Wimbledon 2024: Rivals fitness challenges set to boost Swiatek’s chances

Wimbledon 2024: Rivals fitness challenges set to boost Swiatek’s chances

For all her achievements over the last few seasons, Iga Swiatek remains largely unproven on grass courts, but the Pole will have a golden opportunity to claim a maiden Wimbledon title with her rivals hampered by injuries and illness before the Grand Slam.

The five-time major champion has been an unstoppable force since inheriting the world No. 1 spot following Ash Barty's retirement in 2022, although none of the 22 titles in her vast cabinet have come on the sport's slickest surface.

But fresh from her fourth French Open title amid a 19-match winning streak stretching back to May, the 23-year-old will head to the All England Club primed to go past the quarterfinals for the first time and prove herself as an all-court player.

Swiatek will have to adapt quickly to her least favorite surface after choosing to skip tune-up events and stay fresh for the year's third Grand Slam.

 The fates of several of her top rivals appear to have justified her decision.

Defending Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova sustained an injury after slipping during a match at the Berlin Open while world No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka also retired from the same tournament last week with a shoulder problem.

Ons Jabeur's campaign in Germany was also cut short due to illness while last year's Wimbledon runner-up was joined in the sick bay by 2022 champion Elena Rybakina, leaving Coco Gauff as the only other top contender enjoying an incident-free run, though all remain the draw.

"I had these ideas, like doing a preseason on grass so I can learn how to play there. Last year's result was pretty nice. I feel like every year it's easier for me to adapt to grass," Swiatek had said shortly after her Roland Garros triumph.

"So I think there's no need to do that. I need to continue the work that I've been doing.

"The biggest progress I can make on grass now is using my serves that were better but also I don't expect a lot. The balls are different. Overall tennis is different on grass. I'll just see and I'll work hard to play better there."

Sabalenka had reached at least the semifinals of six Grand Slam tournaments going back to 2022 before the ailing Belarusian was beaten in the Roland Garros quarterfinals this month, but she will represent a huge threat to Swiatek if fully fit.

One of the few players on the WTA tour who can match double Australian Open champion Sabalenka's big-hitting is Rybakina and the Moscow-born Kazakh will welcome a return to the venue of her greatest triumph as she bids for a second Grand Slam title.

Jabeur will continue her quest to become the first Arab and African woman to claim a major but conceded in Paris that U.S. Open champion Gauff was emerging as the most likely player to join Swiatek, Sabalenka, and Rybakina in a women's Big Four.

"My favorite thing about Coco is her fighting spirit," Tunisian Jabeur added. "I think she's playing great tennis right now, but I saw her playing better before.

"She's a fighter, she'll always try to find ways, she's really smart on the court. I see her becoming (a part of) the Big Four. They have the Big Three now."

Gauff, who has not gone past the fourth round at Wimbledon, is another player eyeing a breakthrough at the July 1-14 major and warmed up with a run to the Berlin semis, where she lost to fellow American and eventual champion Jessica Pegula.

Hoping to flip the script at Wimbledon will be a trio of Grand Slam champions and former world No. 1s Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, and Caroline Wozniacki, who are all in different stages of their comeback from maternity breaks.

Local favorite and 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu will also be in the mix after similarly being handed a wildcard, but British hopes will likely rest on the shoulders of Katie Boulter, who successfully defended her Nottingham title this month.