10 Under-the-Radar Players to Watch at Wimbledon 2013

James McMahonContributor IJune 23, 2013

10 Under-the-Radar Players to Watch at Wimbledon 2013

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    Given the current level of play from the top stars of tennis right now, it's unlikely that a surprise winner will come in the 2013 Wimbledon.

    The men's side is dominated by the "big four," and Serena Williams is playing some of the best tennis of her life, as is Maria Sharapova—when Serena isn't on the other side of the court.

    All that said, there will be some players who make noise during the first week at the All England Club, and perhaps well into the second. Some are names we we've seen before, while others are just arriving on the scene and could use this fortnight as a coming-out party.

    Here are 10 players currently flying under the radar that could soar at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships.

18th-Seeded John Isner

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    The Potential: Few in the sport have the serve John Isner does, and that strength is only amplified on the slick grass at Wimbledon.

    Given that weapon, Isner is a threat in London, but he will have to bring the other elements of his game to the table if he is going to threaten deep into the second week at the All England Tennis Club.

    The hard-serving American is best known for his marathon 2010 first-round victory against Nicholas Mahut that went more than 11 hours and was played over three days. That said, the American hasn't managed a significant second-week showing at Wimbledon, but he does have career victories over both Roger Federer and Novak Djokavic.

    The Challenge: Despite his strong serve and intimidating court presence, Isner has only made it to one Grand Slam quarterfinal (2011 U.S. Open) and lost in the first round of the 2012 Wimbledon.

    If Isner hopes to improve upon that showing during this London fortnight, he will have to improve his return of serve and ground strokes in order to get much-needed breaks of serve and avoid prolonged tiebreakers.

17-Seeded Sloane Stephens

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    The Potential: With Venus Williams out of the picture due to injury, Sloane Stephens is the best American prospect this side of Serena to win a Grand Slam at the All England Club in two weeks.

    Stephens enjoyed a career-best Grand Slam performance back in January by advancing to the Australian Open semifinals, a run that included a victory over Serena Williams herself. Since that showing, it’s been steady sledding for Stephens.

    The 22-year-old American advanced to the fourth round of the French Open before falling to eventual runner up Maria Sharapova. That said, the talented young American hasn't played since then, meaning it’s anyone’s guess as to what to expect in her opening round this week at Wimbledon.

    The Challenge: The draw isn't easy for Stephens, who would face Caroline Wozniacki in the third round should she win her first two matches as expected. If she survives that test, it’s likely she would get French Open semifinalist Sara Errani in another challenge to get deep into the second week at Wimbledon.

13th-Seeded Tommy Haas

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    The Potential: The hard-serving German reignited his career last month at the French Open, and given that performance, there’s no reason to think he can’t make a run into the second week at Wimbledon.

    Haas won an epic five-setter 10-8 in the fifth over John Isner at the French Open last month en route to a surprise quarterfinal showing.

    That strong play has continued into the grass-court season. A little more than a week ago, Haas advanced to the semifinals of the Gerry Weber Open in Germany before falling to Roger Federer 6-4 in the third set.

    The Challenge: Haas is finding an Indian summer to his career, but at the age of 35, he certainly is no spring chicken. In fact, should he unexpectedly find his way into the Wimbledon semifinals, he would be the oldest to do it in a Grand Slam since Andre Agassi in the 2005 U.S. Open.

    Given his strong form heading into London, it’s a good bet Haas will square off with top-seeded Novak Djokovic in the fourth round at Wimbledon, a match that will certainly garner significant attention. An upset there, and Haas will be making serious noise for the second consecutive slam this year.

Unseeded Jamie Hampton

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    The Potential: The good news for Jamie Hampton is that she is playing some of the best tennis of her young career. The bad news is, she drew fellow American Sloan Stephens in the first round of the 2013 Wimbledon.

    Hampton advanced to the finals of the 2013 Aegon International at Eastbourne this week before falling to another rising star in Elena Vesnina 6-3 in the third. The finals match was the first of her career and signaled big things ahead on grass for the rising American player.

    The tournament performance included a semifinal victory over Caroline Wozniacki, whom Hampton could see again at Wimbledon should she manage to get out of the first round.

    The Challenge: As previously mentioned, the draw makers didn't do Hampton any favors with her first-round match against Stephens. A victory there would vault Hampton’s star status even higher, but considering Sloane’s play of late, it’s certainly a tall order to get out of the first round, much less make a run to Wimbledon’s second week.

Unseeded Lleyton Hewitt

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    The Potential: In perhaps the best first-round match at Wimbledon, Lleyton Hewitt will challenge 11th seed Stan Wawrinka for the likely right to battle John Isner in the second round.

