Wimbledon 2020: Ladies and gentlemen, play is suspended... but 2021 should be epic

By Sports Desk June 29, 2020

Wimbledon should have been getting under way on Monday and the queue would have been building all weekend long, a tented village of flag-waving, gin-swigging tennis diehards doing whatever it takes to land a prized ticket.

The practice courts would have been bustling, news conferences with the world's elite players running all day Saturday and into Sunday, and the first bumper delivery of fresh strawberries would have arrived fresh from the fields of Kent.

Elite athletes and their entourages would have been milling around the grounds, before at 10.30am on Monday morning the paying spectators would have been released from their holding bay, many racing straight to the grass bank that is officially named Aorangi Terrace but better known as Henman Hill.

And at 11.30am, the first players would have been walking on court, the championships getting under way. To be there at such a time is a delicious thrill, the waiting over, the grounds teeming, the first points being played, and the anticipation escalating as to what might unfold over the next fortnight.

Yet this year Wimbledon was all quiet across the weekend; thousands did not queue for tickets; the line painters, the stewards, and the ball boys and ball girls stayed at home; and a whole lot more strawberry jam is being produced in England this year than last.

The 2020 championships were cancelled on April 1, the only reasonable decision available to the All England Club amid the coronavirus pandemic, but organisers are already preparing for next year's return.

And from the plot lines that are already emerging, it is clear we can expect a classic Wimbledon.

A farewell to great champions?

There is the very real prospect of tennis losing a huddle of its biggest stars practically all at once, with anyone that was considering bowing out this year surely now giving the glad eye to 2021.

Roger Federer will be just weeks short of his 40th birthday by next year's Wimbledon, and the same applies to Serena Williams, whose sister Venus will already be 41.

Andy Murray will be a relatively young 34 but his body has taken a battering, the Scot desperate to play more grand slams but also realistic enough to know there may not be many left for him. He longs for another Wimbledon, maybe just one more.

Between them, that quartet have won 22 Wimbledon singles titles, and all four could choose the 2021 tournament as their opportunity to bid farewell to the All England Club.

It's going to be an emotional tournament in any case, if we are back to normal, but if there are goodbyes to be said too, the championships promise to be one packed with indelible memories, and so many tears.

The magic numbers

Serena Williams has lost each of the past two Wimbledon women's finals and has been stuck on 23 grand slams since winning the 2017 Australian Open, agonisingly one short of Margaret Court's record.

Could Wimbledon be where Williams matches or even passes Court's total? The American remains the player to beat at Wimbledon, and her hunger for grand slam success has not remotely diminished over time.

There can be little doubt she is playing not purely for the love of it, but because of the thrill of the chase, and Williams might wind up disappointed at the end of her career, still marooned one adrift.

But what a story it would be if Williams were to win another Wimbledon, the last of her thirties. Don't put anything past her.

And the race to finish as the all-time leader on the men's side keeps rolling, a devil of a duty to predict who will come out on top between Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Another Wimbledon win for any of them could take on momentous significance in that respect.

A new men's Centre Court king, at last?

The last player to win the Wimbledon's men's singles, besides the 'Big Four' of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.

And while the era of those four great players dominating in SW19 has been one to treasure, seeing a new champion crowned would be rather special.

There have been nine winners of the women's singles over the same period of time, multiple champions among them but also terrific one-off stories such as Marion Bartoli's triumph, the 17-year-old Maria Sharapova's big breakthrough, Amelie Mauresmo's great achievement, and the unbridled joy of Simona Halep last year.

Certainly there is so much to admire about the quartet that have ruled the men's singles, but a little novelty feels overdue.

Those queueing up to form a new dominant group need to push themselves forward, rather than play a waiting game.

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

What a revelation Coco Gauff became last year, defeating her great hero Venus Williams and reaching the fourth round, where it took eventual champion Halep to halt the 15-year-old's run.

She dramatically followed up by reaching the third round of the US Open and then round four of the Australian Open at the start of this year.

Between those two grand slams, Gauff also landed her first WTA title, in Linz, Austria, where she became the youngest winner on tour for 15 years.

