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Wimbledon preview: Who's a cut above the field?

tom jones' two cents

Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world, gets under way Monday. Here's our Two Cents preview:

Who is the man to beat?

Five-time finalist and two-time winner Rafael Nadal needed to get his swagger back, and he might have done just that by knocking off nemesis Novak Djokovic in the French Open final. With his confidence intact, Nadal now is the favorite, although the Spaniard is seeded second and Djokovic first. Should Nadal win, it will be the third time in his career that he has won the French and Wimbledon back-to-back in the same year.

If not Nadal, then who?

Novak Djokovic, far right, or Roger Federer, near right. It's always one of them or Nadal, isn't it? Nadal, Djokovic and Federer have won 28 of the past 29 grand slams, although it has been more than two years since Federer has won a major and three years since he has won Wimbledon. Federer has a good draw, so he should get to the semifinals without much of a problem. He's only 31, but you have to wonder if he will ever win a grand slam title again. Meantime, Djokovic should not be embarrassed by losing to Nadal on the clay in Paris, but the fact is, he didn't play well. There has to be a sliver of doubt right now about where his game is.

Any chance for Andy Roddick?

We keep pulling for Andy Roddick, who turns 30 in August, to have one more big run in him, but despite the American's booming serve that is made for grass, Roddick, seeded 30th, would do well just to get past the fourth round.

What about Andy Murray?

The Scottish-born, 25-year-old Andy Murray is always a crowd favorite, but he can't get past the big three on the men's side. Murray has been knocked out in the semifinals each of the past three years. Murray brought in former star Ivan Lendl as a part-time coach and mentor. It's hard to say how much Lendl can help Murray here. Lendl reached the Wimbledon final twice, but it was the only major he never won.

Is it good for tennis that the men's side is dominated by Nadal, Djokovic and Federer?

There are two things that are good for a sport: dynasties and rivalries. Tennis offers both. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are a three-man dynasty, and any match between any two of them is appointment television.

"It's good for the game,'' ESPN analyst John McEnroe said.

ESPN's Chris Evert added, "I think that it's one of the most exciting times in men's tennis, because you have three men who are not only the greatest in their era, but I would put them in the top five in the greatest in the history of the game, and they all are breaking records right and left."

What about Tampa's John Isner?

You remember John Isner's 11-hour match vs. Nicolas Mahut in 2010 when Isner won 70-68 in the fifth. Isner, seeded 11th, never has advanced past the second round at Wimbledon. Still, the 6-foot-9 Isner could be dangerous.

"I think John Isner is going to be kind of scary to watch him serve on grass,'' ESPN analyst Chris Evert said. "I think his downfall has always been the return serve, but he knows it. He's aware of it, and he's trying to work on being more aggressive on that return.''

ESPN's Cliff Drysdale said, "I'm very high on John Isner because he's got the kind of game that can really work on grass.''

Is there anyone who has a chance outside of the big three and Murray?

Uh, no. But, if you're forcing us to throw out some dark horses, here's three: Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Berdych, don't forget, beat Federer on his way to reaching the Wimbledon final in 2010, where he lost in straight sets to Nadal. Raonic recently took a set off Federer on grass. Meantime, Tsonga had four match points in Paris against Djokovic, but he couldn't close the door.

Who's the woman to beat?

In one of the more shocking upsets in sports this year, Serena Williams was knocked out of the first round in Paris. Then again, clay has never been her best surface. Grass suits her well. The four-time champ is seeded sixth, but that's only because she doesn't play regularly. Ask most tennis folks and they're taking Serena.

"In my book, Serena is the clear favorite,'' ESPN analyst Cliff Drysdale said. "I think she was the best player in women's tennis going into the French. So she loses a match on clay. It's not her best surface. … You can name anybody, including (Maria) Sharapova, and you put them head to head, Serena is the clear favorite. I still think she's the best player in the business.''

What about Venus?

Venus Williams was knocked out in the second round in Paris, and it's hard to say just where her game is these days. She's not even seeded at Wimbledon. (Neither is former No. 1 Kim Clijsters.) There's talk that this could be Venus' final Wimbledon. I don't think it is, but it might be her last chance to make a deep run in the tournament. Hey, she's a five-time winner. That alone makes her worth watching.

If not Serena, then who?

Maria Sharapova. After all, she's ranked No. 1 in the world and she's the top seed. She's coming off a title in the French Open, which completed a career Grand Slam, and she's a past Wimbledon winner. Although, this snuck up on us: Her Wimbledon title came eight years ago. She reached the final for only the second time in her career last year. Her impressive run in Paris has expectations extremely high.

Other women?

Victoria Azarenka won the first major of the year in Australia and was ranked No. 1 in the world, but she has since lost that title to Maria Sharapova. She lost it because of a crummy clay season, but grass could give her a new start. She reached the semis at Wimbledon last year. Fourth-seed Petra Kvitova is the defending champ, and she made the semifinals at the Australian and French. That's the good news. The bad news: She seems to be regressing of late.

Is there a long shot on the women's side?

Tsvetana Pironkova is unseeded and ranked 40th in the world. But if tennis were played only on grass, the 24-year-old Bulgarian would be ranked much higher. Quite simply, she's a grasscourt specialist. She reached the semifinals in 2010 and eliminated Venus Williams last year on her way to the quarters. She isn't going to win the whole thing, but she is capable of taking out a big name.

Who has the best chance of blowing a gasket and getting in trouble?

Serena Williams is always a good candidate to lose her cool and threaten a linesman or cuss out a chair umpire. On the men's side, David Nalbandian is the meathead who was thrown out of the Queen's Club tournament for kicking an advertising sign and inadvertently cutting the leg of a linesman who was sitting behind the sign. You would think Nalbandian wouldn't be so stupid to do something like that again, but we didn't think he would be so stupid to do it the first time.

Wimbledon preview: Who's a cut above the field? 06/23/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 23, 2012 9:01pm]

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