Novak Djokovic has history in his sights as he begins his US Open quest; after three grand slam titles in 2021, a fourth beckons at Flushing Meadows.

Rod Laver was the last man to achieve a sweep of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open singles in the same year, all the way back in 1969.

Steffi Graf won all four on the women's side in 1988, and it seemed a knock-in that Serena Williams would do likewise in 2015 when she headed to the US Open with three majors already bagged.

But winning any title at that level is never easy, and Williams famously came unstuck when she faced Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals.

Djokovic will be mindful that what seems an inevitability to the outside world remains very much still only a possibility. After his US Open tribulations last year, and a recent jolt at the Olympics, he will know anything can happen.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how Djokovic's situation at Flushing Meadows carries most of the hallmarks of Serena's own position as she headed into the tournament six years ago.

 

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SLAMS

It was not always this way, but Djokovic has reached the point in his career when he can choose targets, decide which records he wants to break, and throw everything at those goals.

At the start of the year in Australia, he savoured triumphing at Melbourne Park for a ninth time and pointed to how Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Williams and Margaret Court had achieved so much.

"They've made history already," Djokovic said. "They made a tremendous mark in our sport. I'm trying to build that and develop that myself in a very unique, authentic way that is suitable to me.

"Whether I think about winning more slams and breaking records, of course. Of course, I do. And most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in majors, trying to win more major trophies."

It had very clear echoes of Williams in 2015, also in Australia, setting out her own ambitions for the year and specifically targeting the French Open and Wimbledon.

"Those are the two I really have my eye on, because I would like to do better at those. And I know I can do better," she said.

Williams set her heart and mind on that twin challenge and won both.

"I definitely am not going to play as much this year, and I'm just going to go for everything when I do play," said Williams.

 


BUILDING UP

When Williams reached New York in August 2015, she had delivered a 48-2 win-loss record for the season, landing each of the majors alongside the Miami Open and the Western and Southern Open. Petra Kvitova in Madrid and Belinda Bencic in Toronto had been the only two players to get the better of the 33-year-old Williams.

Djokovic has a 38-5 record for the year, albeit it has the feel of a more dominant year for the 34-year-old Serbian. Two of those losses came at the Olympics, in a semi-final and bronze medal match, and the other three came in his first three events on clay, losing to Dan Evans in Monte Carlo, Aslan Karatsev in Belgrade and Nadal in Rome.

When it mattered on clay, though, Djokovic majorly turned up in Paris, gutsily beating Lorenzo Musetti from two sets down in the fourth round, ending Nadal's streak of four Roland Garros titles by sinking the Spaniard in the semi-finals, and then leaving Stefanos Tsitsipas devastated in the final, with another fightback after dropping the first two sets.

Wimbledon followed, and Djokovic by then was openly targeting a Golden Slam – each major and the Olympic title.

Much like with Williams and her loss to Bencic in the Toronto semi-finals six years ago, however, Djokovic showed he was fallible as history beckoned. From a set up, he lost to Alexander Zverev at Tokyo 2020, a blow that was compounded by missing out on bronze when Pablo Carreno Busta sprang another shock.

 


HISTORY CAN BE A FIERCE OPPONENT

Williams and Djokovic have won non-calendar Grand Slams before, winning four in succession spanning two seasons.

Williams first achieved that from the French Open in 2002 to the Australian Open in 2003, and in 2015 she was aiming for five slams in a row at the US Open, having begun her dominant streak at her home grand slam the previous year.

She won the first set of the semi-final against Vinci, the world number 43, but was then second best to the Italian, with Williams saying her conqueror "played literally out of her mind".

But the disappointment was stark, underlined by Williams' terse response to the question of how disappointed she felt by the result.

"I don't want to talk about how disappointing it is for me," she said. "If you have any other questions, I'm open for that."

The four-in-a-row feat has only been performed once by Djokovic, from Wimbledon in 2015 to the French Open in 2016. Had he not been disqualified during the US Open last year for carelessly hitting a ball that struck a line judge, he would most likely currently be on a four-slam streak.

Those who win the first three slams of the year often do complete the set, but there are four instances of singles players falling one short by failing in the year's last major.

Before Williams, the most recent case was Martina Navratilova in 1984, when the imperious left-hander headed to the Australian Open – then played at the end of the year rather than the start – in pursuit of the Grand Slam. She lost to Helena Sukova in the semi-finals, and said: "If I'd have won, I'd have done it all. If I lost I had to start from scratch. Both are hard to cope with."

Navratilova had won 74 consecutive matches until that loss and ended the season with a 78-2 record.

