Wimbledon preview roundtable
With Wimbledon starting Monday, SI.com's tennis experts analyze top storylines and predict the winners.
Richard Deitsch: This is the first major since last year's Wimbledon with all of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray (thanks to tennis research legend Greg Sharko for that info). That's delicious for tennis fans. A potential Federer-Nadal quarterfinal -- their earliest meeting in any Grand Slam -- would be incredible. And every Murray match at the All England Club will be an event.
Bruce Jenkins: Sam Querrey-Bernard Tomic in the first round, the enigmatic Tomic advancing. ... Ryan Harrison getting a shot at Djokovic in the third round (and once again, a brutal Grand Slam draw for the American). ... Milos Raonic breaking through with a big fourth-round victory over David Ferrer. ... The second-round intrigue of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga meeting Ernests Gulbis. ... Federer needing to get through the creative pair of Fabio Fognini and Jerzy Janowicz to reach Nadal in the quarterfinals.
Courtney Nguyen: Roger vs. Rafa. You knew once Wimbledon didn't give Nadal the seeding bump to No. 4 that the draw gods would put them in the same quarter. The last time they clashed on grass was the epic 2008 Wimbledon final. The rematch might be less even with Federer more prone to bouts of inconsistency from match to match. The result will be telling regardless of who wins.
S.L. Price: Nadal and Federer. If we get to that, it could well be the last great meeting of the most intriguing rivalry in the game's history. Long after the oceans rise and the robots take over, people will still be debating Federer's all-time greatness and the undermining factor of Nadal's dominance over him. Federer has clearly lost something to age, and if a resurgent Nadal pulverizes him on Centre Court this year, you won't be able to walk away from all the obituaries littering the grass. Either way, everyone will trudge away knowing that the chance to see these two play in the cathedral again will be increasingly rare. Savor it.
Jon Wertheim: One of the great offshoots of this era is that every plot twist matters. Look at this cumulatively. If Nadal wins, he'll have cemented his hegemony and will almost assuredly finish the year at No. 1. If Djokovic wins, he'll have reasserted himself and won two of the first three majors of the year (and come within a few points of, likely, winning three.) If Murray wins, he'll be knighted on the spot. If Federer defends his title, it has all sorts of implications in the short term and the long term. If, improbably, someone outside the Big Four wins, it marks the first time that will have happened in almost four years (and more than four years before that!). Will Megan leave Don Draper? Will Tony order a hit on Adriana? Will Lord Grantham file for Chapter 11? Will Walter White turn on Jesse? We're at the David Chase/David Simon/Matthew Weiner phase where every episode is gripping and relevant to the plot.
Deitsch: The potential of a Victoria Azarenka-Maria Sharapova semifinal for the right to meet Serena Williams. Power baseliners are fun to watch at Wimbledon, and as we saw in the French Open, these two are permanently attached to the back. The current head-to-head is 7-6 Azarenka, and it's time for Vika to step up after back-to-back semifinal losses at Wimbledon.
Jenkins: Don't be late for that first round, featuring Sloane Stephens-Jamie Hampton, Sabine Lisicki-Francesca Schiavone, Maria Kirilenko-Laura Robson and Madison Keys-Heather Watson. ... We'll see if teenage sensation Donna Vekic is ready to take out Caroline Wozniacki in the second round. As if it's not enough to draw one shrieker (Michelle Larcher de Brito), Melanie Oudin would be up against Sharapova in the second round. ... Another intriguing second-round possibility: big-hitting Bojana Jovanovski against temperamental Yulia Putintseva.
Nguyen: Serena's assault on her own ace record. Last year she fired a record 24 aces in beating Azarenka in the semifinals and finished with a record 102 for the tournament. That's four more than the any male player hit in the fortnight. Serena wasn't clocking it too hard on the clay, but now on grass she might be ready to unleash some corkers.
Price: The rise of a challenger, any challenger. It's fun to watch a recharged Serena stalking history. But it'd be even more enjoyable if someone with a racket made her golden years a small torment and laid the foundation for the next great women's career. A Sharapova-Azarenka semifinal would be compelling, yes, but only if it leads to something: a titanic win over Williams. Otherwise, the entire draw right now feels like the crowd at a coronation. Great visuals, great theater, but until someone does little more than grunt and screech at the queen before rolling over, the men's game will grab all the headlines.
