WIMBLEDON, England — At least at the outset, before a tennis ball is struck, this edition of Wimbledon is as much about who — and what — is missing as who’s here.
And that’s even taking this into account: It is no small matter that the grass-court Grand Slam tournament marks the return of Serena Williams to singles play after a year away.
The No. 1-ranked man, Daniil Medvedev, was barred from competing by the All England Club, along with every other player from Russia and Belarus, because of the war in Ukraine.
The two professional tours reacted by pulling their ranking points from Wimbledon, an unprecedented move in a sport built around the rankings in so many ways. In turn, some athletes opted not to show up, including 2014 runner-up Eugenie Bouchard and four-time major champion Naomi Osaka.
For others, though, it was a no-doubt-about-it decision to show up. This is, after all, Wimbledon, with its unique surface and long-standing traditions, its powerful prestige and — let’s face it — tens of millions in prize money.
There were rumors among players that prize money would be cut, too, prompting one, Fabio Fognini, to joke that he’d be thankful for that because — without any ranking points available and with less cash on offer — he’d head to an island for some vacation time with his wife, 2015 U.S. Open champion Flavia Pennetta, and their young children.
But it turned out that’s all that was — a rumor: The All England Club wound up announcing it would provide a record total of about 40 million pounds ($50 million) in player compensation.
There are other important names staying away for different reasons.
Reigning women’s champion Ash Barty retired in March at age 25. Eight-time men’s champion Roger Federer still has not returned from the latest in a series of knee operations.
Also gone in 2022 at Wimbledon, for the first time in its lengthy history: a scheduled day off on the middle Sunday (so what had been a 13-day tournament becomes a full two-week event).
Ah, but guess who’s back? Yes, Williams, thanks to a wild-card invitation.
The owner of seven championships at the All England Club — and 23 from all majors, a record for the professional era — last competed in singles in June 2021, when she slipped on the slick Centre Court grass and injured her right leg, forcing her to stop in the first set of her first-round match.