In the men's game, Jack Crawford (1933) and Lew Hoad (1956) also fell short, both losing in finals of the US National Championships, the tournament that became the US Open. Don Budge (1938) and Laver (1962 and 1969) are the only men to have won a calendar Grand Slam in singles.

The weight of expectation is immense for Djokovic as he pursues what would be his crowning glory, not only sealing the Grand Slam but reaching 21 majors, one ahead of Nadal and Federer and into the outright lead in the men's game. The prospect cannot be ignored, and it will be a heavy burden to carry over the coming fortnight.

As Djokovic said on Friday: "I would be lying if I said that’s not something that I’m thinking about or that my attention is not going that way.

"I’m very motivated to play my best tennis. But I have to hit one ball at a time, as they say, try to be in the moment, have a guiding star in a way, a dream to win a slam here."

Patrick Mouratoglou says Serena Williams' "heartbreaking" withdrawal from the US Open was the "only possible decision" for the American.

Williams on Wednesday revealed she will not play in her home grand slam due to injury.

The 23-time major champion has not played on the WTA Tour since suffering a torn hamstring at Wimbledon in June and she has not fully recovered.

Mouratoglou, Williams' coach, stated that pulling out of the final slam of the year was the only option for the six-time US Open singles champion.

He tweeted: "Since she had to pull out from Wimbledon, @serenawilliams has been fully committed to her recovery and we've done everything we could so that she could compete at the @usopen. But her body isn't ready. It is heartbreaking, but this is the only possible decision."

Williams posted on Instagram earlier in the day: "After careful consideration and following the advice of my doctors and medical team, I have decided to withdraw from the US Open to allow my body to heal completely from a torn hamstring,

"New York is one of the most exciting cities in the world and one of my favourite places to play – I'll miss seeing the fans but will be cheering everyone on from afar. Thank you for your continued support and love. I’ll see you soon."

Williams, who turns 40 next month, is the latest high-profile withdrawal from the tournament after Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal pulled out through injury

It will be the first time since 1997 that the US Open will be played without Williams, Federer or Nadal.

Serena Williams has withdrawn from the US Open after failing to fully recover from a torn hamstring.

The 23-time grand slam champion, who won six of those titles at Flushing Meadows, has not played on the WTA Tour since sustaining the injury at Wimbledon in June.

She skipped last week's Western and Southern Open in the hope of being ready in time for the her home major in New York, but has now taken the decision to pull out of the event.

"After careful consideration and following the advice of my doctors and medical team, I have decided to withdraw from the US Open to allow my body to heal completely from a torn hamstring," Williams posted on her Instagram account on Wednesday.

"New York is one of the most exciting cities in the world and one of my favourite places to play – I'll miss seeing the fans but will be cheering everyone on from afar. Thank you for your continued support and love. I’ll see you soon."

Roger Federer turned 40 on Sunday amid uncertainty over whether he will grace the stage of a grand slam again.

Both he and Serena Williams, who reaches the same birthday landmark in September, have kept their future plans under wraps.

However, it would come as no surprise now if one, or both, were to retire by the end of the year.

Injuries are taking their toll, and even the greatest champions cannot go on forever.

Stats Perform looked at both Federer and Williams, considering what they may still want to achieve, and their prospects of attaining those remaining goals.

 

Federer's final fling?

Ahead of his 30th birthday, Federer was asked what it felt like to hit such a milestone.

"Birthdays happen. They're part of life," Federer said. "I'm happy I'm getting older. I'd rather be 30 than 20, to be honest. To me it's a nice time."

A decade on, Federer has good reason to be satisfied with life as he chalks up another decade. Family life is good, he'll never need to borrow a dollar, and he has advanced from 16 grand slams to 20.

But the knees would sooner be 30 than 40, and Federer, remarkable sportsman though he is, looks to have entered the lap of honour stage of his career – if he can even complete such a lap.

Two knee operations in 2020 were followed by a setback that ruled him out of the Olympics and will also keep him sidelined for the Toronto and Cincinnati tournaments before the US Open.

Will Federer make it to Flushing Meadows, where he won five successive titles at the height of his career? There has to be doubt over that, and should he indeed be an absentee in New York, what is there left to target? The Laver Cup, perhaps, a tournament in which he is financially invested and which is due to be played in Boston in late September.

Would he play on in 2022? Could he tolerate more long road trips without his family, living in a tennis bubble?

Target: Federer has never settled for second best, and it may have dawned on him at Wimbledon that in all probability he no longer can win a grand slam. Losing a 6-0 set to Hubert Hurkacz on the way to a quarter-final exit would have hurt. The hunger does not go away after 20 grand slams, but Federer's battle-weary body is sending him messages. He will want to go out on his own terms, which means getting fully fit.

