Coronavirus: Federer, Serena or Djokovic: who will be hurt most by Wimbledon cancellation?

By Sports Desk April 01, 2020

Wimbledon has been called off, a brutal blow to sport lovers, and its cancellation sends effects rippling through tennis.

The reality that Centre Court will lie empty through June and July will be a bitter pill to swallow not only for those with dreams of playing there for the first time, but to those who see it as a second home.

Superstars including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Simona Halep and Serena Williams will feel its loss to the calendar.

Here is a look at those who may be hardest hit by the loss from the calendar of a flagship grand slam.

Serena Williams

It seemed inevitable at one stage that Williams would catch and then pass Margaret Court's record haul of 24 grand slam singles titles, but she remains infuriatingly stuck on 23 majors, and the American all-time great will be 39 years old by the time she next gets the chance to challenge at Wimbledon.

The seven-time Wimbledon champion last reigned in SW19 in 2016, and her last singles slam came at the following year's Australian Open. Agonisingly, the prospect of Williams winning another slam has been immensely hit by this lay-off. Few can handle her grass-court game.

What too of sister Venus? The five-time Wimbledon singles queen will be 41 by the time next year's Wimbledon rolls around. Has she played her last match on grass?

Roger Federer

Federer gave himself an enormous chance in last year's Wimbledon final, when he failed to take two championship points against Novak Djokovic. It left him bereft in the aftermath, but this year Federer may have been able to feed off the knowledge he had been a whisker away, and another run deep into the second week was a realistic target for the eight-time champion.

It seems unimaginable Federer might have played his final match at Wimbledon - surely he will give 2021 a shot - but hopes of adding to his 20 slams have taken a clear hit. Like Williams, he will be 39 - and pushing 40 - by the time of next year's grass-court season.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal

Snapping at the heels of Federer are Djokovic and Nadal, with both men bidding to leapfrog him atop the list of all-time men's slam champions: Serbian Djokovic is three behind Federer on 17, and Nadal is just one adrift of the Swiss.

Losing Wimbledon, and having no certainty the US Open and French Open will take place later in the year, may ultimately end up hurting Djokovic and Nadal more than Federer. Djokovic turns 33 in May, Nadal will be 34 in June, and it is important to remember Federer's longevity is a rare thing in tennis.

With a young generation emerging, missing out on majors and momentum at this stage of their stellar careers may make it difficult for Djokovic and Nadal to rediscover their dominant best when tennis returns. Federer's haul - a record for the men's game - may yet beyond the reach of his two greatest rivals.

Andy Murray

Two-time champion Murray made an emotional return to Wimbledon last year when he played doubles - partnering Serena Williams in the mixed. Injury had ruled the Scot out of the 2018 tournament and threatened his career, but Murray was targeting a singles slam comeback in 2020 and to have that rug pulled from beneath him is a cruel blow.

He also turns 33 in May, and Murray has already toyed with retirement. He would be forgiven for questioning whether putting himself through another year of hard graft to remain competitive is worth the physical toll.

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  • Australian Open players forced into quarantine after two coronavirus cases Australian Open players forced into quarantine after two coronavirus cases

    A group of Australian Open players and staff will quarantine for two weeks after two people on their flight to Melbourne tested positive for coronavirus.

    About 1,200 players and staff are arriving in Melbourne ahead of the delayed Australian Open starting on February 8.

    But one flight, from Los Angeles which landed on Friday, has led to two positive COVID-19 tests, a letter shared by players Pablo Cuevas and Santiago Gonzalez said.

    "Unfortunately, we have been informed by the health authorities that two people on your flight QR7493 from LAX that arrived at 5.15am on Friday 15 January have returned positive COVID-19 PCR tests on arrival in Melbourne," part of the letter read.

    "The chief health officer has reviewed the flight and has determined that everyone on board needs to isolate and will be confined to their rooms for the 14 day quarantine period."

    The two positive tests were reportedly a crew member and a participant who is not a player.

    Players were due to be allowed to train for five hours per day, but those on that flight will now quarantine for two weeks.

