Wimbledon 2012: Breaking Down Tournament's Biggest Storylines and Buzz

Marc WeinreichCorrespondent IJuly 2, 2012

Wimbledon 2012: Breaking Down Tournament's Biggest Storylines and Buzz

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    Wimbledon this year has been highlighted by a wildly disappointing Rafael Nadal on the men's side and another early exit for top seeded Maria Sharapova on the women's side. But it's also been filled with exciting performances from players who we ought to keep an eye on.

    With Rafa out and Roger Federer struggling, Wimbledon could mark an end to an era.

    Does this tournament signify a changing of the guard or will Novak Djokovic show why Grand Slams will almost always be dominated by someone in the top three?

    Here's a look at the current buzz going on at Wimbledon.

Maria Sharapova's Early Exit

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    Top-seeded Maria Sharapova lost on Monday not only in the fourth round, but without putting up a fight, losing in straight sets to a player ranked No. 15.

    Her surrender was obvious right down to the very ace that whizzed by her on match point. 

    A cause for concern? Yes.

    She was dominated from the start of the match with the German Sabine Lisicki.

    Sharapova had no answer for Lisicki's ground strokes and found herself on her heels throughout the entire match, a position she's not used to being in and certainly not the style that took her to number one in the world.

    But while all eyes were on Sharapova, tennis addicts knew that this wasn't going to be an easy match for the world's best tennis player.

    This is the third consecutive Wimbledon in which Lisicki took down the reigning French Open champ (Li Na and Svetlana Kuznetsova).

    There are a lot of questions for Sharapova to answer.

    It's clear moving forward that opponents will take a page out of Lisicki's book and tire Sharapova early with relentless play from the baseline.

    Now that it's been so easily demonstrated how to dismantle the best player in the world, will Sharapova be able to return to the top and put together another streak? Or have we already seen the best from the world's best?

Rafael Nadal's Legacy Away from Clay

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    We all know how Rafael Nadal fares on clay. He's virtually unstoppable. And the news of his upset to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon is old hat.

    But what's interesting is how that loss will affect his legacy off of clay.

    Let's not underestimate the gravity of that loss. It was one of the biggest upsets at Wimbledon, perhaps in the history of tennis.

    Nadal has won enough already to be considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

    But for die-hard Nadal fans who contend he's had a better career than the likes of Roger Federer, regarded by some as the greatest to ever pick up a racket, the argument just got a little bit tougher.

    To be the best all-around tennis player ever, you have to win multiple times on multiple surfaces.

    Nadal has demonstrated his ability off of clay, but is he really on the same level as Roger Federer when he's not at the French Open?

    The upset last week to Rosol is a clear indication that Nadal is a shade of himself when he's not in Paris.

    And if he can only be good at one tournament and so inconsistent at others, how will history regard him?

Roger Federer Is Struggling

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    Roger Federer may be the greatest ever, but he's looked like an old, apathetic man at Wimbledon this year.

    He narrowly escaped a five-set loss to Julien Benneteau in the third round and again looked shaky at times against unseeded Xavier Malisse in the fourth round today.

    Federer won the first set against Malisse 7-6 but dropped the third set 4-6.

    The machine we've watched dominate all these years is barely getting by.

    If Federer does what he's looked like he'd do for much of Wimbledon this year and actually lose a match, and with Novak Djokovic continuing to play unbelievable tennis, we'll have to ask the inevitable: Is Federer still good enough to win a Grand Slam?

Mardy Fish Playing Great After Health Scare

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    Mardy Fish revealed in the spring that he was pulling out of the French Open not because of fatigue, the reason he initially gave, but because of heart surgery in May.

    It wasn't clear how he'd fare in his return to tennis, or if he'd return at all.

    But here we are less than two months after the surgery and Fish is currently up a set on fifth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round of Wimbledon.

    And if he gets by Tsonga, he'll likely face No. 26 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber from Germany, who ended Lukas Rosol's 15 minutes of fame after taking down Rafael Nadal last week.

    Fish should be able to take down Kohlshreiber, which would mean a date in the semifinals with Juan Martin del Potro, Andy Murray, David Ferrer or Marin Cilic. His run will probably end there, probably to del Potro if I had to guess.

    But what a wild few months it's been for Fish. You can't help but root for the guy.

Is This Azarenaka's Year to Win Two Grand Slams?

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    With Maria Sharapova losing today, No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka has to believe that now is as a good a time as ever to make a run at winning Wimbledon. She's never gotten past the semis but will probably get at least that far this year.

    Her next match is against Tamira Paszek.

    I'll give credit to Paszek because she took down No. 7 Caroline Wozniacki in the first round, but she hasn't faced any real competition since.

    Azarenka will be the best player she's faced in a while and I expect Azarenka to advance to the semis in a match against Serena Williams, assuming Williams gets by Petra Kvitova, which will be no easy feat.

    Azarenka got her one and only Grand Slam win in a 6-3, 6-0 dismantling of Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open earlier this year.

    And now with Sharapova out, you have to wonder whether anyone will stop Azarenka from getting her second career Grand Slam.