Prospects: Assuming the knee issue is not a major problem, and more of a niggle, then Federer could still play the US Open, Laver Cup, Indian Wells and Paris Masters this year. If the mind is willing but the body does not comply, however, then it would not be a shock to see him call time before the Australian Open comes around in January.


Serena still one short of Court

From precocious teenager to queen of the tour, Williams' tennis journey has been a 25-year odyssey and there is nobody more driven to succeed than the great American.

It is an intense frustration that she remains rooted on 23 grand slams, one short of Margaret Court's record haul, and the four grand slam final losses she has suffered while on that mark have been cruel blows.

As her 40th birthday approaches on September 26, prospects of matching Court are fading. The leg injury that cruelly forced her out of Wimbledon in the first round was a harrowing turn of events, given she looked primed to be a big title challenger in London.

She is becoming less of a factor when looking at title favourites, but Williams is still capable of beating top players, still a threat wherever she shows up. It comes down to whether the body lets her chase her goals, and whether the pain of so many near-misses in recent years persuades this great champion the exertion is no longer worth prolonging.

Target: The 24th slam has been the must-have for Williams. Tour titles feel like an irrelevance, and Williams has won just one of those since January 2017, her calendar built around peaking for the majors since returning from giving birth to daughter Olympia.

Prospects: Beating Aryna Sabalenka and Simona Halep at the Australian Open demonstrated Williams still has the game for the big stage, and a semi-final defeat to Naomi Osaka, to whom she has now lost in three of four encounters, should not particularly detract from that. Wimbledon felt like a golden opportunity, with a host of major rivals absent and others struggling for form. There is no doubt she felt that way. Getting to 24 – and beyond – has shifted from feeling like an inevitability to being an odds-against chance now.

Roger Federer is in the draw for the US Open, but it remains unclear whether he will be fit to take part in the final grand slam of the year.

The United States Tennis Association confirmed on Wednesday that Federer was one of six former men's champions to receive direct entry into the draw.

Federer this month withdrew from the Olympic Games, citing a setback with his knee, on which he had two surgeries in 2020.

The Swiss, though, expressed his desire to return the tour, with Flushing Meadows providing his last chance to add to his tally of 20 major titles in 2021.

A five-time winner in New York, Federer has not reached the final at the US Open since 2015.

In the women's singles draw, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams have each received direct entries into the draw.

Reigning champion Osaka missed Wimbledon having withdrawn from the French Open after the first round to protect her well-being amid a fallout following her decision to not attend post-match media conferences.

Williams is still awaiting a record-tying 24th grand slam title, the 39-year-old forced to retire from her first-round match at Wimbledon because of an injury to her right leg.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams have probably played their last Wimbledon matches, according to American great Pam Shriver.

Both came to the All England Club this year with hopes of landing another grand slam title, which for Federer would have been a ninth at Wimbledon and Serena an eighth on the famous grass courts.

However, they were met with disappointment, Williams "heartbroken" at having to retire from her first-round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich due to an ankle injury.

Federer was thrashed 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-0 by Hubert Hurkacz in the men's quarter-finals and gave no assurances after the match that he would be back in 2022, or that he would play the Tokyo Olympics.

Both turn 40 later this year, Federer on August 8 and Williams on September 26, and their time at the top of tennis may now be over.

Shriver, a five-time doubles champion at Wimbledon who won 22 grand slams in all, was asked on The Tennis Podcast whether she expected Federer to play Wimbledon again.

"I thought so, before the tournament. I didn't think he would end Wimbledon without his family here," Shriver said.

"But after seeing him in the quarters and listening to his press conference, I think it's less than 50-50. I think we may have seen the last of him."

Due to restricted bubbles put in place because of COVID-19 issues, Federer has been unable to have wife Mirka and their four children with him in London.

Federer has won 20 grand slam singles titles, a record for the men's game that he shares with Rafael Nadal and which Novak Djokovic had the chance to match at this year's Wimbledon.

 Williams has 23 majors, one short of Margaret Court's women's record, but has been stuck on that total since 2017 and Shriver would be surprised to see her in the 2022 Wimbledon draw.

"I think it's even less likely that she'll be back," Shriver said. "It's really hard to stay fit for another year.

"She can't keep coming back from more and more injuries. I think it's definitely a turning point, pivot time, is the summer of 2021."

Serena Williams was left "heartbroken" after being forced to retire hurt in her first-round match at Wimbledon as the American great's quest for a record-equalling grand slam title continues.

