Open sea­son on top seeds

With the world’s old­est and most pres­ti­gious ten­nis grand slam start­ing to­mor­row, S’Bu­siso Mse­leku gives a call on what is on the line at the 2016 Wimbledon Cham­pi­onships

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10 Madi­son KEYS

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USA sk any bud­ding soc­cer player what their ul­ti­mate dream is, and chances are that they will say “to play in the World Cup”.

Move to an­other sport that is played with a smaller, hairy green ball and a rac­quet, and they are more in­clined to say Wimbledon.

The most pres­ti­gious ten­nis event is once more upon us and the green­est grass, ac­com­pa­nied by loads of straw­ber­ries and cream, will once more be wit­nessed at the All Eng­land Club in Wimbledon from to­mor­row un­til July 10.

The old­est ten­nis tour­na­ment – it started in 1877 – is the only grand slam event played on grass since the Aus­tralian Open shifted to hard courts in 1988. It’s sim­ply known as Wimbledon, while some aris­to­crats re­fer to it as “The Cham­pi­onships”.

It is in­deed the most pres­ti­gious of all four – the oth­ers are the Aus­tralian, French and US opens – and still en­joys Bri­tish royal fam­ily pa­tron­age.

Ev­ery time Wimbledon comes around, the English hope one of their own will lift the tro­phy.

The 77-year-long drought since Fred Perry won it in 1936 was bro­ken by Andy Mur­ray, who de­feated No­vac Djokovic 6-4 7-5 6-4 on 10 To­mas BERDYCH Age: Coun­try: a sun-drenched Cen­tre Court in 2013.

They are likely to meet in this year’s fi­nal again – they are seeded first and sec­ond in the world rank­ings.

How­ever, the likes of Roger Fed­erer, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, who make up the top five in the men’s draw, will have a lot to say about who even­tu­ally claims the tro­phy.

The win­ner will also pocket the big­gest chunk from the mas­sive £28.1 mil­lion (R602 mil­lion) to­tal prize money, thanks to the lat­est 5% in­crease that has en­trenched Wimbledon as the rich­est ten­nis tour­na­ment in the world.

The first prize is £2 mil­lion for each of the male and fe­male win­ners with the run­ner­sup pock­et­ing £1 mil­lion each.

The prize money has seen a sub­stan­tial growth since the tour­na­ment went pro­fes­sional in 1968.

This year’s to­tal prize money is a huge jump from the £26 150 pot in 1986, which saw singles win­ners in both sec­tions get £2 000 each, while run­ners-up re­ceived a pal­try £800.

When seed­ing was re­vealed on Wed­nes­day, Jo­hanna Konta be­came the first Bri­tish woman to be seeded at Wimbledon since Jo Durie in 1984.

The 25-year-old has been ris­ing in the 30 Czech Repub­lic rank­ings, mov­ing from 146th to 18th, and it came as no sur­prise when she was seeded 17th for The Cham­pi­onships.

While she sur­prised the ten­nis world by reach­ing the semi­fi­nal at the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary, she should be the least of top seed and world num­ber one Ser­ena Wil­liams’ prob­lems.

Wil­liams, proud owner of the fa­mous Venus Rose­wa­ter Dish in 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2015, will have more on her mind than just win­ning her sev­enth ti­tle here.

Af­ter lift­ing it last year, she was on course for a cal­en­dar grand slam (when a player wins all the ma­jor tour­na­ments in a sin­gle cal­en­dar year) and was set to equal St­effi Graf’s record 22 grand slam ti­tles.

How­ever, she stum­bled badly, first los­ing to Roberta Vinci, who had 300-1 odds go­ing into the US Open fi­nal.

Then it was Ger­man An­gelique Ker­ber who spoilt Wil­liams’ chances at the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary, be­fore Gar­biñe Mugu­ruza did the same at the re­cent French Open at Roland Gar­ros.

She will have to deal with the trio and a host of oth­ers who would like to claim her scalp, as well as deal with her own demons, to emerge on the other side of the dark tun­nel un­scathed.

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