LONDON (Reuters) -When the name of the 2022 men’s singles champion is etched on to the Wimbledon honours board in 12 days time some might argue an asterisk should be inserted alongside it.
Matteo Berrettini’s withdrawal on Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19 left an already-depleted men’s draw missing yet another standout name.
The powerful Italian eighth seed, runner-up-last year to Novak Djokovic, was regarded as one of the favourites for the title after showing his grasscourt pedigree by winning warm-up tournaments in Stuttgart and at Queen’s Club.
The previous evening, Croatian Marin Cilic, the former U.S. Open champion and Wimbledon runner-up who was bang in form, was also forced out after a positive COVID-19 test and organisers will be praying no more follow in the days ahead.
The men’s draw was already missing world number one Daniil Medvedev because of the All England Club ban on Russian players and Germany’s world number two Alexander Zverev is recovering from ankle surgery after getting injured in his French Open semi-final against Rafa Nadal.
It is the first time since the ATP rankings were introduced in 1973 that neither of the world’s top two players are competing at Wimbledon and the first time at any Grand Slam since the 1999 Australian Open.
With Medvedev’s compatriots Andrey Rublev (ranked eighth) and Karen Khachanov (22nd) also absent, and injury ruling out Frenchman Gael Monfils, seven of the world’s top 23-ranked players were missing from the first round.
In-form Pole Hubert Hurkacz, the seventh seed who beat Roger Federer last year, bowed out in the first round and former semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov retired hurt on Tuesday.
All that without even mentioning the most obvious absentee of all, record eight-times champion Federer who has not played a match since losing to Hurkacz last year.
It is the first time since 1998 that Federer’s name does not appear in the men’s main draw.
There is still plenty of quality left, of course, with top seed Djokovic going for a fourth successive Wimbledon title to reach 21 major crowns and second seed Rafa Nadal continuing his quest for a calendar Grand Slam.
Those two have won 14 of the last 16 Grand Slam titles with the others going to Medvedev and Dominic Thiem, another player not at Wimbledon.
The rest of the field is very much wide open now with third seed Casper Ruud, who registered his first ever Wimbledon win on Monday, hardly regarded as a serious threat to the top two.
With so many big names absent, the likes of twice former champion Andy Murray, 35, and big-serving 37-year-old American John Isner, who meet on Wednesday in the second round, might start to fancy their chances.
Towering American Reilly Opelka, the 15th seed, is another who will be eyeing a deep run, but he believes the ban on Russian players and other absentees had diluted the tournament.
“Not as important as normal, for sure,” he said after his first-round win on Tuesday. “Just an inferior accomplishment.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)