Williams – seeking a historic 24th slam crown – was in tears after succumbing to an ankle injury during the early stages of Tuesday's clash with Aliaksandra Sasnovich at SW19.

Stuck on 23 slams since 2017, Williams hurt her ankle in the fifth game and the 39-year-old eventually called a halt to proceedings with the match level at 3-3 on Centre Court.

"I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg," seven-time Wimbledon champion Williams wrote via Instagram following a possible SW19 farewell.

"My love and gratitude are with the fans and the team who make being on centre court so meaningful.

"Feeling the extraordinary warmth and support of the crowd today when I walked on - and off - the court meant the world to me."

Williams had arrived in London amid high expectations in pursuit of matching Margaret Court's record of 24 slams.

Veteran Williams, who lost in the French Open fourth round, has won seven Wimbledon titles (level with Steffi Graf) – only Martina Navratilova has more in the Open Era (nine).

Williams has been a Wimbledon runner-up in 2018 and 2019. Chris Evert is the only player in the Open Era to have lost three consecutive Wimbledon finals (between 1978 and 1980).

She was looking to become only the second woman to win 100 Wimbledon singles matches (currently 98), alongside Navratilova (120), while Williams had been hoping to become the first woman to reach 100-plus wins in two different majors (106 wins at the US Open).

Serena Williams is out of Wimbledon in the first round after injury forced her to retire in the early stages of her match with Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

The American, who was seeking a historic 24th grand slam title at the return of an event she has won seven times, was tearful as she had to withdraw from the match.

Williams had broken Sasnovich and led 3-1, appearing to be in full control of Tuesday's contest on Centre Court.

But she suffered an ankle injury in the fifth game after seeming to slip while playing a forehand.

With her movement clearly limited, Sasnovich broke back and Williams left the court for treatment as she took a medical timeout.

She re-emerged to huge applause and bravely tried to continue but was visibly in severe discomfort.

The 39-year-old soon had to call a halt to proceedings with the match level at 3-3, having let out a scream of pain as she tried in vain to reach the ball.

Serena Williams has announced she will not take part in the tennis tournament at the Tokyo Olympics.

Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem have already opted out of featuring at the Games next month, with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic yet to commit.

Williams, who made her Olympics debut in 2000 and has four gold medals, is now atop the list of big-name absentees, having previously expressed reservations because she would not be able to take her three-year-old daughter Olympia along with her.

"I'm actually not on the Olympic list – not that I'm aware of. If so, then I shouldn’t be on it," she said at a pre-Wimbledon news conference.

"There's a lot of reasons that I made my Olympic decision. I don’t feel like going into them today. Maybe another day. Sorry."

Williams will begin her pursuit of an eighth Wimbledon and 24th grand slam singles title against Aliaksandra Sasnovich on Tuesday.

After an enforced hiatus in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, tennis returns to SW19.

Novak Djokovic makes his way back to Wimbledon as the defending champion and with the men's grand slam record firmly in his sight.

Djokovic conquered Rafael Nadal en route to French Open glory and his 19th slam crown – one shy of the record shared by rivals Nadal and Roger Federer.

With Nadal and Dominic Thiem absent, Djokovic's path to a 20th major trophy has opened up in London.

The women's title is up for grabs after holder Simona Halep withdrew, and Serena Williams can still dream of making history.

As all eyes shift to the All England Club, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind this year's slam, using Opta data.

 

Dominant Djokovic

World number one and top seed Djokovic begins his title defence against promising Briton Jack Draper in the first round.

French Open champion Djokovic has won four of the last six Wimbledon tournaments, including each of the past two – the last player to win more at Wimbledon in a row was Federer between 2003 and 2007 (five).

A five-time Wimbledon winner, Djokovic is the only man to have won the first two grand slam tournaments of a calendar year over the last 25 years, doing it in 2016 and 2021. The last man to win the first three grand slams of a calendar year was Rod Laver during his Grand Slam in 1969.

The 2019 Wimbledon final was the first slam decider to be decided by a final set tie-break, with Djokovic beating Federer 7-3 in that tiebreak, while it was also the longest final in Wimbledon history (four hours, 57 minutes).

No man has won Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year since Nadal in 2010.

 

Federer farewell?

The curtain appears to be closing on all-time great Federer, who withdrew from the French Open after a draining four-set win over Dominik Koepfer to preserve his body for the grass season.

This year's Wimbledon could be the 39-year-old's final realistic shot at a grand slam as Djokovic bids to become the greatest of all.

Seeded sixth, Federer – who meets Adrian Mannarino first up – has won the most Wimbledon titles among all male players in the slam's history.

Federer will aim to win his 21st grand slam, which would break a tie with Nadal for the outright men's record.

