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Tennis: Wimbledon preview

1. Rafael Nadal

Nadal has this reputation of being a claycourt specialist, and he is. But he does just fine on the slick grass, too. He has reached the final each of the past four times he has played Wimbledon, and won the past two times he has played there, in 2008 and 2010. He appears healthy and is playing well with another French Open championship on his resume. However, his path to another Wimbledon crown won't be easy. He might have to face Tomas Berdych, who reached the final last year, in the quarterfinals and then home favorite Andy Murray in the semifinals. If he can get through those two, he likely will have to play Novak Djokovic or have another showdown with his rival, Roger Federer. Still, he's the favorite.

2. Roger Federer

Forget his age (29). Forget that Nadal has supplanted him as the best player in the world. Forget that he is much closer to the end of this career than his prime. It's still difficult to pick against him at Wimbledon. His all-time record there is 55-6 with six titles, one short of tying Pete Sampras' modern-day record. His victory over Djokovic at the French Open certainly has bolstered his confidence, and Wimbledon is the tournament he cares about more than any other. He knows this might be one of his last good chances to win, so his motivation might be greater than ever.

3. Novak Djokovic

The big Serbian is playing so well that it was a bit stunning that he didn't win the French Open. He had won 43 matches in a row before Federer knocked him off in the French Open semifinals. Federer was spectacular that day, but Djokovic is likely full of confidence going into the fortnight. The big question is whether he can win a tournament on grass. He never has, although he has reached the Wimbledon semifinals twice. But, clearly, Nadal and Federer are better on grass than Djokovic. It is interesting to note, however, that Djokovic is the second seed, while Federer is the third seed.

4. Andy Murray

Murray's downfall is that he happens to be playing in an era with two of the best players of all time in Nadal and Federer. The 24-year-old Scot will have the crowd on his side but also the pressure of trying to become the first British-born man to win Wimbledon since 1936. Grass is not his best surface, but he has reached the semifinals the past two years. He just can't seem to get over the hump when it comes to the big three of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic. We see another run to the semifinals, but not any further.

5. Andy Roddick

Is Roddick's time over? If so, it's a shame because you feel like he deserved a Wimbledon championship at some point. He has reached the final three times and lost all three times to Federer, who stands alongside Sampras and Bjorn Borg as the greatest Wimbledon players of his generation. Roddick's most recent loss in the final here was the 2009 classic when he was heartbroken after losing 16-14 in the fifth set. With Roddick about to turn 29, even his former coaches (Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert) have hinted they don't believe Roddick has the game anymore to win at Wimbledon. But wouldn't it be nice to see the guy win it all?

1. Serena Williams

She comes in as the seventh seed and hasn't played much tennis in the past year because of illness and injuries. In fact, she has played a grand total of two matches after being eliminated from last week's grass tuneup in Eastbourne in the second round. But this is Serena, the four-time Wimbledon champ and the two-time defending champ. The question is, did the two matches at Eastbourne allow her to knock off the rust of the past year? Oddly enough, her toughest match could be in the opening round against Aravane Rezai. If she can survive that, she is our pick to win it all again.

2. Venus Williams

Like her sister, Venus hasn't played much tennis lately. She was out for five months (hip) before returning last week at Eastbourne. Even still, she reached the quarterfinals. Reason to believe she can win? Well, she does have five Wimbledon championship singles trophies. Reason she might not? She's 31. (By the way, doesn't that seem hard to believe?) Her game is made for grass, which is probably why she has reached nine Wimbledon semifinals. We're not picking her to win, but we wouldn't be surprised either.

3. Maria Sharapova

It's all hit or miss with Sharapova. She could reach the finals or get knocked out in the second round, as she has two of the past three years. But there's reason to believe she might have another Wimbledon run in her. For starters, she has played well of late, winning a tournament in Rome and playing well at the French Open to run her record to 26-7 for the year. She's scared of no one, especially the Williams sisters because she has proved she can beat them. And her booming first serve is a prerequisite for winning at Wimbledon. Her problems start when she can't get her first serve in play because she doesn't move as well as she used to.

4. Caroline Wozniacki

There should be more of a buzz about Wozniacki, seeing as how she is the No. 1-ranked woman in the world and the No. 1 seed at Wimbledon. But she has never won a Grand Slam event and has never advanced beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon. She is 45-8 this year and has five WTA titles, but let's not forget that she hasn't had to deal with the Williams sisters and she lost in the third round at this year's French Open. On top of all this, her game really isn't suited for grass. She may be the No. 1 seed and No. 1-ranked player, but it's hard to see her winning.

5. Vera Zvonareva

This could be the sleeper pick of this tournament. While the buzz has been about the return of the Williams sisters, Sharapova's resurgence and Wozniacki's No. 1 ranking, Zvonareva has slipped under the radar. She is the No. 2 seed and reached both the singles and doubles final at Wimbledon last year, proving her comfort on grass. She is coming off a marathon victory against Serena Williams at Eastbourne last week, which should give her confidence. And she needs that confidence because she, at times, struggles with the mental part of the game. She has been known to melt down in matches, but if she can keep her emotions in check, she has a chance.

Match we want to see

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal

Yeah, it might seem like the same old-same old, but this has turned into this era's version of Borg vs. John McEnroe. This is one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the sport.

Match we don't want to see

Venus Williams vs. Serena Williams

The sisters have met 12 times in a major tournament and 10 of those matches have ended in straight sets. For as great as these two are, they rarely play dramatic matches against one another.

Wimbledon gets under way Monday in England. So get out your strawberries and cream and enjoy our Two Cents preview of what we think is the best tennis tournament in the world.

Five men to watch

Five women to watch

Tennis: Wimbledon preview 06/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 18, 2011 9:25pm]
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