Wimbledon 2020: Ladies and gentlemen, play is suspended... but 2021 should be epic

By Sports Desk June 29, 2020

Wimbledon should have been getting under way on Monday and the queue would have been building all weekend long, a tented village of flag-waving, gin-swigging tennis diehards doing whatever it takes to land a prized ticket.

The practice courts would have been bustling, news conferences with the world's elite players running all day Saturday and into Sunday, and the first bumper delivery of fresh strawberries would have arrived fresh from the fields of Kent.

Elite athletes and their entourages would have been milling around the grounds, before at 10.30am on Monday morning the paying spectators would have been released from their holding bay, many racing straight to the grass bank that is officially named Aorangi Terrace but better known as Henman Hill.

And at 11.30am, the first players would have been walking on court, the championships getting under way. To be there at such a time is a delicious thrill, the waiting over, the grounds teeming, the first points being played, and the anticipation escalating as to what might unfold over the next fortnight.

Yet this year Wimbledon was all quiet across the weekend; thousands did not queue for tickets; the line painters, the stewards, and the ball boys and ball girls stayed at home; and a whole lot more strawberry jam is being produced in England this year than last.

The 2020 championships were cancelled on April 1, the only reasonable decision available to the All England Club amid the coronavirus pandemic, but organisers are already preparing for next year's return.

And from the plot lines that are already emerging, it is clear we can expect a classic Wimbledon.

A farewell to great champions?

There is the very real prospect of tennis losing a huddle of its biggest stars practically all at once, with anyone that was considering bowing out this year surely now giving the glad eye to 2021.

Roger Federer will be just weeks short of his 40th birthday by next year's Wimbledon, and the same applies to Serena Williams, whose sister Venus will already be 41.

Andy Murray will be a relatively young 34 but his body has taken a battering, the Scot desperate to play more grand slams but also realistic enough to know there may not be many left for him. He longs for another Wimbledon, maybe just one more.

Between them, that quartet have won 22 Wimbledon singles titles, and all four could choose the 2021 tournament as their opportunity to bid farewell to the All England Club.

It's going to be an emotional tournament in any case, if we are back to normal, but if there are goodbyes to be said too, the championships promise to be one packed with indelible memories, and so many tears.

The magic numbers

Serena Williams has lost each of the past two Wimbledon women's finals and has been stuck on 23 grand slams since winning the 2017 Australian Open, agonisingly one short of Margaret Court's record.

Could Wimbledon be where Williams matches or even passes Court's total? The American remains the player to beat at Wimbledon, and her hunger for grand slam success has not remotely diminished over time.

There can be little doubt she is playing not purely for the love of it, but because of the thrill of the chase, and Williams might wind up disappointed at the end of her career, still marooned one adrift.

But what a story it would be if Williams were to win another Wimbledon, the last of her thirties. Don't put anything past her.

And the race to finish as the all-time leader on the men's side keeps rolling, a devil of a duty to predict who will come out on top between Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Another Wimbledon win for any of them could take on momentous significance in that respect.

A new men's Centre Court king, at last?

The last player to win the Wimbledon's men's singles, besides the 'Big Four' of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.

And while the era of those four great players dominating in SW19 has been one to treasure, seeing a new champion crowned would be rather special.

There have been nine winners of the women's singles over the same period of time, multiple champions among them but also terrific one-off stories such as Marion Bartoli's triumph, the 17-year-old Maria Sharapova's big breakthrough, Amelie Mauresmo's great achievement, and the unbridled joy of Simona Halep last year.

Certainly there is so much to admire about the quartet that have ruled the men's singles, but a little novelty feels overdue.

Those queueing up to form a new dominant group need to push themselves forward, rather than play a waiting game.

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

What a revelation Coco Gauff became last year, defeating her great hero Venus Williams and reaching the fourth round, where it took eventual champion Halep to halt the 15-year-old's run.

She dramatically followed up by reaching the third round of the US Open and then round four of the Australian Open at the start of this year.

Between those two grand slams, Gauff also landed her first WTA title, in Linz, Austria, where she became the youngest winner on tour for 15 years.

The American teenager is the real deal, that much is clear, and she has a bright future.

Gauff demonstrated wisdom beyond her years off the court in early June with a terrific, powerful address at a Black Lives Matter rally in her Florida home town of Delray Beach.

May she return many times to Wimbledon.

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    It might not have been planned, but the events of 2020 have produced a version of the Champions League knockout phase that could well be a breath of fresh air.

    In exchange for traditional heavyweights going head-to-head over two legs, the quarter-finals will each consist of one match, in the neutral surroundings of Lisbon.

    What's more, six of the eight teams have never won the tournament, including Atalanta and Paris Saint-Germain.