 

The 'Big Four' and their stranglehold

Injuries have forced two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray to fall out of the equation but there has been no getting past the original 'Big Four'.

Among the men, the last 17 years of Wimbledon has been dominated by the same four players – Federer (eight titles), Djokovic (five), Nadal (two), Murray (two). The last winner at Wimbledon before them was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.

Since Wimbledon in 2004, only one of the 68 slams has not seen at least one of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal in the semi-finals – it was at the US Open last year.

The new generation is headlined by grand slam runners-up Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Medvedev has never passed the third round at Wimbledon, though his two defeats at that stage have both been in five sets. The Russian second seed has reached at least the quarter-finals in three of his last four major tournaments, after reaching that stage in only one of his previous 13.

Beaten by Djokovic in the Roland Garros final, Tsitsipas has reached the semi-finals in his last three slams, having done so only once in his previous 12. The third seed has never reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, however.

Wimbledon is the only slam where fourth seed Alexander Zverev is yet to reach the quarter-final, his best result being a fourth-round performance in 2017. Since the beginning of 2020, he has advanced to the semi-finals in three slam tournaments, after never doing it in his previous 18 such major main-draw appearances.

 

Serena's ongoing quest

The queen of WTA tennis for so long, Serena Williams is one slam success away from matching Margaret Court's record of 24 major singles championships. But the 39-year-old has been stuck on 23 since reigning supreme at the Australian Open in 2017.

Williams, who lost in the French Open fourth round, has won seven Wimbledon titles (level with Steffi Graf) – only Martina Navratilova has more in the Open Era (nine).

American superstar Williams has been a Wimbledon runner-up in 2018 and 2019. Chris Evert is the only player in the Open Era to have lost three consecutive Wimbledon finals (between 1978 and 1980).

Williams, the sixth seed who will clash with Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the opening round, is looking to become only the second woman to win 100 Wimbledon singles matches (currently 98), alongside Navratilova (120). She could also become the first woman to reach 100-plus wins in two different majors (106 wins at the US Open).

From the first Wimbledon final reached by one Williams sister in 2000 (won by Venus against Lindsay Davenport), only in four of 20 editions has neither of the two sisters reached the decider – in 2006 (Amelie Mauresmo-Justine Henin), 2011 (Petra Kvitova-Maria Sharapova), 2013 (Marion Bartoli-Sabine Lisicki) and 2014 (Kvitova-Eugenie Bouchard).

 

Barty party?

Former French Open champion Ash Barty heads to Wimbledon as the top seed and will kick off her title bid against veteran Carla Suarez Navarro.

However, world number one Barty has never reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals. Reaching the 2019 fourth round was her best result. The last Australian woman to reach the quarters at Wimbledon was Jelena Dokic in 2000.

The top seed in the Wimbledon women's singles main draw has been eliminated in the first round just three times in the Open Era – Graf in 1994, Martina Hingis in 1999 and Hingis again in 2001.

Wimbledon is the only major won by Kvitova in her career (2011 and 2014). She is one among the three current players with multiple titles at the All England Club, alongside Serena and Venus Williams.

Karolina Pliskova was the woman with the most aces per match made on average at Wimbledon 2019 (9.0, 36 in total) among players who reached the third round.

When two whipsmart kids from Compton first walked through the gates of the All England Club, the history of tennis was ripe for a radical makeover.

With beads in their hair and an air of mystery tailgating them onto the tour, this pair of teenage prodigies soon had the world at their feet.

Now, Serena Williams and Venus Williams are as much a part of Wimbledon tradition as strawberries and cream, and the championships without them is almost unthinkable.

Stacking up a combined 12 singles titles from Wimbledon, and a string of staggering records, this great sporting double act has defined the past quarter of a century in the women's game.

Venus is now 41 years old, and kid sister Serena turns 40 in September. Both will be going flat out for more success at Wimbledon and over the course of the rest of the year. They have been relentless and supremely driven in the pursuit of greatness.

But it feels legitimate now to be talking about how the WTA Tour and the grand slams will look without the Williamses, because as much as they have together pushed the boundaries of achievement in tennis, neither can defy the march of time.

Or at least they cannot keep pushing back against that march, since both have done a truly spectacular job so far.

"Venus and Serena, they changed the game, they elevated the game, and that is the biggest thing that could happen to our sport," Johanna Konta, Britain's former Wimbledon semi-finalist, told Stats Perform.

"They changed the physical requirements, they pushed the whole level of the sport so high, which I think has really accelerated the depth of women's tennis that we're seeing today, and so I can't imagine the day coming when they're not playing.