The American teenager is the real deal, that much is clear, and she has a bright future.

Gauff demonstrated wisdom beyond her years off the court in early June with a terrific, powerful address at a Black Lives Matter rally in her Florida home town of Delray Beach.

May she return many times to Wimbledon.

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    Diego Maradona was a majestic footballer who was idolised by millions worldwide, but the Argentina great was not the best role model off the pitch.

    His death at the age of 60 on Wednesday led to an outpouring of grief from within sport and beyond.

    The 1986 World Cup winner is revered in his homeland, where thousands queued to file past his coffin on Thursday morning, as well as in Italy, where he played arguably the best football of his career for Napoli.

    Maradona also battled major drug and alcohol problems, once shot at journalists, had a turbulent private life and took a swipe at Pope John Paul II.

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    DRUGS DON'T WORK

    Maradona was said to have first dabbled in drugs in the mid-1980s, and cocaine began to play a big part in his career. In Naples, a city where chaos plays a big part in the daily life of many, Maradona lived on the edge, risking his health with the Class A drug while attempting to still produce on the pitch.

    His form began to fall away, and comeuppance came with a 15-month drugs ban imposed in 1991, before Maradona moved to Sevilla.

    A seemingly resurgent Maradona was sent home from the 1994 World Cup after testing positive for a banned stimulant, and drugs continued to be a problem for Argentina's favourite son after he retired from playing. He later claimed to have given up drugs in 2004, following serious heart problems that led him to spend time in intensive care.

    GUN DRAMA

    Maradona was sentenced to a suspended jail sentence of two years and 10 months in 1998, four years on from an incident that saw him shoot at journalists with an air rifle.

    The February 1994 episode occurred outside his Buenos Aires home, and it was reported that four people were injured.

    Footage showed Maradona perched behind a Mercedes car, pointing the gun.

    TAXING TIMES

    He claimed to have been "treated like the worst criminal" by Italian authorities that were pursuing him for allegedly unpaid taxes.

    Speaking in 2016, Maradona told the Corriere della Sera newspaper: "I don't owe anything. They have been hounding me unfairly over the last 25 years for €40million with €35million in fines for an alleged tax violation that every single judge has ruled did not exist."

    Maradona added, according to ESPN, that he had been singled out as the only footballer to have jewellery and watches taken away by authorities.

    HOW WOULD HE MANAGE?

    Putting Maradona in charge of the Argentina national team looked like a dicey move, and his two-year reign effectively ended with a 4-0 defeat to Germany in the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals.

    Argentina had been in danger of missing out on the tournament but won their last two qualifying matches to scrape into the finals.

    Maradona was predictably elated with qualification, proving his doubters wrong, and ran into trouble when he told reporters to "suck it and keep on sucking it".

    FIFA imposed a two-month ban for the lewd outburst, with Maradona apologising for his comments.

    CEILING A DEAL WITH THE POPE

    By the late 1980s, Maradona was arguably the world's most celebrated sports star.

    Such celebrity status opens doors, and he met with Pope John Paul II.

    Maradona told a story in his autobiography, I Am Diego, of how he took issue with the pontiff's concern for poverty-stricken children, given the luxury set-up at the Vatican.

    He wrote: "Yes, I did argue with the Pope. I argued with him because I've been to the Vatican and seen the gold ceilings. And then I hear the Pope saying that the Church was concerned about poor kids. So? Sell the ceilings, mate! Do something!"

    HAND OF GOD

    From the Pope, to the Hand of God.

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    Maradona claimed it was God's hand that helped Argentina past their rivals at the Stadio Azteca, a step nearer their eventual triumph and his finest moment in the game.

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    Diego Maradona's death made headlines across the globe as the world marked the passing of the Argentinian football legend.

    The 60-year-old died in Buenos Aires on Wednesday, two weeks after being discharged from hospital having undergone a routine operation for a subdural haematoma.

    After that news was announced by the Argentine Football Association, tributes flooded in for the Napoli great and on Thursday news of his death made front and back pages all over the planet.

