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Serena Williams leaned back in her chair and thought.
The seven-time Wimbledon champion had just been asked what she was looking forward to when she returned to Wimbledon for the first time since the coronavirus shut down last year. Suddenly Williams rushed forward as if she had just had a revelation.
“I love the grass,” Williams said at the French Open this month, but also admitted that she hadn’t even trained on the surface since losing to Simona Halep in the 2019 final. “What I love most about it is the cleanliness. I just think it’s so chic and so crisp. That’s a good word: crisp. “
Crisp is perhaps the perfect word to describe the aura of Wimbledon. These dazzling green lawns are immaculately manicured. It is the only professional tournament where participants are still required to wear unlogo-free, all-white clothing. The furnishings, including a royal box with signature lavender-green blankets, are bursting with decency.
And not only Williams understands the importance of the only major still played on grass.
“Wimbledon is something magical,” said Elina Svitolina, 2019 semi-finalist. “We know the rules are pretty strict, and this year they will be even stricter. But you are only in white and in such a beautiful, historical place, so that the whole atmosphere makes entering the square an experience. “
Now Wimbledon, which starts on Monday, is back, although it looks and feels very different this year. The number of participants for the center and No. 1 courts is limited to 50 percent, while smaller show courts can accommodate 75 percent of the capacity. For the semifinals and the final, the seating capacity on the center court is to increase to 100 percent.
There are also strict regulations for vaccinations and test protocols. All ticket holders must prove their Covid status upon entry, either in the form of two doses of vaccine or a negative Covid test within the last 48 hours. While moving around the site, all participants must wear face covering, which they can take off at their places. Players have their own rules that allow them to be exempted from public quarantine requirements while protecting themselves and the public at the same time.
“It’s going to be a Wimbledon like we’ve never known it before,” said Dan Evans, Britain’s No. 1 singles. “It’s obviously a great place to play tennis, but my main feeling is that it will be very different from what we know.”
With tickets being distributed via mobile devices this year, some traditions have vanished. Nobody is allowed to camp for replacement tickets, for example. With players having to stay in a specific hotel in London, it is no longer possible to see celebrities outside their rental apartments in Wimbledon Village. And for environmental reasons, the plastic cups decorated with strawberry pictures for the traditional Wimbledon dessert, strawberries and cream, have been replaced by sustainable cardboard containers.
As with other major championships this year, the prize money has been redistributed, with more going to the early round losers. This year the men’s and women’s singles champions will receive £ 1.7 million (about $ 2 million), up from £ 2.35 million in 2019, but those who fall in the first round will receive £ 48,000, significantly more than two years ago.
Other changes include allowing players in all seats, not just the first seats, to challenge linesmen’s calls and have them checked by Hawk-Eye Live, a device that uses 10 cameras on the court (although no line workers have been cut). as a result, as other tournaments have done). And an impact clock was also introduced in all seats.
The seedings are according to the WTA and Association of Tennis Professionals rankings, which means that champions Roger Federer and Williams, both now in 8th place, could face top seeded Novak Djokovic and Ashleigh Barty in the quarter-finals. In the past, Wimbledon has often shifted its setting to previous champions.
Easily adapting to playing on turf – with its elusive surface and uneven jumps – will be a challenge for players, many of whom haven’t played on the surface in two years: when Wimbledon was canceled last year, they were there were also a few grass court warm-up events. With the French Open postponed for a week this year to allow for further Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted in France, players had even less time to make the transition.
“Nobody practiced on grass because there was no reason to,” said Daniil Medvedev, who is ranked second. “It won’t be easy this year.”
For most players, nothing is certain this year. Barty joins the tournament and still suffers from a hip injury that caused her to retire during her second match at the French Open. Halep, the defending champion, did not play this tournament because of a calf injury. She retired from Wimbledon on Friday. Dominic Thiem, the reigning United States Open champion, also retired due to a wrist injury he sustained earlier this week.
World number two Naomi Osaka also withdrew from the tournament because she needed more time outside of the game. She also retired from the French Open because of mental health problems. And Williams, who still shied away from breaking Margaret Court’s record of 24 major individual championships, has played a sparse schedule this year. At the Australian Open in February, she reached the semi-finals and lost to Osaka, the eventual champions.
Barbora Krejcikova, the winner of the French Open, has never played the main draw at Wimbledon, but is ranked 15th.
When Rafael Nadal announced his withdrawal from Wimbledon and the Olympics after losing to Djokovic in the semi-final at the French Open, the most intriguing storylines at Wimbledon suddenly became Federer and Djokovic.
Federer, eight-time Wimbledon champion, has only played eight games in the last two years and unexpectedly lost to Felix Auger-Aliassime two weeks ago while warming up on the lawn in Halle.
Then there is Djokovic, who with his victories at the Australian and French Open this year is halfway to a Grand Slam. If he also wins a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, he will manage the Golden Slam in 1988, which only Steffi Graf achieved.
“Anything is possible,” said Djokovic after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas to win his second French Open. “I’ve put myself in a good starting position to reach the Golden Slam.”
Wimbledon is already thinking ahead. In 2022, the All England Club, which is hosting the tournament, will play on the middle Sunday of the event, traditionally reserved for the recreation and rejuvenation of the pitches and players. The All England Club also recently unveiled plans to expand into the neighboring parkland and build an 8,000-seat show court that the club expects to be ready by 2030.
But for this year, the people who appreciate the tournament are relieved that it’s back.
“Wimbledon is such an anchor for all of us,” said Jim Courier, a former world number one and current tennis channel commentator. “I think it will be rejuvenating for the sport as a whole. It will be a relief that Wimbledon is back and will be visible again.
“Wimbledon,” added Courier, “is the perfect mix of old and new. You got it right in many ways. We missed it. “
Correction: June 26, 2021
In an earlier version of this article, the player Novak Djokovic defeated in winning this year’s French Open was misrepresented. It was Stefanos Tsitsipas, not Alexander Zverev.