It’s summer in England, time for strawberries and cream, lush green grass and the thwack of tennis ball on racket strings.
The genteel surroundings of the All England Club will host the two-week British tennis love-in that is Wimbledon, a highlight of the sporting and social calendar.
With a rich history dating back to 1877, Wimbledon is steeped in aura and tradition.
From the revered crucible of Centre Court and the all-white clothing of the players, to the overnight camping and famous queue for daily tickets, and the elegance of polished notables in the royal box, the atmosphere is quintessentially British.
Despite its heritage, Wimbledon has always been at the forefront of innovation and this year organizers unveiled a new sliding roof on No.1 Court, a $89 million bid to counter the vagaries of the British weather. Centre Court received a roof in 2009.
Prize money, too, has kept up with the times. Winners of the singles titles will pocket $2.98 million each, while a first-round loser will earn $57,000. The total prize fund has increased 11% to $48 million.
Nearly 500,000 people will visit the grounds over the two weeks of the championships, consuming about 76,000 ice creams, 22,000 bottles of champagne, 303,000 glasses of Pimm’s and 166,000 portions of fresh English strawberries, according to the Wimbledon website.
But, of course, the sport is the center piece. So who will win?
The Big Three have won all but two of the last 16 Wimbledons and 53 of the last 64 majors so it’s just possible that the winner will be one of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.
The 37-year-old Federer is enjoying an Indian summer to his career and is second favorite to clinch a record-extending ninth Wimbledon title to take his tally to 21 grand slams.
The Swiss master craftsman has pushed his total of singles titles to 102 with three victories this season, second only to Jimmy Connors (109) on the all-time list.
Fan favorite Federer may not have many Wimbledons left in his career, but he comes in off the back of a 10th grass court title in Halle, Germany.
“Every time I’ve won in Halle, I went on to play really well at Wimbledon,” the world No.3 told reporters. “It’s never a guarantee of course, but I’ve been on the Tour for long enough to know what it means. Most important is I know I’m injury-free.”
Federer is seeded two, meaning he will avoid Djokovic until the final, should they get that far.
The 33-year-old will return with fresh vigor, confident he can find a way to manage his vulnerable knees which have caused him to struggle on the low-bouncing grass over the years.
He went close to making a fourth final last year, only to lose in a five-set semi-final thriller to eventual champion Djokovic.
“I felt myself ready to go all the way,” Nadal told CNN Sport in an exclusive interview at his tennis academy in Manacor, Mallorca ahead of this season.
Wimbledon’s seedings have put Nadal third in the pecking order, meaning he will have to beat both Djokovic and Federer to win the title. He’s philosophical, but not exactly delighted at the prospect.
Nadal’s remarkable French Open run has taken him to just two grand slam titles behind Federer, but he insists the record is not what he is focused on.
“It’s a motivation, but it’s not my obsession,” he told reporters in Paris.
World No.1 Djokovic is the top seed, the defending champion and on paper the man to beat.
The four-time winner has clinched three of the last four grand slams as he enjoys a resurgence following a mini slump. The Serbian can be truly devastating when his mojo is working.
The 32-year-old beat Nadal to win his first Wimbledon title in 2011, downed Federer twice in 2014 and 2015 and polished off Anderson last year.
With 15 grand slam titles and counting, Djokovic’s career is in full cry as he attempts to catch Nadal and ultimately Federer.
“I’m very grateful to be part of this era,” Djokovic told reporters ahead of Wimbledon. “It’s made me a better player. They made me understand what I need to do in order to surpass and overcome the biggest challenge, and that is to win against these guys in a major event.”
Beyond the big three
Looking beyond the illustrious trio, the eye settles on Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas — the poster boys for the post-Big Three generation.
Austria’s Thiem is a solid baseliner who has played in the last two French Open finals, but he has never gone beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon.
For all his promise, Germany’s Zverev, 22, has yet to make a grand slam semifinal, while 20-year-old Greek Tsitsipas is a former junior world No.1 who made the Australian Open semi finals in January.
“Tsitsipas is the young guy I’d pick above everyone else,” tennis legend John McEnroe told London’s Evening Standard.
“He’ll be winning majors sooner rather than later. It’s all about your competitive fire. He’s got the size and the shots — and he’s not afraid of anyone.”
On the women’s side, the tournament is much more open. There have been nine different Wimbledon champions in the last 16 years, and in six of the last nine grand slams there has been a first-time major winner.
All eyes this year are on new world No.1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia and whether she can win back-to-back grand slams after her maiden title at the French Open.
The 23-year-old knocked Japan’s Naomi Osaka off top spot and is bidding to become the first Australian women to win Wimbledon since her idol and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley won her second title in 1980.
However, the last player to achieve the French Open-Wimbledon double in the same year was Serena Williams in 2015, and the American great is focused on clinching a record-equaling 24th grand slam title to draw alongside Margaret Court’s all-time mark.
Williams won her last major in 2017 before taking time off to have a baby, but the 37-year-old is still a formidable force, especially on the grass of southwest London where she has amassed seven titles. She’s also looking to avenge defeat by Germany’s Angelique Kerber in last year’s final, but will have to scrap her way to the final from 11th seed.
“With Serena, there is no rule,” her long time coach Patrick Mouratoglou told CNN Sport at Roland Garros.
Big in Japan
Williams also has unfinished business with Osaka, who edged that controversial US Open final last September and backed it up with victory over Petra Kvitova in the Australian Open.
Her success took her to world No.1, and she has been likened to Serena by former men’s Wimbledon champion Pat Cash.
But she admits the full implications of being the best in the world took her by surprise.
“Mentally it was way more stress and pressure than I could have imagined,” she told reporters at Wimbledon. “I don’t think there was anything that could have prepared me for that, especially since I’m kind of an over thinker. I think it’s better for me now to be No. 2 here.”
However, her talent has yet to come to the fore on grass, with two third-round exits in her two appearances.
Seeded three is Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic, another former world No.1 who was a US Open finalist in 2016. The in-form 27-year-old is a powerful server and downed Kerber to win the Eastbourne grass court title at the weekend. She made the fourth round of Wimbledon last year.
Defending champion Kerber, seeded fifth, is a three-time major winner and another with serious Wimbledon credentials.