    They're not really comparable for their approaches off the pitch: Atalanta's record signing, Luis Muriel, cost less than a 10th of the fee PSG paid for Neymar. Still, these are two teams going toe-to-toe this season when it comes to entertainment value.

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    At PSG, Thomas Tuchel is under pressure to deliver attacking as well as winning football, in the Champions League more than anywhere else. Atalanta just seem to know no other approach.

    Only Bayern Munich (31) have scored more goals in this season's competition than PSG (20), and Atalanta are only four goals back.

    Of the teams left in the tournament, Bayern (23.23) have the best minutes-per-goal rate. PSG are second on 36, with Atalanta third on 45.

    PSG's knack for scoring should come as little surprise since they have the best shooting accuracy (26.32 per cent) of all the quarter-finalists. Atalanta are strangely much lower down at 17.58, although that's perhaps a figure that is skewed by their number of attempts: they have managed 80 shots inside the box compared to PSG's 42, and 28 outside the area, with PSG on 29.

    PSG also benefit from a high number of big chances created (31), with only Bayern (37) and Manchester City (38) creating more. Atalanta are fourth on that list (26), but for overall chances created, they are better than PSG - they have carved out 81 openings, 10 more than the Ligue 1 champions.


    Perhaps Atalanta have little choice but to keep things on the front foot. They have only kept two clean sheets in their eight games this term and have conceded 16, which is more than any other remaining side.

    PSG, meanwhile, have kept more clean sheets (six) and conceded fewer goals (four) than anyone else. It seems that, when necessary, they know how to sure things up. Having said that, they have faced 97 shots this term, which is just four fewer than Atalanta, so perhaps luck - and goalkeeper Keylor Navas - have been on their side.

    Attacking football might be a given on Wednesday, but these are still teams who know how to disrupt. PSG have won 118 free-kicks in this term's competition, more than any other quarter-finalist and 24 more than Atalanta. Additionally, Atalanta have conceded 123 free-kicks, the most of any team in this season's tournament. Check your shin pads, Neymar.


    Kylian Mbappe is battling to recover full fitness after having injured his ankle in the Coupe de France final win over Saint-Etienne.

    It looks likely that the France forward will be able at least to be on the bench for PSG, but Atalanta have no such luck when it comes to Josip Ilicic, who is definitely missing Wednesday game due to a personal matter.

    Mbappe and Ilicic have each scored five goals in this season's Champions League, the latter getting all four in the last-16 second leg win over Valencia. Mbappe has four assists to boot, having created five big chances, two more than Ilicic.

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    Ilicic has a big chance conversion rate of 80 per cent, a shooting accuracy of 81.82 per cent, and has completed 83.05 per cent of passes ending in the final third. All of these are leading figures for Atalanta this season.

    He has also completed 21 dribbles, again the best of anyone in Gian Piero Gasperini's side and 11 more than Mbappe has managed.

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    Serena Williams will face sister Venus in the Top Seed Open second round after contrasting wins on Tuesday.

    In action for the first time since the WTA Tour season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Serena edged past Bernarda Pera.

    The top seed at the WTA International event, Serena recorded a 4-6 6-4 6-1 victory after being five points from defeat.

    The 23-time grand slam champion raced through the final set, losing just seven points on serve to advance in Lexington.

    Awaiting Serena in the second round is Venus, who was too good for Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2.

    The sisters will meet for the 31st time, with Serena holding an 18-12 win-loss record over Venus.

    Sloane Stephens had endured a tough start to 2020 before the season was suspended, and the 2017 US Open champion suffered another loss.

    The seventh seed was well beaten by qualifier Leylah Fernandez 6-3 6-3 to slip to a 1-6 win-loss record this year.

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    Coco Gauff, 16, was pushed in her opener, overcoming Caroline Dolehide 7-5 7-5.

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    Serena Williams needed three sets to defeat Bernarda Pera at the Top Seed Open on Tuesday in her first match since February.

    The 23-time grand slam singles champion came from a set down to beat her compatriot 4-6 6-4 6-1 in two hours and 16 minutes in Lexington.

    Williams' previous match was in the Fed Cup clash with Latvia in February, while she has not played a tournament match since January's Australian Open, the WTA Tour having been shut down since early match due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    World number 60 Pera broke in the fifth game and fought off two break points on her own serve before a thumping winner sealed the first set.

    Williams saw a 3-1 lead pegged back in the second and saved four break points to deny Pera the chance to serve for the match, but the 38-year-old found some of her famous fighting spirit to level the match after forcing a Pera error.

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    "I've been practicing really well and I wasn't getting a good rhythm out here, and I just kept thinking, 'Serena, play like you've been practicing'," she said afterwards.

    "I knew I could play a little bit better if I just hung in there.

    "I feel like I always play Venus first or second round, every tournament, so that's annoying. And I always play Vika early, so we'll see."

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