"I'm sure it will come at some point, but I'm not too sure when that day will be."

 


AGE NO BARRIER?

Serena has a place in the record books as the oldest women's world number one, having last occupied that position in May 2017 at the age of 35 years and 230 days. Next on that list sit Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, both a relatively fledgling 30 when they were last in the top spot.

She is also the second oldest player to hold a top-10 WTA ranking. On Monday, as the championships begin, Serena, currently the world number eight, will be 39 years and 275 days old. Only Billie Jean King (39 years 322 days in October 1983) has held such a lofty place among the sport's elite later in life.

Navratilova comes next, with Venus just a short step behind in fourth place, having last been in the top 10 in July 2018, aged 38 and 29 days.

If Serena wins the women's singles title at Wimbledon this year – and several British bookmakers see her as favourite – it will make her the oldest player in the Open Era to win a title on the women's tour.

King won at Birmingham in 1983 at 39 years and 203 days, and Williams sits fourth on that particular list of the oldest champions for now, having captured the 2020 Auckland title at 38 years and 108 days.

The oldest Wimbledon women's singles champion remains Charlotte Cooper Sterry, triumphant for Britain in 1908 at 37 years and 282 days.

An injection of power and physicality, alongside a whole lot of finesse, has seen the Williamses bring a new dimension to tennis. It is far removed from the game Sterry might have played.


SERVING UP SCUDS

In 2010, only one player on the WTA Tour served more than 300 aces, yet by 2019, the most recent uninterrupted season, that had risen to seven players.

Advances in technology are a factor here, but so too is the scenario whereby a young girl watches Serena and Venus whizzing serves by opponents' ears around the turn of the century and wants to learn how that is done.

Serving need not just be the moment where a point begins, it can be the shot that ends the point too.

Venus owns the record for the fastest serve ever recorded by a woman at Wimbledon – sending down a 129 miles per hour scud on her way to victory in the 2008 final. The player on the receiving end of such vicious hitting that day? Serena.

"I'm glad she did it, because next time I know what to expect," was Serena's punchy post-match response.

From 2008, when the WTA first began to collect such statistics, through to 2016, Serena topped the charts every season when it came to the highest percentage of service games won.

She has also led the way in percentages of first-serve points won in eight of the last 13 seasons.

On July 5, 2012, Serena fired 24 aces past Victoria Azarenka in their Wimbledon semi-final and paired that women's singles record with another – her 102 aces across seven matches also setting an all-time tournament high.

Serena has a 98-12 win-loss career record in singles at Wimbledon, with Venus not far behind on 89-17. Where Venus has won five or her seven slam titles on the grass in London, Serena has accrued seven of her 23 majors at the championships.

Only nine-time champion Navratilova (120) has won more women's singles matches at Wimbledon than Serena. Roger Federer (101) leads the way among the men.

 


SHOWING SERENA THE WAY IN SAN JOSE

Konta handed Serena the heaviest defeat of her career in 2018, inflicting a 6-1 6-0 thrashing in San Jose.

The British player, however, is fully appreciative of Serena's standing in the game, the American's status as an all-time sports great. For Williams to leave the tour would leave a huge hole.

"I don't know anything else. I think that's a very lucky and privileged thing to say as an athlete, to be playing at the same time as one of our greatest ever," said Konta, a Jaguar ambassador.

"Equally, the men can say that with the likes of Roger, Rafa and Djokovic around, it's just a really exciting time to be part of the world of tennis.

"You constantly see players retiring as the years go by; it's a normal process. We had Maria [Sharapova] and Caroline [Wozniacki] retire at the beginning of last year. I think the way they timed their retirement was absolutely incredible.

"It's a normal course to happen, so from a player's perspective there'll be the initial thought of 'Oh my goodness, she's retiring', but the game keeps going and players keep playing.

"More than anything, not having Serena around anymore it will maybe be more noticeable in the fans, in the fandom, in the outside part of the sport, because she is such a big figurehead of our sport and rightly so."

Serena has reached the Wimbledon final on seven of her last 10 appearances in SW19, collecting five titles in that time. The final defeats during that span came in the last two years that Wimbledon has been held, however, with defeats to Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep sure to leave some scars.

 


THE KAFELNIKOV INFLUENCE

In recent years, Serena has invited the likes of showbiz A-listers Jay-Z, Beyonce and Drake to sit in her player's box at courtside, while she is a close friend of Meghan Markle and was a royal wedding guest.

She and Venus were once unknown quantities, but now both transcend their sport.

By the age of 16, Serena had it all mapped out, and her Wimbledon success can be attributed in a very small way to an unexpected Russian influence.

