The Federation Cup final between Australia and France showed yet again that team events in tennis have a place in the hearts of both players and fans.
One of the year’s most prestigious sporting events is just around the corner, and if the form of several of the world’s best players are anything to go by, it could be the biggest Wimbledon yet.
In the men’s draw Roger Federer will be aiming to create more history at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club with an unprecedented ninth title. He will head into his 21st consecutive Wimbledon off the back of winning a record-breaking tenth title in Halle.
Being promoted to second seed at the expense of Rafael Nadal also means he will avoid top seed Novak Djokovic until the final, the Djoker of course being the defending champion who will be aiming for a fifth Wimbledon title.
Nadal, on the other hand, will be keen to complete the Channel Slam for the third time, having done so in 2008 and 2010.
In the women’s division all eyes will be on new world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty to see whether she can emulate Serena Williams in completing the Channel Slam, the Australian having surprised many by winning her first major title at Roland Garros earlier this month.
It is the first time since 1973 that an Australian will be the top seed in the women’s draw at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, and the first time since Lleyton Hewitt spectacularly crashed out in the first round here in 2003 that any Australian has been the top seed at any major.
Some of the other names to watch out for include second and third seeds Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova and defending champion Angelique Kerber, whose form has been well down on previous seasons.
Here is your full guide to some of the contenders for the men’s and women’s titles at Wimbledon. As always, we start with the men, headed by defending champion Novak Djokovic.
Best result: Won four times (2011, 2014, 2015, 2018)
Last year’s result: Won (defeated Kevin Anderson in the final)
Australian Open result: Champion (defeated Rafael Nadal in the final)
French Open result: Semi-final (lost to Dominic Thiem)
Titles so far this year: Australian Open, Madrid
As the defending champion, all eyes will be on top seed Novak Djokovic to see whether he can successfully defend the title he won last year by defeating Kevin Anderson in the final.
At the time of his victory last year the Serb was ranked outside the top 20 and his best tennis was seemingly behind him, but the now 32-year-old would use it as a springboard to finish 2018 strongly and reclaim his place at the top of the tennis throne.
As impressively as he finished last year, he started this year in the same fashion, winning a record seventh Australian Open title by dealing Rafael Nadal his first straight-sets loss in a major final.
His most recent outing saw him reach the semi-final at Roland Garros only to be beaten in five sets by Dominic Thiem in a stop-start semi-final that lasted two days due to persistent rain.
That defeat ended his chances of completing a double career grand slam, though he can put that pain behind him by performing well at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, where he has saluted four times.
Best result: Won eight times (2003-07, 2009, 2012, 2017)
Last year’s result: Quarter-final (lost to Kevin Anderson)
Australian Open result: Fourth round (lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas)
French Open result: Semi-final (lost to Rafael Nadal)
Titles so far this year: Dubai, Miami, Halle.
As always, eight-time champion Roger Federer is the one to watch at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club as he chases more history at what has statistically and historically been his best grand slam tournament.
It is 20 years since the Swiss maestro made his debut at SW19 and 16 years since he won his first major title at the world’s most famous postcode by defeating Mark Philippoussis in the final.
Despite being ranked third in the world behind Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal and faring the worst of the trio at Wimbledon last year, the 37-year-old has been promoted to second seed at the Spaniard’s expense, this coming about after he won a tenth title in Halle last week.
This means that, while he will avoid Djokovic until the final, Federer could still face his career nemesis Nadal in the semi-finals, while he could also face a potential quarter-final showdown against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who knocked him out of the Australian Open in January.
The Swiss maestro did well to advance to the semi-finals of the French Open, where he again found the Spaniard a step too far. Nonetheless, it proved that he still has what it takes to take on the best on his least preferred surface of clay.
On the grass courts, where he is most comfortable, I have him going all the way and winning a 21st major title.
Best result: Won twice (2008, 2010)
Last year’s result: Semi-final (lost to Novak Djokovic)
Australian Open result: Runner-up (lost to Novak Djokovic)
French Open result: Won (defeated Dominic Thiem in the final)
Titles so far this year: Rome, French Open.
Having claimed a record-breaking 12th title at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal has every reason to believe that he can make another successful transition to the grass courts.
The Spaniard endured a mixed start to the season, finishing runner-up at the Australian Open and then being forced to withdraw from Miami due to an ankle injury sustained at Indian Wells, where he would’ve faced Roger Federer in the semi-final.
He was also slow to get going on the clay courts, losing to eventual champions Fabio Fognini and Dominic Thiem at Monte Carlo and Barcelona respectively before falling to Stefanos Tsitsipas in his hometown tournament, Madrid.
However, he then bounced back with a vengeance to triumph in Rome, defeating Novak Djokovic in the final, before again getting the better of Thiem in the French Open final, winning in four sets.
Now the 33-year-old heads to SW19 looking to improve on his recent record whereby he reached the semi-final last year only to lose to Djokovic in a heart-stopping five-set semi-final in which the final set lasted 18 games.
Despite last year’s result, the Spaniard has been demoted to third seed behind Djokovic and Federer, meaning he will face one of them in the semi-final and the other in the final should he get that far for the first time since 2011.
Again, I have him doing well, reaching the latter stages of the tournament.
