Wimbledon 2024's key storylines: Djokovic's knee, Swiatek's destiny – and an election

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Is Novak Djokovic’s right knee the difference-maker in this year’s men’s draw?

Is Iga Swiatek going to make her move on grass and further cement her position as the player to beat across the WTA?

Is geopolitics going to take over the tournament again?

And will the Royal Box have a very special guest?

Wimbledon 2024 promises to be a cracker. Here, The Athletic’s tennis writers, Matt Futterman and Charlie Eccleshare, chart some of the key storylines to follow over the next fortnight.

Will Novak Djokovic play at Wimbledon?

Has more ever depended on one player’s recently repaired meniscus?

Probably not, since that meniscus belongs to one Novak Djokovic, the seven-time Wimbledon champion and the world’s best grass-court player.

Djokovic tore that meniscus in his right knee during the French Open, and the injury forced him to withdraw ahead of his quarterfinal with Casper Ruud. He had surgery on June 5 but didn’t say when he might return.

Djokovic has been warming up on the grass in a bid to enter the tournament less than a month after surgery (Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Pretty much everyone figured playing Wimbledon was out of the question and that Djokovic would focus on preparing for the Olympic Games in Paris in late July.

Then Djokovic started posting videos of his physical therapy workouts. Then he showed up in London this week and started testing out the knee with practice sessions on the grass. On Thursday, he practiced with world No 1 Jannik Sinner on Centre Court; when asked if he would be in the draw, he simply gave a thumbs-up.

Whether he does or doesn’t play, regardless of his physical state, will have a massive impact on the tournament. Djokovic is the world No 2, one slot behind Jannik Sinner and one slot ahead of Carlos Alcaraz, the two favorites to win the title.


What Novak Djokovic’s Wimbledon uncertainty means for him and the tournament

The top two seeds are drawn on opposite sides of the bracket, to separate them until the final. That means if Djokovic plays, there is a 50 per cent chance that Alcaraz and Sinner will end up in the same side of the draw, meaning they could face each other in the semifinals. If Djokovic doesn’t play, Alcaraz will become the second seed and won’t face Sinner until the final… If the Serb makes his decision before the draw.

If Djokovic pulls out after the draw, which is on Friday June 28, but before the release of the schedule for the first day of Wimbledon, then the Grand Slam rulebook kicks in with one of its many quirks. The fifth seed, currently Daniil Medvedev, would take Djokovic’s position in the draw. The 17th seed, Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, would take Medvedev’s. The first player outside the 32 seeds, Frenchman Arthur Fils, would take Auger-Aliassime’s.

If Djokovic were to pull out after the release of the schedule, then a lucky loser from the qualifiers would simply take his place.

Matt Futterman

Is the All England Club the site of Britain’s passing of the torch?

There’s another will-he-won’t-he in the men’s draw: two-time champion Andy Murray’s final appearance at SW19. On Thursday morning, Murray released an update: that he, like Djokovic, would wait until the last possible minute before deciding whether or not to play the singles tournament one last time.

What is more certain is that Murray’s days as a factor in the closing stages of Grand Slams are over, which means home hopes at Wimbledon will have to rest on someone else’s shoulders. The man best suited for that role appears to be Jack Draper.

The 22-year-old became the new British No 1 off the back of a very impressive grass-court buildup, winning his first ATP title in Stuttgart on June 17 and beating the Wimbledon and French Open champion Carlos Alcaraz to reach the Cinch Championships quarterfinals at Queen’s Club.

Murray is expected to wave goodbye to Wimbledon in some form this summer (Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

A title and a statement win were two of the main things missing from his CV, and now he’s targeting something else he’s never done: a run at Wimbledon. For obvious reasons, good progress at the London Grand Slam is what cements British players in the nation’s psyche: Tim Henman’s quarterfinal appearance in 1996 instantly made him the nation’s tennis flagbearer, and Murray’s run to the third round at 18 years old in 2005 was crucial for him before the finals, the tears, and eventually, the titles.

Draper has the game to do something similar at Wimbledon over the next fortnight, with a wicked lefty serve and intimidating power from the back of the court into which he is newly growing. As one of the lowest seeds at No 29, he is scheduled to play one of the top eight players in the third round should he get there, and that’s a match-up all of those eight would hope to avoid.

Charlie Eccleshare

Will Swiatek win her first Wimbledon title? 

There isn’t any question about who the best woman in the world is. It’s Iga Swiatek, a five-time Grand Slam champion who has dominated the top spot in the rankings for more than two years and finished the season as world No 1 in both 2022 and 2023.


Iga Swiatek’s 100 weeks as world No 1: The streak, the slams, the bagels

And yet, Swiatek is a major question mark when it comes to the sport’s most desired title. She’s never been past the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and her game isn’t a natural fit on the grass.

Blame her uber-Western grip on her forehand, which puts her racket at a funky angle that doesn’t work so well on balls she has to strike between her ankle and her thigh. That happens a lot on grass.

