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Wimbledon 2021: Andy Murray plays, Novak Djokovic defends title, Simona Halep out

Murray played with American great Serena Williams in the Wimbledon mixed doubles in 2019, but will only take part in the singles this year
Venue: All England Club Dates: 28 June-11 July
Coverage: Live across BBC TV, radio and online with extensive coverage on BBC iPlayer, Red Button, Connected TVs and mobile app. Full details here

Two-time champion Andy Murray makes a welcome comeback in the Wimbledon singles as one of the sporting highlights of the British summer returns on Monday.

The former world number one has not competed in singles at SW19 since 2017 after a series of injuries and the postponement of last year’s event because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic is the favourite to retain his Wimbledon crown and win a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam men’s singles title.

Romania’s Simona Halep, who lifted the women’s trophy in 2019, pulled out on Friday with a calf injury.

Japan’s four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka and Spanish great Rafael Nadal are also missing from the grass-court Grand Slam.

Two British singles players are seeded – Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie – but Johanna Konta was forced to withdraw on the eve of the tournament after a member of her team tested positive for Covid-19.

Play starts on the outside courts at 11:00 BST on Monday, with Djokovic opening up Centre Court as Wimbledon tradition dictates at 13:30.

The tournament is part of the government’s Event Research Programme, which means it will operate at 50% capacity across the grounds, building to full capacity crowds of 15,000 on Centre Court for the finals weekend.

Will Djokovic equal Nadal and Federer?

Having won the past two Wimbledon men’s singles titles, and claimed the Australian Open and French Open already this year, Djokovic is the overwhelming favourite to lift the trophy again on Sunday, 11 July.

Winning in Paris this month earned the Serb a 19th major title, giving him the opportunity to now move alongside long-time rivals Nadal and Roger Federer in terms of most all-time Grand Slam men’s singles titles.

“The level of confidence is pretty high,” said Djokovic, 34.

“Roland Garros took a lot out of me – mentally, physically and emotionally. It also granted me with an incredible amount of positive energy and confidence that created a wave I’m trying to ride.

“I love being here. It has always been a dream tournament for me, from when I was a seven-year-old dreaming to win Wimbledon.

“It always gives me goose bumps walking on to these courts and inspires me to play my best.”

One of his potential threats has been removed by Nadal’s withdrawal.

The 35-year-old Spaniard, a two-time Wimbledon champion, pulled out because he needs to “recuperate after a long clay-court season” and says the decision will help prolong his career.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won 20 Grand Slam titles, with Novak Djokovic now one behind on 19
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are locked in a battle to be remembered as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)

There are also concerns about the fitness of eight-time champion Federer, who turns 40 in August.

Playing in his first Grand Slam for 16 months because of a knee injury that required two operations, the Swiss reached the third round of the French Open but then withdrew before his last-16 match to protect his body, having also said Wimbledon was his top priority this season.

A return at the Halle Open last week ended in a second-round defeat by 20-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, with Federer upset at the way he “derailed” in the third set.

“There are ways to lose and a standard I set for myself how I go about things,” said the sixth seed.

“The good thing now, looking back, is I know it will not happen here because I’m ready, I’m excited, I’m pumped up. I know I can do so much better.”

What about the younger generation? Only Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray have won the Wimbledon men’s singles title since Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt triumphed in 2002.

Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, 22, is the second-leading player behind Djokovic on the ATP Tour this year, although he could not stop the Serb fighting back from two sets down to beat him in the Roland Garros final.

Italian Matteo Berrettini, a big server with a potent forehand, looks to have the game to do well and the 25-year-old won the Queen’s title last weekend.

Neither player has yet reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals, though. The only one of the other top eight seeds apart from Djokovic and Federer to have done so is Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut, who was a semi-finalist in 2019.

men's top eight seeds - djokovic, medvedev, tsitsipas, zverev, rublev, federer, berrettini, bautista agut

Another new women’s champion? Or will Serena win that elusive 24th major?

After being denied the chance to defend her crown last year, 29-year-old Halep has again been prevented from playing.

The Romanian needed to be helped from the court at May’s Italian Open after tearing a calf muscle that ruled her out of the French Open and now Wimbledon.

That means there will be a different SW19 champion – and seeing another new name on a women’s Grand Slam trophy would not be a surprise, with 13 different winners in the past 17 majors.

Osaka has won four of those titles but is still taking a break from the sport, having revealed at the French Open that she has been suffering from depression.

Serena Williams lost to Halep in the 2019 final – and finished runner-up to Germany’s Angelique Kerber the year before – and once again goes for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title.

Matching the number won by Australian Margaret Court has so far proved too much for the American, who turns 40 in September and has struggled to hit top form since returning from maternity leave three years ago.

But the Wimbledon grass – where she is a seven-time champion – seems the place most likely to yield another major.

“I think that the women’s draw is so deep, regardless who you play. You really have to show up, ” said Williams.

“There are no longer matches that are going to be a sure walk-through. You just have to really have your head in, have your game on.”

Australian world number one Ashleigh Barty will be playing on what she describes as her favourite surface, although she has not played a tournament since Roland Garros because of a hip injury.

“Now I feel like I’m fit – I’m ready to play, I’m excited to play,” said the 25-year-old.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek, 20, who won the French Open in 2020 and the junior title at SW19 in 2018 is also among the top eight seeds, while Czech Barbora Krejcikova is seeded 15th as she looks to back up her surprise French Open triumph.

The top eight seeds in the women's singles are: Ashleigh Barty, Aryna Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina, Sofia Kenin, Bianca Andreescu, Serena Williams, Iga Swiatek and Karolina Pliskova

Murray back as Evans & Norrie lead British hopes

When 2013 and 2016 champion Murray limped off Centre Court following his 2017 quarter-final defeat by American Sam Querrey, few would have predicted the Scot would not play in the singles again until four years later.

But the hip problem that had bothered him throughout the tournament resulted in surgery in January 2018 and again in January 2019.

The second operation – a resurfacing procedure that means Murray has a metal hip – came shortly after he tearfully announced at the Australian Open he thought the problem would force his retirement.

While the surgeries have derailed the three-time Grand Slam champion’s career, they have not ended it.

Murray made his singles comeback at Queen’s last week following a niggling groin injury, losing to top seed Berrettini before focusing on his preparations for Wimbledon.

“I didn’t know if I would be back playing singles,” he said. “Now I’m hoping my body holds up and gives me a chance to compete.”

Evans, 31, has become the British men’s number one in the absence of Murray and is seeded 22nd as he looks to reach the second week for the first time.

Perhaps Britain’s best hope comes in the shape of 25-year-old Norrie, who finished runner-up at Queen’s last weekend.

A fantastic year has seen the South African-born, New Zealand-raised left-hander, who switched allegiance to Britain in 2013 because of his Welsh and Scottish parents, climb to a career-high ranking of 34 and he will be seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time.

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