Also watch out for Dominic Thiem, Kevin Anderson, Stefanos Tsitsipa and Alexander Zverev. Notable absences include Juan Martin del Potro (knee injury).
We now swing over to the women’s side of things, where newly minted world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty will start as the favourite to land her second grand slam singles title at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, having previously triumphed as a junior in 2011.
The 23-year-old Queenslander has been the form player of the season, racking up 36 wins, the last 12 of them consecutively, against just five defeats, the best record of any player on the WTA Tour in 2019.
By winning in Birmingham last week Barty ascended to the top of the rankings, and she will herself every chance of doing all she can to remain there in the long term.
She is expected to be faced with stern opposition in the form of reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, whose form has taken a downturn for the worse in recent months, third seed Karolina Pliskova and reigning champion Angelique Kerber.
We now take a look at the contenders for the Venus Rosewater Dish, starting with Barty.
Best result: Third round (2018)
Last year’s result: Third round (lost to Daria Kasatkina)
Australian Open result: Quarter-finals (lost to Petra Kvitova)
French Open result: Won (defeated Marketa Vondrousova in the final)
Titles so far this year: Miami, French Open, Birmingham.
When Ashleigh Barty decided to take a break from the tennis circuit aged just 18 towards the end of 2014 few many believed she would later reach the upper echelon of the sport, let alone make a comeback to the sport she’d dominated as a junior earlier this decade.
The Ipswich native cited the pressures of the tour as well as homesickness, among other things, as being behind her decision to take a break from the sport, during which she tried her hand playing cricket for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League.
But since returning to tennis in mid-2016 the 23-year-old has gone from strength to strength, cracking the world’s top 20 in 2017, reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open earlier this year before prevailing at Roland Garros earlier this month.
Then there was the title win in Birmingham, where she defeated Julia Goerges in the final to overtake Naomi Osaka at the top of the rankings and become the first female player since Evonne Goolagong Cawley to hold the top spot and the first of any gender since Lleyton Hewitt in 2003.
She was due to play in Eastbourne this week but withdrew due to an arm injury that also forced her out of a small clay court tournament in Strasbourg the week prior to her French Open success.
Despite this setback, I think Barty can go all the way in what will be her first major as world No. 1.
Best result: Third round (2018)
Last year’s result: Third round (lost to Angelique Kerber)
Australian Open result: Won (defeated Petra Kvitova in the final)
French Open result: Third round (lost to Katerina Siniakova)
Titles so far this year: Australian Open
Reaching the top of the rankings was supposed to be a milestone in the fledgling career of Naomi Osaka, but if her past four months is anything to go by, it may have proven to be a millstone instead.
The Japanese star has largely struggled since winning the Australian Open in January, which can be attributed to two things: splitting from her coach, Sascha Bajin, in February, and then suffering an abdominal injury during the clay court swing.
Still, she managed some decent results on the clay courts, but then she crashed out of the French Open by losing to Katerina Siniakova in straight sets. This was followed by another straight sets loss to Yulia Putintseva in Birmingham last week, which saw her surrender top spot to Ashleigh Barty in the rankings.
Had Barty lost to Julia Goerges in the final, Osaka would have been locked in as top seed at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, but she can still regain the position depending on how she fares over the fortnight.
Because both Barty and Osaka are the top two seeds, they cannot meet until the championship match, and if they do, the world No. 1 ranking will almost certainly be decided there.
The Japanese star’s best performance at SW19 is reaching the third round last year, where she lost to the eventual champion Angelique Kerber, who she’d beaten at the US Open the previous year.
Despite her recent woes, I can still see her making an impact, just not a big one.
Prediction: Fourth round
Best result: Fourth round (2018)
Last year’s result: Fourth round (lost to Kiki Bertens)
Australian Open result: Semi-finals (lost to Naomi Osaka)
French Open result: Third round (lost to Petra Martic)
For Karolina Pliskova, it’s now or never.
Since bursting onto the tennis scene by upsetting Serena Williams at the 2016 US Open, reaching her first grand slam final in the process, it’s fair to say the 27-year-old has not lived up to expectations at the subsequent majors since.
Still, she managed to reach world No. 1 one in mid-2017 and has achieved other notable results, including reaching the semi-finals of the French Open as well as reaching the final four stage at the Australian Open earlier this year, where she lost to Naomi Osaka.
She also managed to reach her first Premier Mandatory final at Miami in March, but she would be beaten by Ashleigh Barty after defeating fellow former world No. 1 Simona Halep in the semi-final.
Her most recent outing saw her face (and be defeated by) her identical twin sister Kristyna in the second round of Birmingham in what was the first ever match to feature identical twin sisters facing each other on the WTA Tour.
The Czech is playing in Eastbourne this week and has reached the third round after defeating Margarita Gasparyan in straight sets. A good result there would be a good boost for her as she finalises her preparations for the third major tournament of the year.
Wimbledon is the only major where she has not reached the quarter-finals, but I can see that changing; in fact I think she can reach the final, where Barty is likely to await her.
Also watch out for Kiki Bertens, Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep, Serena Williams, Johanna Konta and Garbine Muguruza.
Notable absences include Bianca Andreescu and Ekaterina Makarova.
Wimbledon gets underway on Monday, with Novak Djokovic to open his title defence on Centre Court, while Angelique Kerber will start her bid for a second consecutive title on Tuesday, as is tradition.