    Victoria on Saturday recorded its 10th consecutive day with no locally acquired cases of coronavirus.

  • Mentality Monsters: Jurgen Klopp approaches 200 Premier League games in charge Mentality Monsters: Jurgen Klopp approaches 200 Premier League games in charge

    Cast your mind back to May 2, 2010. Exactly 200 Liverpool Premier League games before Jurgen Klopp took charge of the club.

    The Reds, led by Rafael Benítez, fell to a 2-0 home defeat against eventual champions Chelsea to leave themselves seventh in the table and confirm that they had failed to earn qualification for the Champions League for the first time since the 2002-03 season, when they finished fifth.

    Klopp is now set to lead Liverpool for the 200th time in the Premier League. And it comes against fierce rivals Manchester United on Sunday.

    The transformation in the club's fortunes under the German has been dramatic. In their 200 league games before his arrival, a spell that encompassed Benítez’s final two matches in charge as well as the reigns of Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish's second spell and Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool picked up 94 wins, 48 draws and 58 defeats.

    By contrast, Klopp has already won 127 of his 199 league matches in charge, drawn 47 and lost just 25. That is 33 more wins and 33 fewer defeats than the 200 games before he joined. And 98 more points earned.

    Even before his 200th match, Klopp's 127 wins stack up remarkably well among the most in any manager's first 200 Premier League games.

    Only Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho, who took former club Chelsea to the title in both of his first two seasons in charge, won more times in his first 200 Premier League outings (137) than Klopp with Liverpool.

    That output is made all the more remarkable given Liverpool's record before Klopp arrived at the club. Just compare it to his rivals in the above table.

    Mourinho took over a Chelsea side that had finished the previous season second in the Premier League.

    Alex Ferguson was six years into his Manchester United tenure when the Premier League began, while Pep Guardiola took over a Manchester City side that had won two league titles in five seasons prior to this arrival, only finishing below second once in that spell.

    Even the Liverpool side that Benitez took charge of had finished in the top four in eight of the previous 10 seasons before the Spaniard's reign.

    But when Klopp joined Liverpool, the club could boast just one top four finish in the last six seasons. His starting point with Liverpool was significantly tougher than that of his counterparts with the most wins in their opening 200 Premier League matches.

    His impact has been exceptional. He has guided the Reds to Champions League qualification in all four of his full seasons in charge, ultimately securing their first league title in 30 years last season.

    Indeed, Klopp's success has been such that in Liverpool's history, a history that boasts 19 First Division/Premier League titles, his win ratio is comfortably the best of any Reds manager in the top-flight.

    Over seven per cent above Dalglish, who won three league titles as Liverpool boss, and over seven better than Bob Paisley, who won six in just nine years in charge.

    Klopp arrived at Liverpool with a reputation of success against the odds. A promotion to the Bundesliga with Mainz in 2004, two consecutive Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund in 2011 and 2012. The job he did at both clubs stood him in good stead for turning around Liverpool's fortunes.

    His progress as a manager is clear. In his first 200 Bundesliga matches (102 of which were with Mainz, 98 with Dortmund), Klopp won 81, drew 57 and lost 62. In his first 200 league games in charge at Dortmund alone, he won 117, drew 48 and lost 35.

    Impressive figures, but he has reached new heights with his 127 wins as Liverpool manager in the Premier League – already the most by any Reds boss in the competition since it began in 1992.

    But what of his players? Tellingly, three of the five who have made the most Premier League appearances for Liverpool under Klopp were at the club before the German arrived in October 2015.

    Klopp's most used Premier League players

    Roberto Firmino, a signing made under Rodgers, has been Klopp's go-to man ever since he joined the Reds, featuring in 93 per cent of Liverpool's league matches under the German.

    Then there is captain, Jordan Henderson and vice-captain James Milner.

    Signed for Liverpool by Dalglish and Rodgers respectively, both players have made more Premier League appearances under Klopp than with any of their previous managers, with Henderson having debuted in the competition with Sunderland in 2008 and Milner with Leeds United in 2002.

