WIMBLEDON, England — The question drew a chuckle from Novak Djokovic.
Could the prestigious Grand Slam tournament Wimbledon, officially called simply The Championships, be thought of as a dress rehearsal this year?
After all, the tennis portion of the London Olympics will be held on the same grass courts at the All England Club, starting July 28, three weeks following the end of Wimbledon.
“I don’t believe that Wimbledon can be rehearsal for anything,” Djokovic said Sunday, gently tapping his fingers on the desk in front of him. “It’s (the) most respected, most well-known, most valuable tennis tournament in the world. This is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of our sport. Of course, Olympic Games are something (beyond) comparison with any other tournaments.”
OK, so forget the notion of Wimbledon-as-tuneup. Still, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic and others are excited about the prospect of playing at their sport’s most hallowed ground for more than one prize this season.
“It is very emotional, because it is not just you who matters there, it’s the whole nation. So there is a huge excitement going on with all the tennis players prior to the Olympic Games,” said Djokovic, who will carry Serbia’s flag at the opening ceremony next month.
Serena Williams explained: “As a tennis player, you get to play Grand Slams, which you get to play every other week, it seems. You don’t think about the Olympics. It’s just an added bonus.”
Djokovic begins the defense of his Wimbledon title — and, um, Olympic preparations — today, playing the first match on Centre Court, an honor given the previous year’s male champion. He’ll face Juan Carlos Ferrero, who won the French Open in 2003.
Others scheduled to play on Day 1 include No. 3 Roger Federer, a six-time Wimbledon champion, against 43rd-ranked Albert Ramos; No. 1 Maria Sharapova against 133rd-ranked Anastasia Rodionova; five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams against 79th-ranked Elena Vesnina; four-time major champion Kim Clijsters, who’s entered in the tournament for the final time before retiring in September, against another former No. 1, Jelena Jankovic; along with Americans John Isner, James Blake, Ryan Harrison, Christina McHale, Melanie Oudin and Sloane Stephens.