    As if those two tests aren't strong enough, should Hewitt survive into the third round, he would become a significant threat to clay court king Rafael Nadal.

    Hewitt has had a strong grass court season, advancing to the semifinals at Queen’s Club a little more than a week ago.

    The Challenge: The path Hewitt has to travel just to get to Nadal in the third round is off-the-charts difficult. Getting past Nadal and into the second week at Wimbledon will be a tough ask for the talented Aussie.

    Should he manage a stunning upset of Rafa, however, then it’s going to be an interesting Wimbledon run for Hewitt, who last won the Grand Slam event in 2002.

Unseeded Elena Vesnina

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    The Potential: Fresh off a victory over Jamie Hampton at Eastbourne, Elena Vesnina is poised to push her profile even further at Wimbledon this week.

    Vesnina’s victory in windy conditions at the Aegon International was her second of the year after losing her first six final appearances, and she heads into this fortnight poised to build upon her best Wimbledon performance—a trip to the fourth round in 2009. The talented Ukrainian also won the Hobart International back in January for her first career victory.

    The Challenge: If Vesnina can carry the momentum of her Eastbourne performance into Wimbledon, the draw sets up decently for her to make another run to the fourth round. Waiting for her there, however, would be Serena Williams.

    It’s a career-building opportunity, but reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon won’t be easily at all with Williams as a likely opponent.

10th-Seeded Marin Cilic

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    The Potential: For the second straight year, Marin Cilic advanced to the 2013 finals at Queen’s Club, losing to grass guru and defending U.S Open champ Andy Murray in a tough three-set battle 6-3 in the third.

    In 2012, the talented Croatian won that same Wimbledon tuneup over David Nalbandian before falling to Murray in the fourth round at the All England Club.

    At only 24, Cilic is among the best young players with the chops to win a Grand Slam and even with the big four lurking in London, the Croatian has a reasonable chance to make an extended run.

    The Challenge: Seeded 10th this week at Wimbledon, Cilic has a tough first-round battle with Marcos Baghdatis before a potential signature match with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round just to get to the aforementioned battle with Murray in the quarterfinals

    It’s not an easy path by any means, but if you’re looking for a strong bet outside of the top four or five in the world right now, Cilic might well be the man. 

12th-Seeded Ana Ivanovic

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    The Potential: Ana Ivanovic is getting dangerously close to being considered a one-slam wonder, and that should be motivation enough to get the Serb going at the 2013 Wimbledon. Her last performance, however, doesn't instill a lot of confidence in a long run for Ivanovic

    After advancing to the fourth round of the French Open, Ivanovic lost in the first round at Eastbourne to eventual champion Elena Vesnina. Ivanovic won the 2008 French Open and ascended to No. 1 in the rankings, but has failed to build on that lofty status since.

    The Challenge: Provided Ivanovic can gets things going in the right direction early at Wimbledon, the 12 seed could reach a fourth-round showdown with eighth-seeded Petra Kvitova. But given her struggles of late, there’s no guarantee that interesting match takes place.

17th-Seeded Milos Raonic

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    The Potential: Considering his results in recent Wimbledon tuneups, it may be a stretch to expect big things from Milos Raonic, but there’s no denying the grass court skills are there for the Canadian to surprise some people in London this week.

    Despite a big serve, Raonic has managed a pair of poor performances in his grass court warmups at Halle and Eastbourne. That said, the 22-year-old leads the ATP Tour by winning 91 percent of his service games and ranks third in total aces.

    If the Canadian serves with that type of authority, he will have every opportunity for an extended Wimbledon stay in 2013.

    The Challenge: Raonic actually has a decent draw with his first significant challenge slated for the fourth round against 2013 French Open runner-up David Ferrer. Should the Canuck pull off an upset there, then it would likely be Nadal standing in the way of a career-defining trip to the Wimbledon semifinals.

    Not an easy challenge, but these days, getting beyond tennis’ big four men is the toughest test in sports.

23rd-Seeded Sabine Lisicki

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    The Potential: Sabine Lisicki has had her share of struggles in Grand Slams, just not at Wimbledon. The talented German reached the semifinals at the All England Club in 2011 as a wild card.

    In 2012, Lisicki managed a run to the quarterfinals that included a victory over Maria Sharapova and  proved her 2011 was anything but a fluke.

    In her lone grass tune-up for Wimbledon, Lisicki was surprised by American Alison Riske in the quarterfinals at Birmingham earlier this month and enters this week ranked 23rd in the world.

    The Challenge: The draw is difficult for Lisicki, who could face rising-star Elena Vesnina in the second round. Survive that challenge, and it's extremely likely she would see Serena Williams waiting for her in the fourth round.

    Given that, her form had better improve over her Birmingham showing.