LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — Novak Djokovic brings the curtain up at Wimbledon on Monday as he starts his bid for an eighth title and all-time record equaling 24th Grand Slam triumph.
The 36-year-old Serbian, who has won the last four titles at the All England Club, opens proceedings on Centre Court where he has not lost in 10 years.
Unheralded Pedro Cachin of Argentina, the world No. 67 and making his main draw debut at the tournament, plays the role of an unwitting fall guy.
“When I enter the Centre Court, I guess it just awakens something in me and I’m able to perform at a very high level,” Djokovic said.
World No. 2 Djokovic has already pocketed the Australian Open and French Open this year.
Winning a men’s record 23rd major in Paris put him one behind Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24.
He is also halfway to pulling off the first calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.
This year’s Wimbledon will be the first since 1998 to feature neither
eight-time winner Roger Federer, now retired, nor the injured Rafael Nadal.
Fiery Australian Nick Kyrgios, who was runner-up to Djokovic in 2022, was due to face David Goffin on Monday.
However, late Sunday, the 30th seeded Australian withdrew with a wrist injury suffered as he prepared in vain to play in Mallorca last week.
Kyrgios underwent surgery on his left knee earlier this year and has only played one match all season.
A lucky loser from qualifying will take his place in the draw.
Meanwhile, women’s world No. 1 Iga Swiatek faces China’s 114th-ranked Zhu Lin, confident that she has shaken off the effects of food poisoning she suffered at the Bod Hamburg
grass-court event last week.
The 22-year-old Pole, who captured a third French Open title last month, has never got past the fourth round at Wimbledon.
“For sure, I believe the best players, they can play on all surfaces,” Swiatek said.
“I want to kind of become that kind of player who can play well on grass as well and feel comfortable there.”
Five-time champion Venus Williams, the 43-year-old American who made her debut at the tournament in 1997, takes on Elina Svitolina on Centre Court.
Williams is playing the singles event for the 24th time.
She faces Ukraine’s Svitolina whose articulate lobbying for support of her country in its war against Ukraine has caught the imagination.
Svitolina said she feels no bitterness towards the All England Club after they decided to lift last year’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players.
“They had to choose. There was pressure there, they didn’t want to lose a Slam tournament but we are still thankful that they banned them last year.
“It’s what we fought for,” added Svitolina, a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2019.
This year’s tournament will also see a relaxing of the All England Club’s famously strict all-white clothing rule.
In a bid to ease period anxiety, female players will be allowed to wear dark-colored underwear beneath their white skirts.
“I wore black shorts at the Eastbourne tournament so it really helped,” said British player Heather Watson.