Top seed Ash Barty has been drawn in an emotional first-round encounter at Wimbledon against inspirational cancer survivor Carla Suarez Navarro.
Friday’s draw at the All England Club was overshadowed by the dramatic late news that reigning ladies’ champion Simona Halep has withdrawn from the grand slam tournament due to injury.
Romanian Halep was unable to recover sufficiently from a calf injury and will not be fit to defend the title she won when The Championships were last held in 2019.
A new champion will be crowned, with Australia’s world No.1 Barty the favourite to lift the title, despite the recent hip injury woe which forced her to withdraw during the French Open, with a first test against Suarez Navarro.
The 32-year-old Spaniard, who retired last year and was diagnosed with early-stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma, announced in April she’d been cured after treatment and her comeback has been one of the tour’s most heartwarming stories.
Crowd favourite vs crowd favourite
Known for her delicious one-handed backhand, Suarez Navarro, who’ll be in her final Wimbledon before retirement, is a former world No.6 and has reached the last-16 at Wimbledon three times.
It’s a tricky draw for Barty, scheduled to play Russian Anna Blinkova or Hungarian Timea Babos in the second round, with a potentially dangerous outing against Sydney-born Brit Jo Konta, the 27th seed, in the third.
According to seedings, Barty would then play the new surprise French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova in the last-16, No.5 seed Bianca Andreescu in the quarters, Serena Williams in the semis and Aryna Sabalenka in the final.
Men’s champion Novak Djokovic will launch his defence when the tournament opens on Monday against British teenage wildcard Jack Draper.
The Serbian, on course for a calendar grand slam after his recent French Open win, will be spared the prospect of a potential quarter-final meeting with Roger Federer as they’re on opposite sides of the draw.
It means the pair could meet in a repeat of their epic 2019 final but it will be a long road for 39-year-old Federer, who’ll open up with a tough one against Adraian Mannarino while safe in the knowledge he’s beaten the left-handed Frenchman all six times they’ve met.
It’s a real minefield of a draw for the leading Australian men, though.
In-form No.1 Alex de Minaur has not been given much protection with his 15th seeding, having been matched in a potentially treacherous opener against one of the game’s rising stars, 20-year-old American Sebastian Korda, son of 1998 Australian Open champ Petr Korda.
One of the most eagerly-awaited contests of the round is a rematch between Nick Kyrgios, returning to action for the first time since February’s Australian Open, and young French 21st seed Ugo Humbert.
The pair had a thrilling five-setter at Melbourne Park before Kyrgios prevailed 6-4 in the decider.
John Millman, the Aussie No.2, has drawn Spain’s eighth seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who reached the semi-finals in 2019, while Sydney’s big-serving Alexei Popyrin faces evergreen Japanese star Kei Nishikori.
Jordan Thompson has his work cut out against Norwegian talent Casper Ruud, the 12th seed, while Chris O’Connell’s reward for battling through qualifying is a meeting with the flamboyant 13th seed Gael Monfils.
In the women’s draw, former US Open champion Samantha Stosur will meet American world No.47 Shelby Rogers while Australian No.2 Ajla Tomljanovic will take on a qualifier.
Williams, who’s set to open up on centre court on Tuesday in place of champion Halep, will play Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich, the world No.100.