Wertheim: There are a number of marginally intriguing subplots. But really, the overriding, underpinning question: Who can beat Serena? Going into the French -- her least successful major -- you would have taken her against the field of 127 others. She won that playing some of the best tennis of her career. Hard to concoct a scenario in which she doesn't play the roll of rider mower on the grass.
Deitsch: Less. There will always be pressure on a homeboy or homegirl to break the Fred Perry drought (zilch since 1936), but Murray changed this narrative with his Olympic gold at Wimbledon and U.S. Open breakthrough last year. There will still be frenzy when Murray plays, but the impending dread among fans and the press will be dialed back this year. A stat to keep in mind: Murray has won 11 grass matches in a row.
Jenkins: Less. Murray always felt like an outsider at Wimbledon, due to his Scottish heritage and a cranky demeanor that hardly reminded anyone of gentlemanly English greats Perry, Roger Taylor or Tim Henman. That's all changed, though. Murray won over many fans with his emotional response to last year's loss in the final, and he was nothing short of brilliant at the Olympics. He truly belongs at Wimbledon, and best of all, he knows it.
Nguyen: Less. Murray comes in as a champion (granted, it's that stinky U.S. Open and not The Championships), and he's been given a tough draw with both Federer and Nadal in his half. Murray will get a little slack this year. Then again, BBC is running a one-hour Andy Murray documentary the Sunday before the tournament starts. Murray Mania will be in full swing, but I believe Murray doesn't feel any pressure now that he's won a Slam.
Price: Both. Within Murray and his camp, of course, there's enormous -- and enduring -- relief now that all the pressure of winning that first Grand Slam title is gone. For a great talent, there's nothing more daunting than the fear that it just might not happen; the weight he carried before winning last year's U.S. Open was immense. But now he has done it. He has proved himself. That -- as well as winning last year's Olympic gold -- truly does make everything he does from here on out easier, even Wimbledon. But ... from the outside, on the edge, pressing in? There's hungry, slavering, demanding Great Britain. And because Murray has done it, because he has proved he can win big and, best of all, because everyone knows he's won one and will be feeling less pressure, everyone will be expecting him to win more than ever before and piling even more expectation upon him. The difference now, though, is that if Murray loses at Wimbledon, he can't and won't be held up as an exemplar of British ineptitude. He'll just be that Scot who lost, but who'll have another good chance next year.
Wertheim: Less. He's won Olympic gold. In London. On Centre Court. He's won his major -- albeit in New York. He is still under heaps of pressure, especially acquitting himself well to win a tune-up at Queen's. But having inoculated himself against the "Best Player Never to Win a Major" charge, he can swing away a bit more. While he obviously lost, he also enters this year with the experience of having played in the Wimbledon final -- and all that goes with it.
Deitsch: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the pride of Google Glass. I like her momentum heading into Wimbledon. If she can get past a difficult opening match against No. 7 Angelique Kerber (she's 2-0 lifetime against the German), there's a winnable potential fourth-rounder against Maria Kirilenko, whom she played tough in the same round at Roland Garros, before a possible quarterfinal against Serena.
Jenkins: Just when I was trying to choose between Sloane Stephens and Jamie Hampton, behold that first-round draw. Stephens will be the better player in time, but Hampton's dynamic athleticism has produced some eye-catching results of late, and she'll win this one. The draw looks too tough for Mattek-Sands (Kerber), Christina McHale (Marion Bartoli, second round) and Madison Keys, who gets England's Heather Watson and then, most likely, Mona Barthel. But Hampton could reach the fourth round if she's on her game.
Nguyen: My money was on Hampton until I saw her draw. She's been so impressive this week in Eastbourne, where she upset last year's Wimbledon finalist, Agnieszka Radwanska. If she gets past Stephens, she could play Wozniacki in the third round; the two met Friday and Hampton won a tight three-setter to make her first career final. I'm going to hedge my bets and take Varvara Lepchenko, who's seeded 26th and has a nice draw to the third round, where she could face Sara Errani. That's winnable on grass.
Price: I'll take Hampton. She's hit her career-high ranking of No. 41, has steadily collected upset after upset over big names this year -- including 2011 Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova at Roland Garros -- and benefits from the massive expectations heaped on Stephens. She hung very tough with Azarenka in Australia and, after qualifying, became the first American in a decade to reach the Eastbourne final. Few dark horses will take the court with more confidence, and we'll find out in a hurry just how much.
