It's that time of year, folks. Time where the sports world stands still and absorbs the magnitude that is Wimbledon. The time where "tennis really matters"—time where only the best have prospered.
The pending and constantly altered questions which always seem to arise as the two weeks of All England Tennis develop, are as follows:
Will Rafael Nadal's injury (and withdrawal) be the story we will remember the most after The Championships are completed? Will Roger Federer win his record 15th grand slam title and surpass Pete Sampras for tennis' sole supremacy?
Will Andy Murray ignite a tennis nation starving for a British Champion after 73 years of congratulating "another man" after each passing year? Does Novak Djokovic have the drive and determination to improve on his worst surface?
Finally, will another Robin Soderling bud out of the tennis garden of talent, and impose a world beater effort?
Well tennis fans, these questions and many more enticing story-lines are sure to evolve over the fortnight of electrifying tennis ahead.
Let us now take a look at the 32-seeds to be followed by a draw analysis, as well as predictions based on the quarterfinals and onwards.
1. Rafael Nadal: In the event you wanted to know what would have been written about the top seed, the man from Mallorca is in some serious trouble. What first appeared like a Soderling meltdown has now turned into a circus of uncertainty and crisis for all involved in "Nadal Land."
If he plays he will fight; if he plays, he makes the quarters tops. A potential second round clash with Lleyton Hewitt is nothing to shake a stick at. A new singles champion in 2009 you'd reckon. Oh how quickly things can change...
2. Roger Federer: What do we have here? Wasn't this the "write-off" Roger Federer everyone was talking about? Well, R-Fed is back ladies and gents, and if history has taught us nothing else about tennis it's that this is a sport which revolves around momentum and confidence. With Federer possessing oodles of both, his record breaking grand slam stands at t-minus... a fortnight away.
3. Andy Murray: The "un-proper" Scot has shown the ability to beat the best. There is a catch 22 in the Murray equation however: always wins, but never wins in slams. He's looking sharp in his new Fred Perry duds, but will the drought of 73 years without a British champion be solved by a first-time slam winner? Unlikely.
4. Novak Djokovic: Nole is in the house. But isn't this the same house that he so miserably flopped out of last year to Marat Safin?
With the support of his sponsors, and the ability to play some sparkling tennis, the Serb will have to break out his tassels and all the "rico suave" in his tennis bag to rule the "tube" in London. Julien Benneteau could give him a scare in round one.
5. Juan Martin Del Potro: Lanky but lean, and mentally groomed to perfection. Although JMDP has never excelled on grass, his new found "I'm around at the tail end of grand slams, what are you up to" attitude appears to be in full-fight as he enters the All England. He has made the quarters or better in the last three slams, and could very well make it four in a row in London. Note: JMDP gets Nadal's draw.
6. Andy Roddick: A recent slip-up against good buddy Blake prompted initial concerns. But this is Wimbledon, and Andy's gotta play, right? And how will he do?
Well, it says here that although Andy appears to be in good and "light" form during the 2009 season, the years of not winning a slam, can not be a good thing for Mr. Twitter. In case anyone was wondering, Andy can re-Tweet a questions or comment in 75 words or less.
7. Fernando Verdasco: Mr. Frohawk descends to his least favorite slam. There is no sun. His hair can not glisten. The bounce is not high. His ground-strokes will struggle.
Fernando is also in a recent funk which can only be attributed to his house money running out rapidly. The hot streak of the first six months of the season maybe coming to an abrupt end. Nicolas Ma"who" could also cause him a scare in the second round.
8. Gilles Simon: My man Gilles, where have you been? Certainly not winning matches, mate. The Nice native is currently experiencing technical difficulties. Those difficulties being that he is expected to win matches now that he is a top-ten player. Something the French have never embraced. Expectations which can only be described by malheureux.
9. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Another Frenchmen waiting in the wings. However this French player seems to have the bark to match his bite—something his countrymen seem to lack. With good touch and a rocket serve, Tsonga may just sizzle into week two of The Championships. His draw is conducive to such results.
10. Fernando Gonzalez: Gonzo was ever-so-close to making the finals of the French. If not for a sling-shot Swede, Gonzalez would have surpassed his Olympic glory. With tarp-hitting ability, courtesy of a ferocious forehand, the Chilean sensation maybe good for a brief appearance in week two.
11. Marin Cilic: Earlier season success had the tennis world ready to salute a new member into the Big Four. But with growing pains came the realization that getting closer to the top meant that the top is that much farther away. His movement will be suspect on the grass, but his ammunition might but be enough to suffice. His second round tussle with either Querrey or Ljubicic will be one to watch.