Blame her love of clay, where she slides all about and then dances back to the center of the court.

Blame her less-than-overpowering serve, which doesn’t provide many easy points on a surface where they are more important than anywhere else, especially against a fast server who is collecting plenty of them at the other end. She’s added 10 miles per hour to last year’s speeds, making one of the most important grass-court weapons a bigger factor in her arsenal.

The Polish world No. 1 is hoping to improve her Wimbledon record (Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

Or, blame Swiatek’s success. She wins so many clay-court tournaments, including the last three French Opens, that all that tennis leaves her exhausted by mid-June. The last thing she wants to do is practice and compete on the surface she is the least comfortable with when she could be having a rest.

Swiatek will come into Wimbledon once again without playing a grass court tuneup, opting instead to rest and then train on some grass courts near her home in Warsaw before traveling to London to prepare. Can anyone master grass this way? Swiatek, a stellar athlete and sublime mover, would figure to have a better chance than anyone. If it doesn’t happen for her this year though, she has a big consolation. Right after Wimbledon, she gets to go back to the red clay of Roland Garros to try to win a gold medal at the Paris Olympics.

Matt Futterman

Does Eastbourne success harbinger fortune for the British women?

If there’s a changing of the guard happening on the British men’s side, the women are in more secure form coming into Wimbledon. All three of Emma Raducanu, Katie Boulter and Harriet Dart made the quarterfinals of the Rothesay International in Eastbourne, which is the the first time Britain has had three women there in 46 years.


Welcome to Eastbourne, the tennis postcard by the sea with an uncertain future

Of those three, it’s Boulter, who successfully defended her WTA 250 title in Nottingham two weeks ago, who looks in the best shape. Raducanu, fresh from beating Sloane Stephens and then claiming a first-ever top-10 win against world No 5 Jessica Pegula, might dispute that. But her many recent fitness issues mean her supporters don’t want to get too carried away just yet, and Boulter also beat Raducanu in a very tight semifinal in Nottingham on June 16.

Raducanu is still feeling very positive about her form and fitness. She bounded into the interview room with the assembled media at Eastbourne on Monday and said that she had rediscovered her love for the game. After beating Stephens, she wrote “at my own pace” on the camera, perhaps a reference to people who criticised her decision to skip the French Open and turn down the chance to represent Great Britain at the Paris Olympics. At the moment, those are looking like smart moves, as she returns to SW19 three years on from her run to the fourth round that catapulted Raducanu into the nation’s consciousness.

Raducanu’s breakthrough came at SW19 in 2021 (Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP via Getty Images)

Boulter, Dart and Raducanu could be joined in the main draw by Hannah Klugman, the British 15-year-old who has battled to the final round of qualifiers, where she takes on America’s Alycia Parks. Klugman is very highly regarded within British tennis circles and won the prestigious Orange Bowl title in Florida aged 14 in December.

Charlie Eccleshare

25 years on from Sampras vs Agassi, can an American park on the Wimbledon lawn?

If you want to believe this is the year an American gets back into a final at Wimbledon — for the first time since Serena and Venus Williams stopped getting there all the time — go ahead. It’s still a long shot, especially on the men’s side, but somewhat less long than it used to be.

Coco Gauff has made the semifinals of the last two Grand Slams. In each case she lost to the eventual champion: Aryna Sabalenka in Australia and Swiatek in France. Her forehand remains occasionally unstable, and the quick grass can accentuate that wobbliness. But Gauff’s game is getting more versatile each month, filled with slices and drop shots, and she’s got a cruise missile in her arsenal when her serve is on. As the No 2 seed, she is guaranteed to avoid her main nemesis, Swiatek, until the final.

Gauff announced herself to the world at Wimbledon in 2019 aged 15 (Daniel Leal / AFP via Getty Images)

Pegula has also returned from her neck injury layoff in style. She won the Ecotrans Open grass-court title in Berlin and at Wimbleson last year, she was tantalisingly close to making her first Grand Slam semifinal before coughing up a third-set lead to eventual champion Marketa Vondrousova.

Those are likely the two best shots, but don’t count out Danielle Collins, who has cooled off a bit from her hot spring but remains a dangerous No 11 seed.

On the men’s side, Tommy Paul raised hopes on Sunday when he won the title at Queen’s Club. Paul, who rose to No 12 in the rankings with the win, didn’t have to beat a top 10 player on the way to the title but he did beat fellow American Sebastian Korda in the semifinals. When healthy and in full flight, Korda is considered one of the best grass-court players in the world — so much so that last year he fell into the trap of believing his own hype. After saying that he felt like a favorite, he promptly lost in the first round.

Elsewhere, Taylor Fritz loves the grass and has the booming, sliding serve to win on it, and one of these days Ben Shelton, who has the boomiest of booming serves, is going to figure the lawns out too. This year is probably too soon for the Floridian, though.

