Some of the biggest names in tennis will have a bigger problem than a tough draw as the world focuses on the lawns of Wimbledon.
The grass courts are a physical test for players, and for those like Rafael Nadal, crowd favorite Andy Murray and women's champ Victoria Azarenka, they'll also have to overcome injury concerns. While some like Roger Federer have fought through nagging problems to win, it makes it that much more difficult to make it through the fortnight.
Even the Lords of Wimbledon understand how difficult it is to play through and avoid injuries. Starting in 2015, the tournament itself will be pushed back, in large part due to the increasing number of injuries that have occurred.
Modern tennis meets tradition at Wimbledon, where the clashes often show up as the body breaking down or at the very least, fighting the limits of the body in a sport that continues to see increases in power, speed and endurance.
Overcoming those limits is as important as any big serve or spin, so let's look at the injury situation of several top players heading into this year's action.
Ankle injuries are not just a problem for the men. Victoria Azarenka has fought a sprained ankle since February, with the ever-expanding WTA schedule to blame for its lingering into late June. Most have been minor—a bone bruise on her foot, the sprained ankle, even a pedicure injury—but the combination has kept her match skills down this season.
Azarenka's right ankle has kept her from cutting left, leaving her open to wide passing shots. Opponents have learned that a wide shot to her forehand leaves her backhand court open to even a good return. Azarenka has tried to combat this by shortening rallies and shading to her backhand.
The surface should help her due to its reduced friction versus hard courts and more even surface versus grass, though watch to see how she moves early. Any weakness in early matches or an exacerbation of the condition will be noted by her opponents and tested quickly.
However, that lack of friction worked against her in her first round match. The slippery turf caused her to have an awkward fall. Azarenka returned to the match and got the win, but she now has about 48 hours to sort out what could be a serious knee injury on the same side as her bothersome ankle.
The clay-court master may be helped by grass. While clay does allow players to slide, avoiding the friction of hard courts, the clay does get ruts and bumps, giving Nadal's ankles more of a chance to roll. Grass has lower friction, but stays more stable. Along with good shoes and bracing, that could help Nadal stay whole for the fortnight.
Nadal has had injuries to his ankle throughout his career, going back as far as the 2004 campaign when he was just 18. Nadal has also had foot and knee issues for the past couple years, likely compensation injuries. While Nadal has continued to win, even dominate, he has had to pick his spots, usually at the major tournaments. Nadal has been smart to avoid the hard courts when possible.
Nadal's style does not lend itself to longevity, with both his size and injury history working against him. While he has had a good campaign through 2013, his late withdrawal from the Australian Open has raised eyebrows. Some think it was more than a stomach virus that held him out with a lot of speculation about his lower body.
Nadal has played well, showing few signs of problems with his ankle or legs and winning the French Open in grueling, challenging fashion. Nadal will have his fate partially in the hands of the trainers, but the signs are positive that it will come down once again to his talent.
Bracing visible just above right shoe top
Novak Djokovic almost didn't make it to Wimbledon. An April ankle injury was thought to be serious enough that Djokovic seemed to be facing a lengthy absence and perhaps even surgery. Instead, he healed quickly, so quickly that he barely missed any time and has shown very little issue with it since.
In this day and age, that's raised some eyebrows. Djokovic healed well enough to play in Monaco and during the Davis Cup. There's been no real change in style since the injury, with his court coverage showing no real deficit. His defense and shot-making have always been key to his game, especially from the extreme wings, so any ankle issue would show up quickly here.
There's been no word on whether Djokovic is even being treated currently, though he has regularly used bracing for both ankles even before injury. This is common in tennis, so there's no way to tell without looking over the trainer's shoulder while Djokovic is being taped up whether this is anything but routine. Watch to see if Djokovic is moving to his left, especially on hard plants or unanticipated change of direction to see if there are any residual effects.
Andy Murray has been carrying the hopes of England on his back for a while now, with the entire nation watching to see if one of its own can win the tournament. His back is the big question as he heads into Wimbledon this season after missing the French Open due to injury.
An advantageous draw makes his back injury his toughest first week foe, as the lingering lower back issue continues to plague both his serve and quick reaction to volleys. His serve is also going to be an issue. Watch to see if he can twist, or if his serve is forced to be more of a linear motion that will take both pace and spin off.
Murray has been accused of overplaying his pain and not being able to make adjustments, so the first week of Wimbledon will serve as an extended warmup for the British ace. He may just need it and to make the kind of adjustments to his style that he hasn't been able to do in order to raise the trophy and the hopes of a nation.
Roger Federer isn't dominating tennis right now the way he has for years, but as he goes for a record eighth Wimbledon victory, age is only one of his foes. Federer has been dealing with a lingering wrist injury for the past couple seasons, thought to be the result of his unusual "whip" action which has been a hallmark of his shot-making.
Federer has been reducing his schedule, trying to give the wrist some time to heal as well as keeping his endurance level up. With one of the toughest draws he's faced coming up, he'll need every ounce of it. Federer will also need to protect the wrist, so look for him to try and shorten rallies, even playing the net a bit if necessary.
Federer has also seemed to be altering his grip, moving from his modified Eastern to a more standard Eastern on his forehand, but putting more slice on his backhand grip. While Federer has never relied on pure power during his career, he will have to move away from that part of his game, winning a bit more cerebrally. His shot-making and precision will be key if he is to go deep into the tournament once again.