While the Hurlingham Club hosts a group of retired Tour ‘legends’ this week, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic arrived to show how they continue to trump young tennis players.
Djokovic, 35, started his grass season by defeating Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in the scorching hot sun at the West London exhibition event. It was the 20-time Major champion Djokovic’s first visit to the Hurlingham club and the first game he lost to Nadal since the French Open quarter-finals.
Up to this point he had decided against playing on grass. Like Nadal, 36, he’s back to the surface with no competitive warm-ups ahead of Wimbledon. But the evidence suggests the reigning Wimbledon champion remains a natural. Djokovic’s 6-2, 6-1 win over 21-year-old Auger-Aliassime, who was struggling to serve, was as easy as it gets.
For Nadal, the most important thing was that there were no problems with his right foot in his easy win over Stan Wawrinka. Considering he required nerve-numbing injections in his foot and a slew of anti-inflammatories just to play pain-free at the French Open, it’s a huge win to have him back at all.
He announced last week he was dying to play Wimbledon and looked in high spirits as he played a golf tournament in his native Mallorca over the weekend, where he finished fifth. While he used a golf buggy to rest his foot as much as possible, all signs were good ahead of his return to the match court on Wednesday.
“To be honest, it’s positive for me to play a few games before the Wimbledon competition starts,” Nadal said. “I played at Queen a long time ago. I’m older now – I can’t play that many games! So it’s perfect for me to play a few matches here before Wimbledon starts. That helps me feel at least some competition ahead of Wimbledon.”
Both Nadal and Djokovic have been training at the Wimbledon ground this week, along with two-time champion Andy Murray and US Open Emma Raducanu, who have both returned from abdominal injuries.
But on Thursday, for the first time in its history, Wimbledon will open Center Court and No 1 Court for players to practice on ahead of the tournament. Normally no more than one set is played by All England Club members on the Saturday before the start of the Championship.
This year, however, the move to play on the courts was made to avoid further high-profile injuries caused by player slips on the lush grass during the early days of the tournament.
Last year’s seven-time champion Serena Williams fell during her first-round match and the injury she sustained to her hamstring kept her out of contention for 51 weeks.
Two 45-minute practice sessions are scheduled for Thursday on the show courts and the city’s biggest names are expected to have a chance to familiarize themselves with the surface ahead of the rest of the draw. They will be open for a select few to practice both today and on Friday when the draw also takes place.
Looking ahead to the tournament, Wawrinka said Nadal must be the favorite despite all his injury worries. “I don’t know how he feels, it looks like a normal Rafa,” said Wawrinka. “He’s said he’s feeling better and when he plays he’s ready to do his best and win.
“I think Rafa will be one of the favourites, if not the favourite, every time he takes part in a Grand Slam. He won the first two Slams of the year without too many games before those Grand Slams, so he has a lot Gaining confidence Of course he’s one of the favourites.”