File photo: Romania’s Simona Halep reacts after a point against Serena Williams of the US during their women’s singles match on day eight of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 21, 2019. William WEST / AFP
Defending champion Simona Halep pulled out of Wimbledon with a calf injury as Novak Djokovic learned Friday he will face Britain’s Jack Draper at the start of his quest for a 20th Grand Slam title.
Romanian Halep, who beat Serena Williams in the final in 2019, tore her left calf muscle in Rome last month and was forced to miss the French Open.
She travelled to London earlier this week but announced her withdrawal minutes before the draw for the championships, which return on Monday after they were cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I can honestly say that I’m really down and upset about having to take this decision,” said the world number three. “This period has been difficult but to miss the last two Majors has made it even more challenging mentally and physically.”
Halep’s withdrawal follows that of four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, who pulled out of the French Open after citing struggles with depression and anxiety.
World number one Ashleigh Barty, who was forced to retire from her second-round match at Roland Garros with a hip injury, opens her campaign against Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, who is playing her final Wimbledon before retirement after recovering from cancer.
French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova takes on Dane Clara Tauson, with the Czech star bidding to win the one Grand Slam singles title her late former coach and idol Jana Novotna won, in 1998.
Serena Williams is seeking to equal Margaret Court’s Grand Slam record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles after missing out on equalling the mark on multiple occasions in recent years.
The 39-year-old American, seeded sixth, takes on Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round and could play German Angelique Kerber, to whom she lost in the 2018 final, in the third round.
Djokovic eyes No. 20
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic poses with The Mousquetaires Cup (The Musketeers) after winning against Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas at the end of their men’s final tennis match on Day 15 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 13, 2021. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP
The men’s draw is also missing some big names, with two-time winner Rafael Nadal and US Open champion Dominic Thiem also absent.
Eight-time winner Roger Federer, beaten in the 2019 final by Djokovic, and two-time champion Andy Murray are in the draw but there are fitness doubts over both players.
World number one Djokovic arrives at the All England Club after winning his 19th Grand Slam at Roland Garros and will first face 19-year-old Draper.
One more major for the 34-year-old Serbian, who has won Wimbledon five times, would pull him level with Federer and Nadal.
Federer, who is set to play experienced French campaigner Adrian Mannarino in the first round, is seeded sixth this year but has avoided Djokovic’s half of the draw.
The Swiss master looks vulnerable after losing in the second round of Halle, his traditional Wimbledon warm-up tournament, which he has won 10 times.
Britain’s Murray, who only returned to singles play last week at Queen’s after a three-month hiatus, will play 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia.