The season is not over as Novak Djokovic would have imagined returning in January but the former world number one will be hoping for a redemption at Wimbledon as he looks to defend his crown and move closer to Rafael Nadal’s 22 Grand Slam titles.
The 35-year-old Serb has won the last three editions of Wimbledon in 2018, 2019 and last year, with the 2020 tournament canceled due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
He was also on track for a rare calendar-year Grand Slam in 2021 after winning the first three majors, before losing to Russia’s Daniel Medvedev in the final of the US Open.
Any hopes of a repeat performance this season were quickly washed away by his high-profile detention and deportation before the Australian Open in January as he refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
He then missed the US tournament string for the same reason and only got serious match practice when the claycourt season started in Europe.
A win in Rome before the French Open was necessary to boost confidence but lost to the next winner, Nadal, in the quarter-finals in Paris.
Djokovic, a favorite for Wimbledon, has 20 Grand Slam titles to his name, including Roger Federer, while Nadal, who won his 14th title at Roland Garros, is two ahead of him.
Wimbledon has been a very fertile ground for Djokovic, who has won the title six times, second only to Federer (8) and Pete Sampras (7) for the most wins in the Open era.
The tournament has been stripped of any ranking points by the men’s ATP and women’s WTA after its organizers decided to ban Russian and Belarusian players from participating in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
It will be a little important for Djokovic, although he can’t defend the points he won last year. Wimbledon could be their last Grand Slam of the year in which foreigners visiting the United States are required to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Djokovic will be the top-ranked player when Wimbledon’s main draw begins next week, when world number one Medvedev was banned due to Russia’s ‘special operation’ in Ukraine and second-ranked Alexander Zverev went missing due to injury.
The competition will come from Nadal and Stefanos Sitsipas of Greece but also from Matteo Beretini of Italy who have won two titles on grass in Stuttgart and Queens this month.
Beretini has now won 20 of his last 21 matches at Grass, his only defeat being in last year’s Wimbledon final against Djokovic.
The decision to expel Djokovic due to his turbulent season so far should come with a warning of danger, as Serbia is known for its resilience and mental strength, especially on big occasions.
It remains to be seen whether he can turn his season around with a win at Wimbledon or whether he will need to cancel it altogether.