    How Klopp has brought on and developed the players he inherited in 2015 has been crucial to the success of his Liverpool side. Henderson won the FWA Footballer of the Year award in 2019-20 having captained the club to a first league title in 30 years. Few would have tipped him for such success when he replaced Steven Gerrard as permanent club captain.

    But the German's record in the transfer market has also been impeccable. Key signings such as Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have propelled Liverpool's fortunes.

    Along with Firmino, they have formed a triumvirate that boast 183 league goals since they first played together in August 2017. In Europe's top five leagues, no other club's top-scoring three players have scored more than Mane, Firmino and Salah have for the Reds since the start of the 2017-18 campaign.

    Joint-top with Liverpool's front three for the top-scoring trios since 2017-18 are Barcelona's Lionel Messi (106 goals), Luis Suarez (62) and Philippe Coutinho (15) – also netting 183 goals combined. The latter of which, Coutinho, is the most significant departure for Liverpool under Klopp, leaving for the Spanish giants in 2018.

    Still fourth for most Premier League goal involvements by Liverpool players under Klopp, Coutinho's sale paved the way for Klopp to make two hugely influential signings at the other end of the field: centre-back Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker.

    Before Van Dijk's Premier League debut for Liverpool in January 2018, the Reds had shipped 110 goals in 91 league matches with Klopp at the helm, or 1.2 per game. Since his debut, that figure has fallen to 0.8 goals conceded per match (86 in 108 games).

    Alisson arrived slightly later, in the summer of 2018. He has conceded an even lower 0.7 goals per Premier League match he has played (57 in 81 appearances). In fact, Alisson's rate of conceding every 127 minutes he plays in the Premier League is the best ratio of any goalkeeper with 5,000 or more minutes to their name in Premier League history.

    Then there is Klopp's full-back pairing, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The former was signed from a relegated Hull City side, while the latter is a product of Liverpool's academy. The duo have reinvented the full-back role.

    Robertson has 33 Premier League assists for Liverpool and Alexander-Arnold has 28. Since they first lined up in the same side in September 2017, that ranks both of them in the top four for most Premier League assists, keeping company with Kevin De Bruyne (45) and team-mate Salah (30). Not bad for two defenders.

    Put all of this together, and it is clear how Klopp has struck a balance in each area of the field. A fierce front three, leadership in midfield, the creativity of the full-backs and a strong core to piece it all together.

    It is fitting that Klopp’s 200th Premier League game comes against United. The only club with more English top-flight crowns than Liverpool. The club Liverpool have lost to more than any other in the Premier League.

    Indeed, Klopp's Liverpool side average just 1.22 points per game against their rivals – fewer than they do against any other opponent.

    The winner of their meeting at Anfield on Sunday is guaranteed to finish the day top of the table. As if Klopp needed any more motivation for his 200th Premier League game.

  • Talking Point: Is Trent Alexander-Arnold having a poor season, or is he just a victim of his own excellence? Talking Point: Is Trent Alexander-Arnold having a poor season, or is he just a victim of his own excellence?

    Over the past couple of seasons, Trent Alexander-Arnold has essentially set the standard for full-backs in the Premier League.

    Not only has he been a dependable part of a generally mean defence, but his effectiveness in the final third has helped mark him out from the rest.

    A dead-ball specialist, comfortable on the ball and a fine passer, many have even suggested his long-term future could be further up the pitch in midfield – comparisons in this regard with the likes of Philipp Lahm are understandable.

    But the adulation has been rather quieter this season. Indeed, he has even been the target of criticism on occasion, which is an awkward position to be in ahead of a huge top-of-the-table clash with bitter rivals and league leaders Manchester United on Sunday.

    So, is Alexander-Arnold genuinely having a poor season? Or is he just the victim of his own high standards?

    THE KNIVES ARE OUT

    With Liverpool not running away with the Premier League title this term, perhaps it was inevitable that certain players were going to start being targeted with harsh words.

    The focus on Alexander-Arnold seemingly became most intense after the Reds' 1-0 defeat to Southampton at the start of January.

