'Ninja' Djokovic eyes eighth Wimbledon title and 24th Slam crown

Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns to US player Frances Tiafoe during their men's singles exhibition match at The Giorgio Armani Tennis Classic tournament at the Hurlingham Club in London on 29 June, 2023AFP

Novak Djokovic has Roger Federer's record of eight Wimbledon titles and a 24th major in his sights as he closes in on a first calendar Grand Slam in 54 years.

Fresh from breaking out of a tie with Rafael Nadal for 23 Slams at the French Open, the 36-year-old Djokovic will comfortably be the overwhelming favourite at the All England Club when he starts his title defence on Monday.

With a 10th Australian Open and third Roland Garros already wrapped up this season, an eighth Wimbledon triumph would leave Djokovic needing just the US Open in September to emulate Rod Laver's sweep of all four majors in 1969.

"He takes your legs, then he takes your soul, then he digs your grave and you have a funeral and you're dead. Bye-bye. Thank you for coming," said coach Goran Ivanisevic when asked to caption the Serb's Grand Slam mindset.

Djokovic has won the title on his last four visits to Wimbledon and has not lost on Centre Court since the 2013 final.

His 86 match wins are only bettered by the now retired Federer and are more than the rest of the current top 20 put together.

Of those players, only two -- Cameron Norrie and Hubert Hurkacz -- have made the semi-finals of Wimbledon.

Amongst his top five rivals, not one has got beyond the last 16 while two-time champion Nadal is sitting out the rest of the year through injury.

A 24th major for Djokovic would take him level with Margaret Court for the most Grand Slam titles won by one player.

World number one Carlos Alcaraz will be Djokovic's biggest threat, especially as the young Spaniard now has a maiden grass-court title in his collection thanks to his win at Queen's last weekend.

Spain's Carlos Alcaraz celebrates after winning against Australia's Alex de Minaur at the end of their men's singles final match at the Cinch ATP tennis Championships at Queen's Club in west London on 25 June, 2023

However, Alcaraz conceded key ground by admitting that the stress and tension of facing Djokovic in the semi-final at the French Open caused the cramping that sparked his defeat.

'Like a Ninja'

Ivanisevic described Djokovic as "unbelievable".

"He's still moving like a cat on the court. He's there. Like a Ninja, he's everywhere. He's going to find some kind of motivation to win 24, maybe 25, who knows where is the end."

Not surprisingly, Alcaraz has attempted to shift all the focus onto Djokovic.

"I saw that Djokovic has never lost a match on Centre Court since 2013 when he lost against Andy Murray -- so it's 10 years, it's crazy," said Alcaraz who made the last 16 in 2022 before falling to Jannik Sinner.

"But I hope to have the crowd behind me to change that stat."

Moscow-born Elena Rybakina was the shock women's champion in 2022.

Her decision to switch allegiance to Kazakhstan in 2018 proved to be a wise move when all Russian players were banned last year.

However, her chances of successfully defending her title have suffered a setback by her failure to shake off a virus which forced an early withdrawal from the French Open.

World number one and four-time major winner Iga Swiatek, who is looking for a maiden Wimbledon title to add to her US and French Open crowns, has yet to progress beyond the last 16.

The 22-year-old Pole made the semi-finals of a grass-court tournament for the first time this week at Bad Homburg in Germany before suspected food poisoning forced her to withdraw.

Poland's Iga Swiatek reacts as she plays against Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko during their women's singles match on day nine of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Suzanne-Lenglen in Paris on 5 June, 2023

"I need to take care of myself. I hope I'll be fine soon," she said.

World number two Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, banned last year because of her country's support for Russia in the war in Ukraine, made the semi-finals in 2021.

Sixth-ranked Ons Jabeur was runner-up 12 months ago and was a grass-court champion in Birmingham in 2021.

Sentimental votes for a potential women's champion will be cast for 43-year-old five-time winner Venus Williams as well as 2011 and 2014 champion Petra Kvitova, the only player in the top 10 over 30.