Serena Williams leaned again in her chair and thought.
The seven-time Wimbledon champion had simply been requested in regards to the one factor she is wanting ahead to upon returning to Wimbledon for the primary time because the coronavirus shut it down final yr. Suddenly, Williams burst ahead, as if she had simply had an epiphany.
“I love the grass,” Williams stated this month on the French Open, although she additionally admitted that she hadn’t even practiced on the floor since she misplaced to Simona Halep within the 2019 remaining. “What I love most about it is just the cleanness of it. I just think it’s so chic and so crisp. That’s a good word: crisp.”
Crisp often is the excellent phrase to explain the aura of Wimbledon. Those iridescent inexperienced grass courts are immaculately manicured. It is the one skilled event that also requires its members to put on logo-less, all-white clothes. The services, together with a Royal Box that options signature purple-and-green blankets, oozes decorum.
And it’s not simply Williams who understands the importance of the one main nonetheless performed on grass.
“Wimbledon is something magical,” stated Elina Svitolina, a semifinalist in 2019. “We know the rules are quite strict, and it’s going to be even more strict this year. But you’re just in white, and you’re in such a nice, historical venue, so the whole atmosphere makes stepping on the court an experience.”
Now Wimbledon, which begins on Monday, is again, although it appears and feels fairly completely different this yr. Attendance is capped at 50 % for the Centre and No. 1 Courts, whereas smaller present courts can seat 75 % of capability. For the semifinals and finals, seating capability is anticipated to rise to 100 % on Centre Court.
There are additionally strict laws concerning vaccination and testing protocols. All ticket-holders are required to indicate proof of Covid standing upon entry, both within the type of two vaccination doses or proof of a detrimental Covid take a look at throughout the previous 48 hours. While transferring across the grounds, all attendees should put on face coverings, although they’re free to take away them whereas at their seats. The gamers have their very own set of guidelines in place that permit them to be exempt from public quarantine necessities whereas additionally holding themselves and the general public secure.
“This will be a Wimbledon like we’ve never known it before,” stated Dan Evans, the British No. 1 in singles. “It’s obviously an amazing place to play tennis, but my overriding feeling is that it will be very different to what we know.”
Because tickets are being distributed by means of cellular units this yr, some traditions have disappeared. No one can be permitted to camp out for spare tickets, for instance. Because the gamers are required to remain at a delegated resort in London, recognizing celebrities exterior their rental properties in Wimbledon Village is gone. And for environmental causes, the plastic cups adorned with footage of strawberries for the standard Wimbledon dessert strawberries and cream have been changed with sustainable cardboard containers.
As with different main championships this yr, prize cash has been redistributed, with extra going to early spherical losers. This yr, the boys’s and girls’s singles champions will obtain £1.7 million (about $2 million), down from £2.35 million in 2019, however those that fall within the first spherical will get £48,000, considerably greater than than two years in the past.
Other modifications embody gamers on all of the courts, not simply the premier ones, being allowed to problem the calls of linespeople and have them verified by Hawk-Eye Live, a tool that makes use of 10 cameras across the court docket (although no linespeople have been minimize in consequence, as different tournaments have finished). And there additionally has been the introduction of a serve clock on all courts.
Seedings are in accordance with the WTA and Association of Tennis Professionals rankings, which signifies that the champions, Roger Federer and Williams, each now ranked No. eight, might meet the highest seeds Novak Djokovic and Ashleigh Barty within the quarterfinals. In the previous, Wimbledon has usually deferred to previous champions when making seedings.
Simply adjusting to taking part in on grass — with its hard-to-grip floor and uneven bounces — can be a problem for gamers, many of whom haven’t competed on the floor in two years: When Wimbledon was canceled final yr, the few grass-court warm-up occasions had been as nicely. This yr, as a result of the French Open was postponed by per week to permit for the lifting of extra Covid-19 restrictions in France, there was even much less time to for gamers to make the transition.
“Nobody practiced on grass because there was no reason to,” stated Daniil Medvedev, who’s seeded second. “It’s not going to be easy this year.”
For most gamers, nothing is definite this yr. Barty enters the event nonetheless nursing a hip harm that brought on her to retire throughout her second match on the French Open. Halep, the defending champion, didn’t play that event as a result of of a calf harm. She withdrew from Wimbledon on Friday. Dominic Thiem, the reigning United States Open champion, additionally withdrew, as a result of of a wrist harm sustained earlier within the week.
Naomi Osaka, the world’s No. 2 participant, additionally withdrew from the tournament, citing a need for more time away from the game. She also pulled out of the French Open citing mental health issues. And Williams, still one shy of tying Margaret Court’s record of 24 major singles championships, has played a sparse schedule this year. She reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in February, losing to Osaka, the eventual champion.
Barbora Krejcikova, the winner at the French Open, has never played the main draw at Wimbledon, but she is seeded at No. 15.
When Rafael Nadal announced that he was pulling out of Wimbledon and the Olympics following a semifinal loss to Djokovic at the French Open, the most intriguing story lines at Wimbledon suddenly became Federer and Djokovic.
Federer, an eight-time Wimbledon champion, has played just eight matches in the last two years and two weeks ago lost unexpectedly to Felix Auger-Aliassime at a grass-court warm-up in Halle, Germany.
Then there is Djokovic who, with his wins at the Australian and French Opens this year, is halfway to a Grand Slam. If he also wins a gold medal at the Olympics in Tokyo, he will accomplish the Golden Slam, which has been done only by Steffi Graf, in 1988.
“Everything is possible,” Djokovic said after he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas to win his second French Open. “I did put myself in a good position to go for the Golden Slam.”
Wimbledon is already thinking ahead. In 2022, the All England Club, which holds the tournament, will add play on the middle Sunday of the event, which traditionally was reserved for rest and rejuvenation of the courts and the players. The All England Club also recently unveiled plans to expand into neighboring parkland and create an 8,000-seat show court that the club expects to be ready by 2030.
But for this year, people who treasure the tournament are relieved it’s back.
“Wimbledon is such an anchor for all of us,” said Jim Courier, a former world No. 1 and current Tennis Channel commentator. “I think it will be rejuvenating for the sport as a whole. It’s going to be a relief that Wimbledon is back and going to be visible again.
“Wimbledon,” Courier added, “is that perfect blend of the old and the new. They’ve gotten it right in so many ways. We missed it.”
Correction: June 26, 2021
An earlier version of this article misstated the player Novak Djokovic beat to win this year’s French Open. It was Stefanos Tsitsipas, not Alexander Zverev.