    Many sections of the British media zoned in on the fact Alexander-Arnold lost possession 38 times in the match, more than anyone else, yet virtually all coverage neglected to mention that such statistics are heavily skewed when relating to creative players who are far more likely to lose the ball due to the greater risk involved in their roles.

    In isolation, such a statistic proves little. For example, Kevin De Bruyne lost possession 34 times in a game against Watford last season, yet he also had a telling impact with an assist from six chances created. In his entire Premier League career, the Belgian has only ever made more key passes in a single match eight times.

    Although focusing on that part of his game may have been unfair, former Liverpool full-back Jose Enrique acknowledged Alexander-Arnold does appear to be a little short of his best, though he is adamant dips in form are normal and could even be explained by fatigue in a packed schedule.

    "All of us are humans, you all have up and downs, we don't know what's going on in his life," Jose Enrique told Stats Perform News. "It's probably going amazing for him but at some point, your performance goes up and down. It's very difficult to do what [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo have done [in terms of consistency], it's just them, no one else [can be at such a level for so long].

    "At some point in the season, you always underperform. It's normal. At the end [of games] you are more tired, you have many games under your legs. We are talking about international players, players playing at international level as well, Champions League, so it's many games."

    STATS SUGGEST A SLUMP

    The fact is, Alexander-Arnold has been less effective for Liverpool this season, and the stats back it up.

     

    Across all competitions, the England international has four assists in 19 games at a rate of one every 392.8 minutes. Last term, he laid on 15 in 49 games, or one every 266.1 minutes.

    In the Premier League, his frequency drops to 609.5 minutes per goal involvement, having been at 186.8 last term. On the opposite side of Liverpool's defence, Andy Robertson is proving a greater threat (one assist or goal every 255 minutes).

    If we look a bit deeper, Opta data tells us Alexander-Arnold is playing fewer passes into the box per 90 minutes (12) than last term (14.4), while his open-play crosses are also down to 5.2 each game from 6.7 despite average position maps showing very little change in his role or the areas he operates in this term.

     

    But, when considering his attacking output, it is worth noting that seven of his 13 Premier League assists last season came from set-pieces – this could partly explain his shortfall in productivity.

    After all, he is taking almost 50 per cent fewer corners per game (down from 4.6 to 2.7) in 2020-21, while his key passes from set-pieces is 0.9 per 90 minutes after being 1.1 in 2019-20.

    One might expect this to be a reflection of Liverpool simply having fewer corners, but that isn't the case – in fact, their average of 6.7 per game is identical to last season, he just is not taking them as often.

    SUFFERING FROM A LACK OF COMPETITION?

    Remember, though, this is comparing Alexander-Arnold to a time when he was in an almost unstoppable side that scored for fun and did not have something of a defensive injury crisis.

    If we look at his form in the context of his Premier League contemporaries this term, his critics might be a little surprised.

    Indeed, his 25 chances created and 162 passes into the box are second only to Robertson (32 and 169 respectively) among defenders, while Harry Maguire is the sole defensive player with more efforts on goal (21) than Alexander-Arnold (20).

     

    It's a similar story with respect to crosses, as his tally of 70 is the fourth highest for a defender. Again, Robertson – who seems to be thriving even more this season – tops the list with 92.

    Clearly Alexander-Arnold is still performing at a high standard, though Jose Enrique suggests a lack of competition in the right-back role could be another factor in his slight dip in form.

    "I believe he's 22 now, he's won everything he can win as a player but maybe he needs more competition," the Spaniard added. "I believe Neco Williams is a good player, but obviously you can't compare. That's the reality. Neco is still growing, we don't know in the future how he's going to be. That's why he [Jurgen Klopp] puts [James] Milner there sometimes, I believe, to make a point.

    "Sometimes it happens as well in players, and he will come back to his best. He's so important for us. Apart from De Bruyne, I don't see any other right foot like his. He puts the ball wherever he wants with his right foot, he's incredible. But like I said, he's a human being and he's not his best right now, but I'm sure against United he will sort out everyone, I'm sure."

    There's no time like the present.

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