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    In his home country, the newspaper Cronica superimposed Maradona atop the World Cup trophy, back turned and walking away, under the headline "Adios" (goodbye).

    Clarin ran a picture of Maradona holding the World Cup aloft, with the words "Conmocion mundial: murio Diego Maradona" (World upheaval: Diego Maradona dies).

    Uruguayan outlet El Observador went with "A que planeta te fuiste" (Which planet did you go to?), in reference to his otherworldly talent.

    El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, said the former Barcelona forward was "Un dios del football" (A God of football).

    Also in Spain, Marca's front page featured the words "If I die, I want to be reborn and I want to be a footballer... and I want to be Diego Armando Maradona again".

    In France, L'Equipe ran a full front-page image of Maradona in his prime wearing the blue and white of his country, with a headline which declared "Dieu est mort" (God is dead).

    Germany's Kicker dedicated its front page to the news, putting the dates of Maradona's birth and death under a picture of the star playing for Argentina.

    La Gazzetta Dello Sport showed Maradona kissing the World Cup trophy and went with the words "Ho visto Maradona" (I've seen Maradona).

    It was against England that Maradona scored his famous 'Hand of God' goal as he led Argentina to World Cup glory at Mexico 86. English newspaper The Sun was among the outlets to play on that phrase, coined by the man himself.

    "In the hands of God," read that publication's front page, which featured an image of the incident as the diminutive forward beat England goalkeeper Peter Shilton to the ball. The paper described Maradona as "England's World Cup nemesis and one of the all-time greats".

    The Mirror ran a similar headline, adding: "Diego Maradona, a hero, a villain, a cheat and a genius... dead at 60".

    Placing a little more emphasis on his achievements, The Times opted for a picture of Maradona celebrating that 1986 success in Mexico City, accompanied by the headline "Millions mourn Maradona's death".

    And the Daily Express, using both the handball and trophy photographs, described Maradona as "the eternal, flawed genius".

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    Diego Maradona dragged Argentina to World Cup glory, triumphed in Italy and Europe with Napoli and won countless individual honours.

    Along the way, the footballing great – who died on Wednesday at the age of 60 – scored some of the greatest goals the game has ever seen.

    No matter the occasion, or indeed the opponent, Maradona was often unplayable – as can be seen from our selection of his five greatest ever goals.

     

    Argentina v England (June 22, 1986)

    Hailed by many as the greatest goal of all time, Maradona picked up the ball inside his own half and dribbled past four England players before calmly rounding Peter Shilton.

    The moment of magic arrived four minutes after the infamous 'Hand of God' goal and helped Argentina into the semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup, which they went on to win.

     

    Argentina v Belgium (June 25, 1986)

    The goal scored by Maradona three days later, this time in the semi-finals, was not too dissimilar in that he had four opposition players between himself and the goal.

    He slalomed between two of them, jinked past another – in the process taking out a fourth – and fired past Jean-Marie Pfaff for his second goal of the contest.

    Napoli v Juventus (November 3, 1985)

    Napoli ended their 12-year wait for a league victory over rivals Juventus thanks to Maradona's brilliance of a different kind. If the previous goals were all about neat footwork and clinical finishing, this was more to do with sheer audacity.

    A large wall, set five metres from the ball, was not enough to stop the Argentine maestro delicately lifting the indirect free-kick into the one spot Stefano Tacconi could not reach.

    Napoli v Hellas Verona (October 20, 1985)

    This one was all about the technique - and the confidence to even think about taking it on. Maradona brought down the ball with his first touch, turned and sent a long-range drive flying over Giuliano Giuliani from a good 40 yards out.

    What made it all the more special is that this strike came in a 5-0 thrashing of Verona, who were the reigning Serie A champions at the time.

    Boca Juniors v River Plate (April 10, 1981)

    Maradona spent a season with Boca Juniors before arriving in Europe and it soon became clear what a talent he would become.

    His first spell at the club may have been short but he left behind plenty of memories, including a goal at the home of bitter rivals River Plate. With the angle against him, he squeezed in an effort with a masterful finish from the wing.

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