Wertheim: Um ... U.S. resident Maria Sharapova? San Diego's Jelena Jankovic? The rankings say No. 17 Stephens. Momentum might suggest Mattek-Sands, who has done a convincing impersonation of a top-20 player in 2013. I'm curious, though, to see what Keys can do. She's clearly the future and while, like most teens, she lacks experience on grass, her game ought to translate well. It will be interesting to see if the U.S. success in Paris sustains, or whether there will be a regression to the mean.
Deitsch: Serena. Only a fool bets against her before the first ball. She's 74-3 since last year's French Open, she's won three of the last four Wimbledon titles (and has played in four of the last five finals) and she's deep in the head of every player on tour.
Jenkins: It's looking like a repeat of the French: Serena cruising through her half, with Sharapova meeting Azarenka in a loud semifinal. Serena will probably have to get past Samantha Stosur and Kirilenko, but the way she's playing, that shouldn't be a problem. (Serena's mindset is always worth tracking, and she did well to speak with the family of the victim in the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case in the wake of her insensitive comments to Rolling Stone.) Williams will find Azarenka waiting in the final, and to me, that's a foregone conclusion.
Nguyen: Serena. If you're not picking Serena, then you're just rolling the dice to be different. It's her title unless she mucks it up for herself. And it must be said, Serena has a history of mucking things up for herself. A letdown after an emotional two weeks in Paris is a possibility, and if she starts misfiring on her shots, things can get away from her quickly on grass. But the serve. That serve. It's the biggest and most reliable shot in the women's game.
Price: It's a one-person tournament: Serena vs. Serena. If she's mentally and physically sharp, if she doesn't allow herself to let down after her mini-breakthrough in Paris, no one can stop her. And if she rolls again, along with the hosannas for her all-time chops will come sharp criticism of the women's field. It's not Serena's problem that she basically has no competition, but someone needs to step up. Sloane? Are you ready to show that Australia wasn't a one-time deal?
Wertheim: How do you pick against Serena? The last time she played Wimbledon, she won. The last time she played on grass (the 2012 Olympics), other players were struggling to win games. Yes, Venus isn't there. Yes, she can have an off day. Yes, she can self-sabotage. Yes, a magazine article quoting her making impertinent remarks about a topic du jour (Brazil's class divide? Drones? The Voice?) can provide a distraction. But, realistically, it's her title to lose.
Deitsch: Djokovic. Dream draw here: Among the semifinal possibilities are David Ferrer or Juan Martin Del Potro and he gets the inconsistent Tomas Berdych in the quarters. Now if Murray makes the finals against Djokovic, it's a coin flip.
Jenkins: Murray. He has a much tougher draw than Djokovic, who should be heavily favored against the likes of Tommy Haas, Berdych and Ferrer (if he gets that far) along the way. I feel that Murray's time has come. He shouldn't face any significant crisis until the quarterfinals, and I'd take his steely resolve against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in that one. To me, a Nadal-Federer quarterfinal would be a toss-up; so easy to like both men. But the survivor goes down against Murray in one of Wimbledon's more memorable episodes. Can't tell you why, but I don't see Djokovic at his best in the final. Murray proves to the world, and himself, that he has what it takes.
Nguyen: Djokovic. The draw matters, and he's got a virtual bye to the final. While Federer, Nadal and Murray duke it out in the quarterfinals and semifinals, Djokovic's most dangerous potential foe is Berdych. He's in form, he loves Wimbledon and he's just not going to have to work as hard to win seven matches. Unless he faces Federer in the final, which I think is unlikely, I like his chances against Murray and Nadal on grass.
Price: My gut says Murray for all the loud, obvious reasons: He's broken the Grand Slam drought, he's seemingly healthy and at ease, and he now has the sentimental British public fully behind his weepy self. But of course that's the recipe for heartbreak, isn't it? No, my head says Djokovic will win it for all the hidden reasons: His childhood coach died during the French Open, and he came uncharacteristically undone down the stretch against Nadal there, and his head is a mystery and everyone is still buzzing about Nadal's great return to form. But Murray will have to get by Federer and Nadal to get to the final. The surface, circumstance, draw and the player himself all tell me that Djokovic is going to come back with a roar here.
Wertheim: I think the men's winner will come from the Big Four. (I also suspect the Wimbledon grass will be green.) I could see any scenario among them -- including a Federer title defense -- but I'm taking Djokovic. A couple of points go his way in that episodic French semi, and he is the undisputed king.