It maybe a a two-tone Wimbledon,at least in the prologue phase. While Serena Williams arrives at the All England Club with an aura of invincibility after finishing off her French Open victory with three aces in the final game,the leading men arrive at full strength with the grass-court pecking order very much in flux.
Unless there is a last-minute twist (or sprain),this will be the first Grand Slam event since last year’s Wimbledon to include all of the rightly named Big Four: Novak Djokovic,Rafael Nadal,Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
Federer is the defending champion and a seven-time champion here but has a 1-5 record against the top 10 this season. Murray won the Olympic gold medal at the All England Club last year but is still trying to become the first Briton since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the Wimbledon men’s singles title.
The Big Four were not together for long in London last year as Nadal was upset in the second round under a closed Centre Court roof by Lukas Rosol,an unseeded,big-swinging Czech. Nadal later revealed that he had major left knee problems that required painkilling injections and would ultimately keep him away from the game for seven months.
But Nadal has been close to unbeatable since his return in February,reaching nine finals in nine tournaments and winning seven of them,including his eighth French Open after one of the best clay-court matches in memory: a five-set semifinal thriller in which he beat Djokovic.
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Even so,Nadal is ranked fifth and will be seeded fifth at Wimbledon,where he won in 2008 and 2010 and reached the final in 2006,2007 and 2011. Nadal at No. 5 seems far from ideal,and it has created an unbalanced draw with Nadal,Federer and Murray all in the bottom half along with another strong contender,sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Nadal and Federer could play in the quarterfinals.
Though there have been complaints about Nadal’s seeding,none of the top players have grumbled publicly,with Federer even defending Ferrer’s right to the No. 4 seeding when asked about it last week.
There has been no such debate about the women’s seedings. Williams,the defending champion,is No. 1,and an exclamation point would not seem out of place at this stage as she prepares to face 92nd-ranked Mandy Minella of Luxembourg in the first round and a possible rematch with Zheng Jie of China in the next. Victoria Azarenka is seeded No. 2,with Maria Sharapova No. 3 and Agnieszka Radwanska,a finalist last year,at No. 4.
But Williams,one of 14 American women in the Wimbledon draw,is unquestionably the lodestar at this stage. And the three aces she served to finish off Sharapova in the French Open final were easy to interpret as a harbinger of many more aces to come on the grass of the All England Club,where she has won five singles titles,six if you count the Olympics last year.
Key matches: Centre Court (5:30 PM) Victor Hanescu (Romania) v 3-Roger Federer (Switzerland) Kristina Mladenovic (France) v 3-Maria Sharapova (Russia); Benjamin Becker (Germany) v 2-Andy Murray (Britain)
Court One (5:30 PM) Maria Joao Koehler (Portugal) v 2-Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) 5-Rafael Nadal (Spain) v Steve Darcis (Belgium) Lleyton Hewitt (Australia) v 11-Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland)
Court Two (4PM) Virginie Razzano (France) v 12-Ana Ivanovic (Serbia) Marcos Baghdatis (Cyprus) v 10-Marin Cilic (Croatia) 6-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France) v David Goffin (Belgium)
Live on ESPN at 5:30 PM