Matt Futterman

By the way, there’s a general election on

As with last year, Russian and Belarusian flags are banned from the All England Club, but players from both countries are again allowed to compete as neutrals, after being banned from participating in 2022.

At present, all other flags are allowed, including those of Israel and Palestine. No further information has been provided on this policy, but this will be one to keep an eye on during the tournament given the ongoing conflict.

This is also a UK election year: Wimbledon’s policy on that is essentially not to worry about it too much. Spectators are permitted to show off their political leanings as long as they don’t disturb other people’s enjoyment of the event. Sally Bolton, the All England Club CEO, said earlier this month: “We have had a look through all of our operations and we do not believe there will be any operational impact of the election taking place.

Ukrainian flags have become a fixture since 2022 (John Walton / PA Images via Getty Images)

“There’s no political campaigning on site. But our ground entry conditions are all focused around disturbing other people’s enjoyment of the tennis — if you’re creating a disturbance, that’s when we would address it.”

Grand Slam tournaments are always occasions for politicking and lobbying, champagning and schmoozing — but Wimbledon, compared to the U.S. Open especially, is less often a hub of that sort of thing. That will likely all change this year as the country goes to the polls on July 4.


Hugs, handshakes and blanking your opponent: How geopolitics is impacting Wimbledon

Charlie Eccleshare

Will the famous Royal Box get a very special guest?

The most heart-warming moment of The Championships may not happen on the tennis court.

In recent years, Princess Catherine of Wales has become the face of the All England Club, appearing throughout the tournament in her familiar spot in the Royal Box. She is a huge tennis fan and a patron of the All England Club, and she even filmed a promotional video hitting on Centre Court with her friend Roger Federer last year. Nice footwork. Nice forehand.

She hands out the singles trophies at the end of the tournament.

The Princess of Wales on Centre Court in 2023 (Rob Newell / CameraSport via Getty Images)

As most of the world knows, she has been receiving treatment for cancer in recent months, and only recently appeared in public for the first time since those treatments began. It’s hard to imagine Wimbledon these days without her, and if she does choose to appear, it should be quite a moment.

Matt Futterman

The famous line judges remain in limbo

As of next year, all tour-level ATP events will use electronic line calling (ELC), while the women’s tour is reviewing its policy on the technology.

The Grand Slam tournaments can still do as they choose, but the U.S. Open and Australian Open have already switched to ELC, in 2022 and 2021 respectively, and the French Open remains an outlier because of its clay courts, on which ball marks are reviewed by the umpire coming down from the chair.

At Wimbledon, there’s a bit of both. Players can appeal against line calls and then be shown whether they are wrong or right by Hawk-Eye technology, but the tradition of line judges on the court making those initial decisions remains. This is often popular with fans as the system provides an extra bit of theatre, while some just like having line judges on the court.

The dominance of electronic line calling makes line judges more of an outlier year-on-year (Sebastian Bozon / AFP via Getty Images)

The system doesn’t always work, however. At last year’s tournament, a crucial return of serve by Murray against Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas was incorrectly called out. Murray didn’t challenge because as he put it, “it was right underneath the umpire’s nose,” but the Hawk-Eye technology showed that the ball was in. At the time, it was 4-4 and 15-30 on Tsitsipas’s serve in the fourth set; had Murray won that point, he would have had two chances to break the Greek’s serve and attempt to take the match to a fifth set.

When asked if the mistake had changed his perspective on ELC, Murray displayed the tension and ambivalence between the two systems in place at Wimbledon. “Right nowm I obviously would rather it was done automatically. It’s a hard one because I probably prefer having the lines judges on the court. It feels nicer to me,” he said.

“The challenges — I think the crowd, the TV, they probably quite like it. But when mistakes are getting made in important moments, you don’t want that.”

Plenty of players want the security of ELC, while at the French Open Gauff even called for an equivalent of football’s video assistant referee system (VAR) after she felt she was on the rough end of a decision about whether an out-call had hindered her swing. On the flipside, world No 12 Jelena Ostapenko has always been sceptical about the accuracy of ELC and told The Athletic last month that a return to the Hawk-Eye challenge system is the one change she’d make to tennis if she could.


French Open semifinals: Should tennis have VAR? Is Swiatek’s serve even better?

“I would go back to tennis without the Hawk-Eye live system,” she said.

“I would like to have the line judges back, because I feel like the court is empty without them. It creates a better atmosphere, more people – without them, it looks empty even at slams. Also, it would be nice for those people to keep their jobs.”

Regarding their future at Wimbledon, a spokesperson for the All England Club said, “We are always looking at how technology might further enhance the experience of our players and guests at Wimbledon, but we have no changes planned for 2024.”

Charlie Eccleshare

Tell us what you’re looking out for at Wimbledon this year in the comments.

(Top photo: Glyn Kirk / AFP via Getty Images)

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