As the Hurlingham Club welcomes a group of retired ‘legends’ from the tour this week, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic showed up to show how they continue to outdo young tennis talent.
Djokovic, 35, started his grass season by beating Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in the scorching sun at the west London exhibition. It was 20-time major champion Djokovic’s first visit to the Hurlingham Club and his first game since the French Open quarter-final, which he lost to Nadal.
He has chosen not to play on grass so far. Like Nadal, 36, he returns to the box, with no competitive warm-up action ahead of Wimbledon. But the evidence suggests that, as always, the reigning Wimbledon champion remains a natural. Djokovic’s 6-2, 6-1 win over 21-year-old Auger-Aliassime, who struggled with his 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 needed numbing injections in his foot and a host of anti-inflammatories just to play French Open pain free, it’s a huge win that he’s even back here.
He revealed last week that he fully intends to play Wimbledon and looked in good spirits playing a golf tournament this weekend – in which he placed fifth – in his Mallorca native. As he used a golf cart to rest his foot as much as possible, all pointed to good signs ahead of his return to the game field on Wednesday.
“Honestly for me it’s positive to play a few matches before the start of the competition at Wimbledon,” Nadal said. “I used to play at Queen’s a long time ago now. I’m older now, I can’t play that many games! So for me it’s perfect to play a few games here before the start of Wimbledon. It helps me feel at least some competition ahead of Wimbledon.”
Nadal and Djokovic trained on the Wimbledon court this week, alongside two-time champion Andy Murray and US Open star Emma Raducanu, who are both returning from abdominal injuries.
But on Thursday, Wimbledon will open Center Court and No 1 Court for players to train before the tournament for the first time in its history. Usually neither gets more than one set played on it, by members of the All England Club, on the Saturday before the start of the Championship.
However, this year the decision was made to play on the courts, in an effort to avoid more high profile injuries from players slipping on the lush grass in the early days of the tournament.
Seven-time champion Serena Williams fell in her first-round match last year, and the hamstring injury she suffered kept her out of competition for 51 weeks.
Two 45-minute practice slots on the show courts are scheduled for Thursday, and the biggest names in town should have a chance to get to grips with the surface before the rest of the draw. They will be open for training for a select few today and Friday when the draw also takes place.
Looking ahead to the tournament, Wawrinka said Nadal – despite all his injury problems – must be the favourites. “I don’t know how he feels, he looks like a normal Rafa,” Wawrinka said. “He said he feels better and if he plays he is ready to give his best and win.
“I think every time he enters a Grand Slam, Rafa will be one of the favourites, if not the favourite. He won the first two Slams of the year without too many games before these Grand Slams, so he has had a lot of confidence. Of course, he’s one of the favourites.”