12. Nikolay Davydenko: Niko is a no-grass-court wizard. Which is "weird," for lack of a better word, since his game features ground-hugging, shot-making, and rock solid returns. But with only one fourth round appearance to his name, and bum ankle to boot, this Russian pony appears to be in need of much more than a good pair of grass-court sneakers.
13. Robin Soderling: He came into Paris as the 23rd seed. He comes into Wimbledon 10 spots higher. Will a ten place increase result in another Swedish surprise? Well, it says here that Soderling is a much better player on grass than he is on clay. And we all know how the clay turned out.
Don't be surprised if great things occur for le Sod. A great disappointment could also be in the cards with Gilles Muller being his first round foe. Can you say, another "Soderling type run" for Muller?
14. Marat Safin: Last years semifinalist was elevated in the ranks by the good grace of the seeding committee. Perhaps a farewell gift for the 007 Russian? And what did a ranking of 14 get good old Marat? A fourth-round date with Andy Murray. If he gets there, that is.
15. Tommy Robredo: The good news for T-Rob is that he just made the quarterfinals of the French Open. The bad news being that Robredo hasn't been able to transition his clay game onto the grass of England. A quick and clean exit awaits.
16. David Ferrer: Ferrer is like tennis' version of Freddy Kruger. Just when you think he's gone, he comes back and strikes with a vengeance. Wait, this is not Elm street, but the glorious and bright roads of SW19. No nightmare for Mr. Ferrer.
17. James Blake: JB slams onto Wimbledon to prove that "Americans train to win Wimbledon." Don't worry James, you will be held to that statement throughout your stay in England.
Blake is a bit of a question mark coming in. He is everyone's sentimental favorite, and, being half British, the Yonkers native will be eager to hit as many forehand winners as it takes in order to move forwards. However, more than "one shot," it seems, is needed to win in men's tennis nowadays.
18. Rainer Schuettler: With an improbable run to the Final Four during last year's event, Rainer is ready claw and grind his way to as many W's as possible. This will certainly be a do-or-die tournament for the longevity of his career. Do, and he will remain in the top 50. Don't, and he risks dropping the depths of retirement by the end of 2009.
19. Stanislas Wawrinka: "The other Swiss" can do it all. He is a master on every surface, but lacks the metal to succeed at the highest degree. If it weren't for Roger Federer, Stan would be the best player in Switzerland. But is that really an accolade a player would want to be remembered for? His draw is cushy until a potential fourth rounder with Murray.
20. Tomas Berdych: The modern-day Marat Safin needs a makeover in a big way. This explosive Czech is still searching for the ingredients to harness his immense talent. With the ability to blow through any foe with the flick of a racket, Berdych has only managed one final-eight performance in a slam, during his under-achieving career. That streak will continue at Wimbledon.
21. Feliciano Lopez: Finally, a Spaniard who likes grass. F-Lo never seems to disappoint on the lawns of Wimbledon—the breeding ground for his most successful slam. If the draw is right, and it appears like it is, there is no reason why Lopez can't serve-and-volley his way into the second week. Oh, how refreshing it is to speak of the net-rush. His first round encounter with Baghdatis is a popcorn match in the waiting.
22. Ivo Karlovic: A seed bump up? Well, if there is one player who deserves it, let it be Mr. Ace-in-your-face. Karlovic has never been shy when dropping dozens of bullets past his mesmerized opponents. But what's up with Ivo only making it as far as the forth round at Wimbledon?
23. Radek Stepanek: The charm and charisma of the ladies man of the tour is back in full force. Radek blends old-school tennis with the chest pumping rock of Green Day. With every win, comes a customary post match dance. Here's hoping "the worm" sticks around until week two.
24. Tommy Haas: The recent Halle winner comes in full of flowing backhands. But would you believe that Haas has only reached the round of sixteen on one occasions, since being released from Nick Bollettieri's boot camp? His draw looks promising.
25. Dmitry Tursunov: Lock and load, Dmitry is ready to fail. Just another example of how important movement is in tennis. If tennis were a stationary sport, Tursunov might be the greatest. But with wheels in motion, another early week departure seems eminent for the swash-buckling Russian.
26. Jurgen Melzer: Stand clear, two-hand drop-shots galore are coming to Wimbledon. The Austrian has done himself proud by climbing to the upper echelons of the men's game. The one problem being that Melzer is one of the only tennis players out there who makes his job actually look like a job, instead of an undying privilege.
27. Philipp Kohlschreiber: The longest name in tennis is ready to stick around—to a writer's delight of course . Philipp is another one of those players who can play on everything, but can't win on anything. He's simply bridesmaid material. But hey, at least you're invited Philipp!
