There’s probably nothing more beautiful in the tennis world than Wimbledon in the two or three days before the tournament begins.
The glorious green of the All England Lawn Tennis Club is never more on display than when it’s just players, officials and a variety of workers on site – not the 40,000 or so who crowd the grounds on an average day over the first week.
Friday was a lovely day in London SW 19 and everyone seemed to be in good humour. There’s nothing quite like the uniqueness of the grass court surface to reinvigorate and refresh professional tennis players mid-season.
Wimbledon at this time of year is easily the closest tennis comes to having picturesque views comparable to golf’s Augusta National where The Masters is played every spring.
The first sense of real business at this year’s event coincided with Friday morning’s draw for the 132nd Lawn Tennis Championships Meeting as it is referred to in the Media Guide.
The draw was a mixed bag for Canadians with No. 26-seed Denis Shapovalov clearly getting the worst of it in terms of difficult opposition.
He has drawn No. 46-ranked Jeremy Chardy who has been one of the best players on grass this season. In fact if one takes into account his winning the Surbiton Challenger two weeks ago, an 127,000-euro ($150,000 US) event that could be compared to the lowest level ATP tour tournaments, the 31-year-old Frenchman is 12-2 on grass having subsequently reached the final in s’Hertogenbosch (Richard Gasquet) and the semi-finals of Queen’s Club (Novak Djokovic).
Chardy is also 100 percent at home in London having recently married an Englishwoman and taken up residence in London since April.
Like Shapovalov in 2016, Chardy won the Wimbledon Junior Boys title in 2005.
The winner of Shapovalov – Chardy will play who ever survives the opening-round encounter between Andy Murray and mercurial Frenchman Benoit Paire. Possibly waiting in the third round could be No. 5 seed Juan Martin del Potro.
Shapovalov has recorded just one win in three events this season – Stuttgart, Queen’s Club and Eastbourne – defeating Jared Donaldson in the second round after a bye in Eastbourne this week.
That makes him 1-3 on grass courts in 2018 which contrasts with 7-5 during the European clay-court swing – with those seven wins all coming at Masters 1000 (Madrid and Rome) and Grand Slam (Roland Garros) events.
The 19-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., is certainly capable of doing well on the surface but there could be an element of battle fatigue affecting him. He has been in Europe ever since the Monte Carlo Open in late April.
However frustrating it has been for Shapovalov, his coach Martin Laurendeau has been having a tougher time. He dislocated the L5 disc in his back during Queen’s Club last week and is in some discomfort, getting by on anti-inflams and painkillers. But he doesn’t want to make a big fuss about it – preferring to use the hockey vernacular and call it “a lower body injury.”
The other Canadian men have fared much better in their opponents for the first round. Milos Raonic, seeded No. 13, will play British wild card Liam Broady. The No. 175-ranked Broady and Raonic will be meeting for the first time.
There have to be some questions about Raonic’s fitness – after a fine performance in reaching the Stuttgart final and losing a close match to Roger Federer, he was forced to pull out of the Queen’s Club event last week with a pectoral strain after defeating Yuki Bhambri of India.
The 24-year-old Broady is 1-2 in Wimbledon appearances in 2015 and 2016 while Raonic is 20-7 including reaching the final in 2016 and the semi-finals in 2014.
Their match will be on Monday as well as Peter Polansky’s opening round against Dennis Novak of Austria, a qualifier. Polansky lost in the final round of qualifying on Thursday but withdrawals allowed him to get into the main draw as lucky loser. It’s his third lucky loser main draw appearance of the year at a Grand Slam after the Australian and French Opens. It also means for the 30-year-old that he has now played in the main draw of all four Grand Slams. He’s the first player to be a lucky loser at three Grand Slam events in a row or even three in the same year. A new rule, that enables players to withdraw but still retain half of the first-round loser’s prize money, has encouraged players to pull out and not risk playing and then being sanctioned for an unprofessional effort due to injury. So far that has opened up more spots for lucky losers.
Novak, 24, is ranked No. 172 and, like No. 110 Polansky, will be playing Wimbledon for the first time.
The fourth Canadian in the main draw is Vasek Pospisil. Now ranked No. 93, on Tuesday he will take on Mikhail Kukushkin, a 30-year-old Kazakh who was originally from Russia. Both players have played Wimbledon six times with the Kazakh being 4-6, and Pospisil posting 5-6 – but four of his wins came in 2015 when he reached the quarter-finals.
Popsisil, 28, is 0-2 on grass this year – losing in the first round of s’Hertogenbosch and then in first round of qualifying at Halle.
Ever since hurting his shoulder in a doubles match at the French Open, he has struggled. As he did in Paris, he’s playing doubles at Wimbledon with American Ryan Harrison and they will meet Germans Philipp Petzschner and Tim Puetz in the first round.
Also in the doubles is Daniel Nestor – that’s his wife Natasha and daughters Bianca and Tiana in the picture above taken on Friday. Nestor and Austrian Jurgen Melzer will face No. 8 seeds Nikola Mektic of Croatia and Alexander Peya of Austria in the first round.
On Saturday, the Nestor girls and local friends and the two mothers are going to an afternoon performance of ‘Wicked’ in London – helped by Milos Raonic donating his two tickets.
On the women’s side, Genie Bouchard was a revelation during the Wimbledon qualifying this past week at the Bank of England tennis grounds at Roehampton. Bouchard, now ranked No. 191, won three matches and that enabled her to keep alive a streak of playing Wimbledon six times in a row – including, of course, reaching the final in 2014.
Bouchard, 24, received a decidedly favourable draw for Wimbledon and will play British wild card Gabriella Taylor in the first round. The 20-year-old is ranked No. 182 and has never played in a Grand Slam tournament main draw.
Under the guidance of Robert Lansdorp, a Californian in his 80th year, Bouchard seems to have regained confidence in her game. Lansdorp is known for mentoring champions like Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport, Pete Sampras and Maria Sharapova. He has said he has not changed much in Bouchard’s game, but is simply trying to help her play her best tennis.
If Bouchard gets past Taylor – she will likely face Ashleigh Barty, the No. 17 seed.
Both Barty – in 2011 at age 15 – and Bouchard – in 2012 at age 18 – are former Wimbledon Junior Girls champions. But Barty left the game for a year and a half and only returned in earnest in 2017. Surprisingly she has just played in the main draw at Wimbledon twice and has yet to record a victory while Bouchard is 10-5 – highlighted by that 2014 final.
They will play on Tuesday.
In women’s doubles, Gabriela Dabrowski and partner Xu Yifan of China, are seeded sixth. They are matched against Alison Riske of the U.S. and Olga Savchuk of Ukraine in the opening round.
Seen around the grounds on Friday was recent French Open champion Simona Halep. She was practising, under the watchful eye of coach Darren Cahill, with a male practice partner.
On Friday, this chap was putting the finishing touches on the Pimms stand just outside Court No. 1. Pimms is the drink of choice at Wimbledon and consists of a fantastic mix of a gin-based liqueur, lemonade, mint leaves, chopped strawberries, sliced orange, chopped cucumber and plenty of ice.
But there’s no truth to the rumour that minute bits of Slazenger tennis balls are another ingredient to give Pimms that added feel of being genuinely Wimbledon.