"I have decided when I go on the grass, I am going to serve and volley. There is one man player who plays great on the clay, and then on the grass he actually serves and volleys," Williams told a news conference at the 1998 Lipton Championships in Florida, weeks before her Wimbledon debut. "And I said, Serena, I have to do the same thing."

Who was this mystery man? All-court greats had been in short supply. Agassi?

"Yevgeny Kafelnikov, he plays great on the clay. He actually won the French Open," Williams said at the time. "He actually serve and volleys on the grass. I said, I have to do this too. If he can do it, I believe I can do it. That really helps me."

Former world number one Kafelnikov never went beyond the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, but his surprising influence lives on.

Serena is one short of Margaret Court's all-time record of grand slam titles and dearly wants to at least match that haul but ideally reach 25. The Wimbledon title looks out of reach for Venus, who has fallen out of the world's top 100, but for Serena it is a realistic target.

The elite field is thinning, with Naomi Osaka and defending champion Halep among the withdrawals, and there are question marks over the form and fitness of many other big names in the draw.

The eighth Wimbledon and 24th singles slam feels eminently achievable, and what a moment for the ages that would be.

 


GOING ON THE KONTA ATTACK

Konta was only denied a place in the 2017 Wimbledon final by a valiant Venus, the 37-year-old American experiencing a late-career resurgence during what proved a stellar year for her.

It nevertheless gave the Australian-born Briton a real taste, with a win over Halep en route to the semi-finals showing she has the game to take on the best on grass.

Another grand slam semi-final followed in 2019, this time on clay at the French Open, and quarter-final runs at Wimbledon and the US Open confirmed Konta was the real deal. She previously reached the 2016 Australian Open final four.

It has been tough going since then though, Konta going out in the first round at four of the last five grand slams. Injuries have got in the way, and the joy she felt at winning a title in Nottingham in June 2021 was tempered slightly by a slight knee problem.

That success on English grass was a first tour title for Konta since the 2017 Miami Open, and life for her is good in many respects. On May 17, her 30th birthday, she and boyfriend Jackson Wade became engaged, or as she puts it, they killed "two birds with one stone when it came to milestones on that day".

Assuming the knee holds up, success in Nottingham could pave the way for another fruitful Konta campaign at Wimbledon. Last year's tournament being cancelled due to the pandemic was a blow to everyone but particularly felt by the British players.

"I was really pleased with having won a title, the first title I've won in a few years," Konta said. "It's a very nice accomplishment and something I definitely don't take for granted, because coming by titles is very difficult.

"Obviously, I'm just trying to do the best I can in managing my body. After the quick change onto the grass I just need to take care of the different little niggles that I have and the ongoing things and anything new that arises, but I'm definitely looking forward to Wimbledon.

"I think it's just the fact that we have Wimbledon again this year. Wimbledon's such a big part of our sporting calendar here and our sporting summer.

"For the nation and for international tennis fans, I think it's just really brilliant. The fact we are going to have crowds, that will be almost a new experience having not played in front of big crowds for a long time."

Could Konta even win Wimbledon, becoming Britain's first women's singles champion since Virginia Wade in 1977?

"I definitely feel I have every chance to look to win seven consecutive matches," Konta said. "It's a hard ask and it's difficult to do, but I feel like I have every opportunity, every chance to give it a go and I'm looking forward to trying."

:: Johanna Konta is a Jaguar ambassador. Jaguar is the Official Car of The Championships, Wimbledon. To discover Jaguar’s unmatched experiences visit jaguar.co.uk/Wimbledon

Novak Djokovic will start the defence of his Wimbledon title against British wildcard Jack Draper, and Serena Williams takes on Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round.

Djokovic is just one grand slam title away from matching Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's record tally of 20 after winning the Australian Open and French Open this year.

The world number one will take on 19-year-old Draper, a quarter-finalist at Queen's Club last week, in his first match at SW19 for two years after the 2020 championships were called off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Djokovic faces a potential quarter-final against Andrey Rublev, while Federer could come up against second seed Daniil Medvedev in last eight.

 

First up for eight-time Wimbledon champion Federer is an encounter with Adrian Mannarino, while injury-plagued two-time winner Andy Murray will start his home major against the 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, beaten by Djokovic in a thrilling French Open final this month, has been drawn to face American Frances Tiafoe in round one of a tournament that gets under way on Monday.

Simona Halep announced just before the draw was made on Friday that she would not defend her title due to a calf injury.

Williams, runner-up to Halep in the 2019 final, must get past Sasnovich of Belarus in the first round and could face third seed Elina Svitolina at the quarter-final stage.

