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For an event deeply steeped in tradition, Wimbledon has embraced change more rapidly than other tournaments recently. It broke its longstanding stance on staying clear of politics by banning Russian and Belarusian players, a decision that has not been repeated by a single tournament.
Other significantly smaller changes follow suit. The grass court Grand Slam is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Centre Court – with a commemorative N.F.T (Non-Fungible Token) no less – that is accompanied by changes to the showpiece court including a new WWE-style entrance for the players from the clubhouse through a set of automatic green doors to the sound of a roaring audience.
On the court, the biggest change seems to be the end of the ‘Middle Sunday.’ The break between the two weeks of action has been preserved for long, barring a delay caused by rain. But with the advent of technology and retractable roofs on the showpiece courts, it is abolished to give the singles Round of 16s a bit of a breather, ending another preserved tradition of the ‘Manic Monday.’
The changes at SW19 show the All England Club’s attempts to take the sport’s oldest tournament into a new era. And perhaps fittingly, play on Centre Court on the first Middle Sunday at Wimbledon will be highlighted by the start of a rivalry that could take men’s tennis into a new era – the fourth-round clash between fifth seed Carlos Alcaraz and tenth seed Jannik Sinner.
New rivalry among exciting talents
Sinner, two years his opponent’s senior, was meant to be tennis’ next big thing after he made his breakthrough in the COVID-derailed 2020 season. However, physical issues – including a left foot injury which forced him to retire from the fourth round of the French Open – have halted his progress.
He has only played 10 tournaments this year out of which he withdrew from three due to injury and is without a title in 2022 so far. Over the past two years, he has been in and out of the top 10.
Meanwhile, Alcaraz has emerged this year as the most exciting teenager in men’s tennis since Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The Spaniard has won four titles this year – two Masters 1000s and two ATP 500s, and has raced into the top 10.
Alcaraz’s meteoric rise has been a series of ‘one-ups’ on his next opponent. Sinner won the ATP NextGen title in 2019, and Alcaraz won it in 2021. Sinner won his first career title at the age of 19, Alcaraz won his a few months after his 18th birthday. Sinner made his big ATP breakthrough by reaching the Miami Masters final in 2021, Alcaraz won the event the following year. Sinner reached the quarterfinal at Roland Garros in 2020, Alcaraz not only matched the result but actually entered the main draw as one of the favourites for the title.
The duo have made their mark as the most exciting and talented players on tour recently, but are yet to get a rivalry going. They faced off at the Paris Masters last year, where Alcaraz emerged victorious in straight sets, but have not faced each other in best-of-five sets, where Sinner has the edge. Such is the Italian’s consistency at Grand Slams that he has now reached at least the fourth round at all of the Majors, something an established top 10 player like Stefanos Tsitsipas is yet to achieve.
4 – Jannik #Sinner is the first male player born after 2001 to reach the Fourth Round in all four Grand Slam tournaments. Premature.@ATPMediaInfo @atptour #Wimbledon2022 #Wimbledon
— OptaAce (@OptaAce) July 1, 2022
The hype around the Spaniard, as his results suggest, far outweighs that around Sinner, who has meandered on tour recently. But a win for Sinner has narrative-changing potential, both for this rivalry and his own status as one of the big future stars of the sport.
Contrasting playing styles
Both players are relatively unknown on grass, making their encounter unpredictable. Sinner’s game, built around a big backhand, redirection of pace, and baseline aggression, has never suited the surface: he had never won a tour-level match on grass prior to the start of the Championships this year.
However, he has looked in inspired form this week. The Italian has navigated a tricky draw with maturity and high-quality tennis. He took out Stan Wawrinka in four sets in the first round, and withstood the challenge from big-serving John Isner, fresh off the triumph over home favourite Andy Murray, in the third round. The Italian converted two of his four break points against Isner and was laser-focused on his own serve, not conceding a single break point.
Alcaraz brings something different to the game though. He boasts of a punishingly powerful forehand, and an underrated serve that has been in his corner all week, also during a five-set thriller in the first round. His footspeed has already created plenty of highlight-reel moments at the grass Major.
We could watch this @carlosalcaraz forehand winner over and over 😍#Wimbledon
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 1, 2022
However, it is the dynamism of his all-out attacking style that has built up his stock as one to watch in London this time. For all his evident talent, it is the well-disguised drop shot – a shot of audacity and daring – that has become one of his biggest weapons, perhaps telling of his commitment to variation and attack.
Wimbledon is embracing change, and tennis needs it too. Even though the age-old Nadal-Djokovic rivalry continues to dominate headlines and tournament main draws, the first Middle Sunday at SW19 could be the start of the rivalry of a new generation – one where politics will play a role in sports, and so might N.F.Ts.
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Namit Kumar read more


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