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June 29, 2022
Tennis

London | Serena caught Wimbledon on the hop…

It seems Serena Williams prematurely spilled the beans about coming to London to play Wimbledon, prompting the AELTC to announce its wild-card allocation a day earlier than normal.

I’m pretty lucky that she picked me. I’m going to try to be 100 percent on the court, and serve like Andy Roddick, make volleys like the Bryans, just trying to be really good on court. Ons Jabeur

No matter, since the presence of the 7-times Wimbledon singles champion is a welcome boost for The Championships in its Centre Court centenary year, and amid the controversy surrounding the absence of Russian and Belarusian players as well as the ranking points stripped away in punishment of the Club’s decision not to offer any propaganda opportunity to the Kremlin in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Championships at Wimbledon were founded 125 years ago in 1877, and it is 100 years since the Club moved to Church Road, the home of its new Centre Court, which was destined to become an unparalleled cathedral of sport.

Williams arrived in London with her daughter Olympia on Thursday to greet a new doubles partner, and with a new coach in tow, ahead of testing her grass court prowess down at Eastbourne next week.

“I am excited to be back on the grass – a surface that has been so good to me throughout my career,” she said.

The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, however, has not played a match since retiring injured from her first round contest on Centre Court last year, and she has slipped down to No 1,208 in the world rankings, plus she turns 41 in 3 months time.

Missing from the initial women’s singles entry list released by Wimbledon, it came as a surprise when Williams posted an image on Instagram showing her tennis shoes on grass, captioned: “SW and SW19. It’s a date. 2022, see you there.”

Patrick Mouratoglou has coached Serena Williams since 2014 but will be replaced in her player box by Eric Hechtman, Venus Williams’ coach, at Wimbledon

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Patrick Mouratoglou will not be her coach at Wimbledon this year, though, a role that will be fulfilled by Eric Hechtman, the coach of sister Venus, as the Frenchman concentrates his efforts on helping Simona Halep.

Williams will double up with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne, who is the top seed at the Bett1 Open and still in the mix in singles over in Berlin.

The Tunisian World No 4 says she has ‘no idea’ as to why Williams chose her to play doubles with next week, somebody who has never played against or practiced with the American former World No 1.

“I’m still over the moon. I found out before the French Open, and it’s an honour and privilege to play with her,” Jabeur said in an interview with Racquet Magazine. “I’m actually nervous, but I’m going to try to be the doubles specialist for the next week, and hopefully make zero mistakes.

“But it’s a great honour to play with such a legend, and to be able to really share the court with her is unbelievable because we never played each other, and now we’re playing next to each other—we are a team.

“I’m really excited to be in Eastbourne next week, more and more excited than ever. Hopefully it’s going to be a great tournament for both of us.”

It is rare for Williams to play doubles without her sister Venus, with whom she has won 14 major titles.

In fact, Jabeur is just the 5th female player she has played alongside on the Tour other than her sister and, including Billie Jean King Cup ties, she has only ever paired up with Martina Navratilova (2002), Alexandra Stevenson (2002), Alison Riske (2015) and Caroline Wozniacki (2020).

Jabeur revealed that Hechtman had been in contact with her coach: “My coach, he’s in contact with her coach, Eric [Hechtman] and ‘would I play doubles with Serena?’

“I mean, obviously the answer was yes. She was coming back; I didn’t know where. I wasn’t sure, actually, to play at Eastbourne. But now I’m 100 percent sure I will go, just for doubles.”

Predominately a singles player, Jabeur has previously reached the final of a WTA doubles tournament before, which also took place on the grass last year at the Birmingham classic where she finished runner-up with Ellen Perez.

“I’m pretty lucky that she picked me,” she said of Williams. “I’m going to try to be 100 percent on the court, and serve like Andy Roddick, make volleys like the Bryans, just trying to be really good on court.”

Iga Swiatek, who has surpassed Serena William’s longest match-winning streak, is excited to see her return to the match court

© Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

World No 1 Iga Swiatek is delighted Williams is returning, and she is looking forward to seeing her at Wimbledon.

On Tuesday, when Williams took to Instagram to reveal her plans to compete at Wimbledon, Swiatek responded with: ”What a news, see you there.”

Swiatek was scheduled to play Berlin ahead of Wimbledon but decided to withdraw from this week’s WTA 500 event to rest her shoulder.

On a 35-match winning streak, grass is not really Swiatek’s strongest surface, and so it will be interesting to see how she does at Wimbledon without any match preparation.

“I think when I’m going to start Wimbledon I’m just going to think about getting through the first matches,” she said recently. “I won’t think about the streak because I know it’s not helping me.

“I did the same here and I know how to separate my mind from that and focus on tennis, but right now, for sure, I can think about that a little bit more, and I would love to add some matches to that streak.

“But I feel that chapter is closed for sure for clay season, but also, after the Sunshine Double, I didn’t really have a lot of time to rest, and I really want to rest right now after Roland Garros.

“Because back then I was, like, I’ll have three days off, but I couldn’t really stop thinking about the season.

“Right now I think I will have more time and I really want to do my best at resting.”

Swiatek has already risen to first place of most matches won in a row, which she currently shares with Venus Williams, having surpassed Serena Williams with 34.

The 21-year old Pole only needs to win one more match, albeit on grass, to make more history in her own right.

Serena Williams’ last appearance on Centre Court was short-lived last year as she retired injured after just 7 games in the first round.

© AELTC/Jed Leicester – Pool/Getty Images

According to reports, sister Venus knew for a very long time that Serena planned to play Wimbledon, and says she is happy that now the whole tennis world is aware of her sister’s intent.

“I’ve been keeping the secret for a long time and I’m just glad it’s out,” Venus said in a conversation with Erin Andrews at BIO2022. “People say I’ve heard and you say I don’t know, you feel like you are lying, lead me out of this.

“She hasn’t played in a year, I haven’t played any year. It’s going to be great to see her back in action.

“She’s quite formidable.”

Can Williams still win her 24th major title?

It seems she is sufficiently confident that, at the age of 40 and with no match play, she still can be competitive but, in reality, this could well prove to be her swan-song.

Wimbledon is special to her, having won the singles 7 times on its hallowed grass, and she has enjoyed other successes here, such as Olympic gold and doubles titles with Venus so this may well be a sentimental journey and the fans will love to see her back.

Ground Staff are tending to Centre Court ahead of its centenary and the return of Serena Williams

© AELTC/Jed Leicester – Pool/Getty Images

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