World number one and top seed Ash Barty takes on Carla Suarez Navarro, who made a grand slam return at Roland Garros after recovering from cancer. Barty could come up against Bianca Andreescu in the last eight.

Petra Kvitova against Sloane Stephens is a standout first-round match, while Coco Gauff's first assignment will be a meeting with 20-year-old Briton Fran Jones.

Serena Williams said she would head to London "pretty soon" to start preparation for Wimbledon after being dumped out of the French Open by Elena Rybakina.

Rybakina, who represents Kazakhstan, had not previously been past the second round at Roland Garros but she was in superb form against 23-time grand slam winner Williams, storming to a 6-3 7-5 win in one hour and 19 minutes to reach the quarter-finals.

Russian-born Rybakina was excellent value for her stunning win on Sunday, converting five of her seven break points and winning almost 60 per cent of points returning Williams' second serve.

Far from being disappointed at her early exit, Williams said she was just pleased to have put together a run of three consecutive wins on clay before Sunday's defeat.

"I got some good matches in here," Williams told a media conference. "I did not have the best clay-court season, but it was good to finally get some wins on clay. I'm in a much better place than when I got here.

"It was definitely close. There is literally a point here, a point there, that could change the whole course of the match. I'm not winning those points. That literally could just change everything."

Asked if it might be her final French Open match, the 39-year-old American said: "I'm definitely not thinking about it at all. I'm definitely thinking just about other things but not about that."

One of those "other things" will be Wimbledon, where she has been a singles champion seven times. Asked when she would travel to London for the tournament that begins on June 28, Williams said: "[I will] possibly go home and regroup and then get ready for London. But I don't know. I have to get there early for quarantine, so, yeah, it has to be pretty soon."

Rybakina, who will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarter-finals, had never faced Williams before.

She said: "When I was small, of course I was watching her matches on TV. It's difficult to expect anything because you watch on TV and it's completely different when you come on court and you feel the power and everything. I knew that the serve was going to be difficult for me to return. She's powerful, but I was ready."

PAVLYUCHENKOVA ENDS LONG WAIT FOR LAST-EIGHT SPOT

Pavlyuchenkova reached the quarter-finals of the French Open for the first time in 10 years with a 5-7 6-3 6-2 victory over 15th seed Victoria Azarenka.

It is the seventh grand slam quarter-final for Pavlyuchenkova, who is seeded 31st at Roland Garros, and her first outside Australia in five years.

The Russian had lost to Azarenka in five of their last six matches and looked set for more disappointment when the Belarusian powered back from 3-1 down to take the first set.

However, Pavlyuchenkova fought back in style, hitting 24 winners and making just 11 unforced errors over the next two sets to book her last-eight spot in two hours and nine minutes.

"It's tough to remember what I felt like 10 years ago," she said. "I'd say completely different. I'm very happy also now. I think I feel a little different. I feel more mature. It's a good moment, I'm enjoying it, but I've got work to do.

"I hope I show more maturity as well, smarter tennis, more consistent. I feel quite fit as well, considering the fact that I'm not the youngest on tour now.

"I know what I have to do and I know what I want to do; I'm trying to work for that."

Reflecting on her defeat, Azarenka said: "There's always some positives. The most positive thing I will say from this week, not the whole season, is that I've been able to play pain free. That was my goal here. Everything else is something that can be analysed later."

BADOSA AND ZIDANESK REACH QUARTER-FINALS FOR FIRST TIME

Paula Badosa will compete in her first grand slam quarter-final after overcoming 20th seed Marketa Vondrousova 6-4 3-6 6-2.

Badosa, who reached the semi-finals in Charleston and Madrid before picking up her maiden title in Belgrade a fortnight ago, saved six of the nine break points she faced and converted five of the 10 she forced on her opponent's serve.

"I always thought that tennis is 80 per cent mental," the Spanish 33rd seed said. "I think when you're in these rounds, of course the racket is important, how you play, it's very important.

"I think it's a little bit more important how you manage all the nerves in the important moments. I think when you're here, the mental thing, it's a little bit the key."

She will face world number 85 Tamara Zidanesk, who became the first player representing Slovenia to reach the last eight of a grand slam thanks to a 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 win over Sorana Cirstea.

The best previous major performance by a player representing Slovenia had been the three fourth-round runs by Katarina Srebotnik at Roland Garros in 2002 and 2008, and the US Open in 2008.

"I'm getting a lot of messages that everyone is watching," Zidansek said. "It means a lot to me that I'm able to get across to the message to young people and everyone in Slovenia that we can do it.

"We're a small country; we don't have that many players, but we have good players."

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