By HOWARD FENDRICH
WIMBLEDON, England — It’s been two decades since the Wimbledon men’s singles championship was won by someone outside the quartet of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
Could this be the year someone else earns that trophy?
“Yeah, why not? What Roger, Rafa, Andy and Novak have done for this sport is really incredible, and they’ve had so many battles. But the time is definitely coming for new faces,” said Hubert Hurkacz, a 25-year-old from Poland who beat Federer a year ago on Centre Court en route to the semifinals at the All England Club.
“We’re coming out and playing some really good tennis. It’s definitely getting more competitive. We’re starting to catch up a little bit,” added Hurkacz, who is seeded No. 7 and will face Alejandro Davidovich Fokina as the grass-court Grand Slam tournament begins Monday. “And it’s interesting for the fans, as well.”
If that streak of titles collected by the so-called Big Four of men’s tennis does come to an end following this fortnight — no sure thing, certainly, because even though Federer, who turns 41 on Aug. 8, isn’t in the field after a series of knee operations, and Murray, 35, is no longer the player he was before two hip operations, Djokovic, 35, and Nadal, 36, are seeded 1-2 and have combined to win 14 of the past 16 major trophies overall — Hurkacz has demonstrated he’s among the contenders with a chance.
He prepared for Wimbledon by beating top-ranked Daniil Medvedev, who won’t be at the All England Club because all players from Russia and Belarus are banned over the war in Ukraine, in the final of the grass-court event at Halle, Germany, on Saturday.
Other names to keep an eye on are Matteo Berrettini, the big-hitting runner-up to Djokovic a year ago who is seeded No. 8 this time and picked up two grass titles in recent weeks; a pair of Canadians, No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 2021 quarterfinalist, and No. 13 Denis Shapovalov, a 2021 semifinalist; and No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose career record at Wimbledon includes three first-round losses and one run to the fourth round but who believes he can adjust his game to the surface and eventually make his way to the final days of the tournament.
“My tennis is suited for that. I’m a person that likes to work hard, so I see no reason not to get there — because I’m capable with my tennis, I’m capable with my mind, I’m capable with my abilities as a tennis player,” said Tsitsipas, the runner-up to Djokovic on clay at last year’s French Open and the champion on grass at the Mallorca Championships on Saturday. “I absolutely think that I can get there one day.”
There has been more variety among the women’s title winners lately, with seven players dividing the past eight Wimbledon trophies — and five of them are in the bracket this time: Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Garbiñe Muguruza and Petra Kvitova, who won a trophy on grass at Eastbourne on Saturday.
The 2021 champion, Ash Barty, is not back to defend, because she retired at age 25 in March (2013 winner Marion Bartoli ended her career shortly after her championship).
In addition to those past champs — Williams has won seven of her 23 Grand Slam titles at the All England Club and is returning to singles play after a year off the tour — the list of contenders includes No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who is coming off a French Open title and enters on a 35-match winning streak; Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American who was the runner-up to Swiatek in Paris; and Ons Jabeur, a quarterfinalist in 2021 and seeded No. 3.
Since Lleyton Hewitt won Wimbledon in 2002, Federer has claimed a men’s record eight championships (Martina Navratilova took the women’s title nine times), Djokovic six, and Nadal and Murray two apiece.
“Novak and Rafa are still probably the favorites — Novak maybe the (main) favorite, if you have to pick one. If he gets a good start and finds his rhythm, he will obviously be very dangerous, because he’s the one that probably moves better than any other player on this surface,” said third-seeded Casper Ruud, the runner-up to Nadal at Roland Garros this month. “It’s impressive how good of a player he is on grass. Everyone looked at (seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete) Sampras and Federer as the grass-court legends, but he’s also up there.”