Djokovic, Federer could meet in Wimbledon final; Halep out

Switzerland's Roger Federer, left, and Serbia's Novak Djokovic poses before the men's singles final match of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, in this Sunday, July 14, 2019, file photo. The draw to set up the singles brackets for this year’s Wimbledon will be held Friday, June 25, 2021. Play begins Monday. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland, File)
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LONDON (AP) – Defending champion Novak Djokovic and eight-time titlist Roger Federer were placed on opposite halves of the Wimbledon bracket in Friday’s draw, meaning they only could meet in the final — which would be a rematch of their epic 2019 title showdown.

The reigning women’s champion, No. 3-ranked Simona Halep, pulled out of the field just before the draw began, citing a torn left calf that also forced her to sit out the French Open. That means two of the top three players in the WTA rankings are missing from the field; No. 2 Naomi Osaka withdrew last week.

“I can honestly say that I’m really down and upset about having to take this decision. This period has been difficult but to miss the last two Majors has made it even more challenging mentally and physically,” Halep wrote in a posting on social media. “We will see what the future holds but I’m hoping it will make me a stronger person and athlete.”

Two of the top five men are out, too: No. 3 Rafael Nadal, a two-time champion at Wimbledon, and No. 5 Dominic Thiem, the 2020 U.S. Open champ.

The top-seeded Djokovic will have a lot at stake when play begins at the All England Club on Monday, a year after the grass-court tournament was canceled because of the pandemic. That was the first time since World War II that Wimbledon wasn’t contested.

Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia, seeks a 20th major title, which would tie the men’s record shared by Federer and Nadal; he can move closer to a calendar-year Grand Slam after winning the Australian Open in February and the French Open this month; he will be trying to win his third consecutive trophy, and sixth overall, at Wimbledon.

Two years ago at Wimbledon, Djokovic edged Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker after saving two championship points in the final.

Federer, who turns 40 on Aug. 8, is coming off a pair of operations to his right knee last year and has played only eight matches in the past 16 months.

While Djokovic pursues Slam No. 20, Serena Williams will once again take a shot at No. 24, which would tie her with Margaret Court for the most major singles titles in tennis history. As it is, Williams’ 23 — including seven at the All England Club — are the most in the Open era, which began in 1968 when professionals were allowed to compete at the majors.

Williams, seeded No. 6, will open against 100th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who reached Wimbledon’s fourth round in 2018. The 39-year-old American could meet No. 25 Angelique Kerber — who beat Williams in the 2018 final — in the third round, and No. 20 Coco Gauff — a 17-year-old American who beat Williams’ older sister, Venus, at the All England Club in 2019 — in the fourth.

If Williams gets to the quarterfinals, her opponent could be No. 3 Elina Svitolina, who lost to Halep in the semifinals two years ago. Other potential women’s quarterfinals, based on seedings: No. 1 Ash Barty vs. No. 5 Bianca Andreescu, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No. 7 Iga Swiatek, and No. 4 Sofia Kenin vs. No. 8 Karolina Pliskova.

The possible men’s quarterfinals: Djokovic vs No. 5 Andrey Rublev, No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 8 Roberto Bautista Agut, Federer vs. No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, vs. No. 6 Federer, and No. 4 Alexander Zverev vs. No. 7 Matteo Berrettini.

Among the noteworthy first-round men’s matchups are Djokovic against wild-card entry Jack Draper, a 19-year-old from England who was the Wimbledon boys’ runner-up in 2018; two-time champion Andy Murray against No. 24 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili; and No. 21 Ugo Humbert against Nick Kyrgios.

Women’s first-rounders of particular interest include Barty against Carla Suárez Navarro, a 32-year-old Spaniard who recently returned to competition after being treated for cancer; French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova against 18-year-old Clara Tauson; and two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova against 2017 U.S. Open champ Sloane Stephens.