nadal, or Roger Federer, now the third but still hungry man in the equation.
The last time one of the big three did not win Wimbledon was in 2002, when Lleyton Hewitt defeated David Nalbandian for the title. Nalbandian has been back in the news on grass this season for being defaulted from the final at Queen’s Club after kicking a court barrier in anger and injuring a linesman. Hewitt has been much more discreet - too discreet to avoid more retirement chatter as he is now ranked No. 202 and required a wild card to play at Wimbledon.
The women don’t have a big two or big three at this still-unsettled stage. But it certainly seems right to pick Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova as dual favorites heading into Wimbledon. Williams was fit and on a roll until she blew a lead in the first round of the French Open against Virginie Razzano.
But Williams carries much less emotional baggage at Wimbledon, where she has won four times and gets to play plenty of quick points because of her huge serve. The question is whether her recent run of disappointments at Grand Slam tournaments will affect her equilibrium. She was upset in the US Open final last year by Samantha Stosur and also upset in the fourth round of the Australian Open this year by Ekaterina Makarova.
Sharapova, back at No. 1 for the first time in four years after completing the career Grand Slam in Paris, has not won Wimbledon since 2004, when she beat Williams in the final at age 17.
This will be the first Wimbledon-Olympics double at the Church Road site, where the club took up residence in 1922. It will also be the biggest summer of tennis for grass since the US Open moved from the lawns at Forest Hills in 1975.