Wimbledon begins Monday with questions swirling around the All England Club. With defending champion Rafael Nadal's bad knees forcing him to skip the two-week tournament, will Roger Federer cruise to his sixth Wimbledon title and a record-breaking 15th major, or might this be the year America's top men's player, Andy Roddick, makes a run at the crown? Will Venus or Serena Williams leave with yet another singles title? And what will it be like with no more Centre Court rain delays? We offer a look at what some of the experts have to say on the eve of the season's third Grand Slam tournament.
Johnny Mac's view
John McEnroe, below, interviewed by Peter Bodo for Tennis magazine, thinks Pete Sampras would have given today's champs headaches by forcing play away from the baseline. Roger Federer can pass Sampras at Wimbledon for career major wins, breaking their 14-14 tie, but this is what McEnroe, calling the action for NBC with Mary Carillo, had to say to Bodo: "Watching these guys today, I still can't help but think that if Sampras walked out there, he'd drive most of these guys bananas. Pete's the greatest fast-court player who ever lived, and he would have his opponents scratching their heads: What's going on here?" Still, after Federer's win at the French Open on June 7, McEnroe considers the Swiss star the greatest of the Open era players.
During an ESPN conference last week, TV analysts Patrick McEnroe and Mary Carillo said they would not be surprised if No. 6 seed Andy Roddick emerges should second seed Roger Federer or third seed Andy Murray falter. "Roddick can win it," McEnroe said. "He needs a break here or there, but he's in the best shape he's ever been in. … I think he's very eager to do well there after not doing well last year. To me, he's the next guy who has a shot." Said Carillo: "He's worked so hard. I see so much more clarity in his game. … I think he'll be much happier with his options" on grasscourts than the French Open's clay.
Andy Murray is 40-6 this season, with four titles, including last weekend, his first on grass, at Queen's Club, the first British man to win that tournament since Bunny Austin in 1938. No British man has won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. Murray is one of the few players with a winning record against Roger Federer, 6-2, including four victories in a row. Think British fans are hoping their favorite son has a shot? A sign in front of a church in Wimbledon village, about a 20-minute walk from the All England Club, reads: "Andy Murray, King of Queens. Jesus Christ, King of Kings."
Count on the Williams sisters being right at home. Third seed Venus, top right, is the two-time defending champion and has won five singles titles. Second seed Serena has two. They could be on a collision course after they were placed in separate halves of the bracket in Friday's draw. Venus may have to overcome top-ranked Dinara Safina in the semifinals. Serena could play fourth-ranked Elena Dementieva in the last four. The sisters have played each other in three Wimbledon finals, with Venus winning last year and Serena in 2002 and 2003. Said TV analyst Patrick McEnroe: "The only ones walking into the All England Club to practice who know they can win it and really believe it are Venus and Serena."
Best of the rest
Dinara Safina, below, is the No. 1 seed and at 23 is playing in her seventh Wimbledon. But she has never made it past the third round. Svetlana Kuznetsova made waves by upsetting Safina in the French Open final, but she recently lost on the grasscourts of Eastbourne. Maria Sharapova, seeded 24th, won in 2004 and has won three majors, but she is still in comeback mode from shoulder problems. TV analyst Mary Carillo says Australia's Samantha Stosur (18th) also bears a close watch because of her strong serve and great grass game.
Viewers can prepare for the unpopular sound track of grunts that accompany the women's game, mostly on serves and big hits. Turns out the International Tennis Federation is considering a rule about unnecessary noises at the baseline. "Personally, I hate it," TV analyst Mary Carillo said. "It's noise pollution to me. And it does take away from my enjoyment of a match. And I get plenty of people saying the same thing. And there's always the question: Why do the women have to make more noise than the guys tend to do? Some guys do, but it's not the relentless consistency of some of these women." Carillo agrees that it should be stopped, though she's not sure how rules would be enforced during a match and what the penalties should be.
From the trivia department, something for expectant father Roger Federer to note: According to Wimbledon's Web site, dads have won only 10 of the past 116 Grand Slam titles. John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg did not win a major tournament after becoming a father.
Wimbledon will debut its retractable fabric roof over Centre Court, putting an end to the frequent rain delays. The roof takes eight minutes to open and close, and it will also be used in case of high winds. "We like that it gives us a sense of certainty," ESPN programing executive Len DeLuca said.
1. When was the first "Lawn Tennis Championship," a k a Wimbledon, held?
a) 1877; b) 1887; c) 1907
2. Who was the most recent British singles champion at Wimbledon?
a) Fred Perry; b) Tim Henman; c) Virginia Wade
3. Venus Williams is trying for her third consecutive Wimbledon title and sixth overall. Which woman holds the record for Wimbledon singles championships, with nine?
a) Steffi Graf; b) Martina Navratilova; c) Billie Jean King
4. What was Roger Federer's combined won-loss record the first four times he played at Wimbledon?
a) 4-4, with three first-round losses; b) 8-4, with one semifinal appearance; c) 17-2, with two championships
5. What was Federer's combined won-loss record the other six times he played at Wimbledon?
a) 35-3, with three championships and two runnerup finishes; b) 37-2, with four championships; c) 40-1, with five championships and one runner-up finish
6. Federer's streak of reaching the semifinals at 20 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments is a record. What was the previous mark?
a) 18; b) 13; c) 10
7. Only one of the past nine women's singles finals at Wimbledon did not involve at least one Williams sister. Which? As a bonus, name the finalists that year.
a) 2008; b) 2006; c) 2001
1. a; 2. c (Wade won in 1977; Perry was the last British man to win, in 1936); 3. b (King won six; Graf and Dorothea Douglass Chambers won seven; Helen Wills Moody won eight); 4. a; 5. c; 6. c (Ivan Lendl, in the 1980s, and Rod Laver, in the 1960s, shared the record; Federer also has reached the final at 15 of the past 16 major tournaments); 7. b, bonus: Amelie Mauresmo beat Justine Henin 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the 2006 final (Venus won in 2000-01, 2005, 2007-08; Serena won in 2002-03; Serena lost to Maria Sharapova in the 2004 final; there were all-Williams finals in 2002-03 and 2008)
Information from Wimbledon.com and Times wires was used in this report.