Wimbledon 2012 is just days away as the tennis season's third and most prestigious Grand Slam tournament prepares to challenge the game's best on the historic London grass.
The brackets are out, and top seeds Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova will be the favorites to prove their worth atop their respective draws at Wimbledon, and for good reason: They've won here before.
Both tennis stars, ranked No. 1 in the world on the men's and women's side respectively, have won it all on the All England Club grass just once in their careers. Djokovic is the defending men's champion while Sharapova's lone Wimbledon title came back in 2004.
Djokovic defeated world No. 2 Rafael Nadal in four sets last summer in London to ignite a run of three straight Grand Slam final victories over the Spaniard. Could we be in store for a rematch in 2012?
Djokovic vs. Nadal II
Top men's seeds Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are expected to meet for all the marbles on July 8 in a rematch of their four-set Wimbledon final in 2011. Nole's Wimbledon win over Nadal last summer was his first ever triumph against Rafa on grass.
Making the rivalry between the two best players in the world even more compelling, though, is the fact that Nadal has defeated Djokovic three consecutive times this year, all of them coming on clay, however.
While the momentum is clearly on Nadal's side, Djokovic will benefit tremendously from playing on the much faster grass surface. Meanwhile, Nadal will need to make a seamless transition from clay to grass this summer if he is going to upset the top-seeded Serbian.
Repeat Champion on the Ladies' Side?
Despite taking down Maria Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon final in straight sets, Petra Kvitova enters this season's tournament as only the No. 4 seed on the women's side. If all the chips fall correctly, Kvitova would meet Victoria Azarenka, the world and tournament No. 2 in the semifinals.
Kvitova would easily survive Azarenka, however, who fell to the eventual champion in three sets in last year's semifinals. Kvitova would then be pitted against Sharapova, who would could potentially face the world No. 3, Agnieszka Radwanska, who has struggled at Wimbledon throughout her young career.
Kvitova would have the undeniable edge in a rematch against Sharapova, or against anyone in the final. She has tons of confidence on grass and the momentum of last summer on her side, and will be mentally one step ahead of Sharapova and the field at Wimbledon 2012.
Underdogs to Watch for in the Ladies' Draw
Five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams is one of two multiple Grand Slam winners, the other being Belgian Kim Clijsters on the women's side, who will enter and attempt to survive the London fortnight unseeded.
Which unseeded Grand Slam champ will have the best showing at Wimbledon 2012?
Clijsters has won four major tournaments during her impressive career, and although she has never made it past the semifinals at Wimbledon, she is still worthy of a seed in the eyes of this writer.
Williams last won the grass-court Slam in 2008, and has since developed an autoimmune disease that can cause severe fatigue during matches. Still, though, it's hard to believe she is being doubted already.
With the women's field as wide open as it is, how can anyone discount Venus Williams' resume? There have been six different winners of the last six Grand Slam tournaments on the women's side. There is a great deal of parity in the women's game today, and it is far too early to count out a five-time champion with more than enough experience to win it.
Underdogs to Watch for in the Men's Draw
Former Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt enters this summer's grass-court Grand Slam unseeded after failing to win consecutive matches since last January's Australian Open. Although it comes as only a slight surprise, if at all, it should be noted that Hewitt is the last men's tennis player to win Wimbledon excluding the Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
In addition to Hewitt, tennis fans should look out for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has an incredible serve that puts pressure on opponents on grass. Tsonga undid Federer in the quarterfinals last season and put a scare into Djokovic in the semifinals.
The world No. 5 is capable of making a run at Wimbledon 2012. Though he isn't in Federer's bracket this summer, he wouldn't face Djokovic until the final, and only if he could upset Nadal in the quarters.
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