28. Mardy Fish: Deal or no deal Fish loves the grass. Too bad the grass doesn't love him back. All the tools for a fantastic grass-court career have always been available. But a lonely 5-6 life-time record in England, leaves Mardy with limited options for Big W success. A hopeful payout by the "Banker" is in order.
29. Igor Andreev: Mechanics personified. The Mustang of the men's tour has enough horse-power to go the distance. But his topspin and short backhand are not welcomed in these low bouncing parts of the tennis world. Don't worry Igor, the summer clay-court swing is just around the corner.
30. Viktor Troicki: The second-seeded Serb in the men's draw (try saying that five times while returning a Karlovic serve) is built more like a linebacker than a tennis player. In saying that, he has mucho pop on his serve, and rocket forehand to back up his charge.
31. Victor Hanescu: The clay-court comfort of Victor (no relation to above mentioned Troicki) has never been one to embrace the grass like his countrymen Nasty Nastase. It's a shame really, considering the well-harnessed array of shots this Bucharest native possesses.
32. Albert Montanes: Was the Wimbledon seeding committee aware of this? Come on now...
33. Nicolas Kiefer: A late addition, to fill the mightily void of a Nadal-less tournament. Nothing personal Nicolas.
Nadal's Quarter: Note: Nadal's quarter was written prior to him pulling out. It was kept to uphold the symmetry of the article.
If Rafa was looking to ease his way into this year's tournament with a few wild-cards and qualifiers, he is fresh out of replacement grip. The top seed will be tested right from the get-go with 2008 quarter-finalist Arnaud Clement in round one. Under normal circumstances, Clement would not be a formidable foe for Rafa. But when you take into account the injured knee's of the Mallorcan, Arnaud is one of the worst opponents one could have. No aces, just run, run, run.
In saying that, Nadal should be able to engage on his mental fortitude and dispatch the Frenchmen.
It ain't getting any easier in round two. With former Wimbledon champ Lleyton Hewitt next up, Nadal will be tested beyond belief. Again if this were a healthy Rafa standing before us, then a straight-set win could be foreseen. However, under current conditions (withdrawing conditions), a second round exit would not be surprising.
If Nadal is to squeak by the Australian, then the third would bring a certain sense of retreat to the Spaniard. Flakey Russian, Dmitry Tursunov, never a threat to win-it-all, would be a potential opponent. Tursunov under any circumstance (Nadal on one leg) would find a way to goof-up his chances.
The fourth round could see a familiar face (who hasn't been able to hold up his seed as of late), David Ferrer. The 16th seeded Spaniard is another one of those players the injured knees of Nadal would not look forward to facing. If Nadal is on, Ferrer is no challenge. But as we saw during the 2007 U.S. Open, an injured Nadal, plus a polished Ferrer, equals an exit for the higher ranked Spaniard.
If Rafa is somehow able to stave-off his first and fourth round opponents, he will then have the daunting task of returning the mightily serve of 6th seed Andy Roddick. Roddick will have his own work to do in the earlier rounds with stiff opposition from Chardy and Grigor Dimitrov. With Nadal's current status, a final-eight showdown would be welcomed by the American.
Bottom Line, everything is hearsay at this point, as we are not well-aware to the extent of Nadal's injury. With the game never seeing a fighter like the Spaniard, he may just surprise us all, and make another memorable run in England. With the uncertainly of not even participating, one can not be over optimistic for a repeat of this loved champion.
Note: With the withdraw of top seed Rafael Nadal, 5th seed Juan Martin del Potro has taken the top seeds place in the draw. He will now face Frenchmen Arnuad Clement in round one. The Argentines previous spot will be filled by a lucky loser.
What a relief it must be for Roger Federer. With all of tennis' accolades in the bag, and only the record of breaking Pete Sampras' 15-slams remaining, get ready for the "old Fed." With Federer playing for Federer now, and not history, expect to see a reunion tour of his classic hits from 2004-2007. The smell of victory surrounds RF.
Not only does Roger have Mother Momentum on his side, but a favorable draw has also been bestowed upon him. He should run through his first two opponents with ease: Yen-Hsun Lu and either Agustin Calleri or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Tea-time will not be stalled.
The third round could bring forth a challenge in 27th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, whom Federer is 3-0 lifetime against. Again, Philipp does everyone well, Federer just does it better, on a completely different level.
The round of sixteen would also usher in a comfort level for Roger, which he would very much like to uphold. His scheduled opponents, 13th seed Robin Soderling, 21st seed Felicano Lopez and unseeded Marcos Baghdatis, are a combined 0-23 against the Swiss. Ouch.
The potential Lopez encounter would be the toughest of the bunch, with the Spaniard possessing the overall greatest grass-court threat.
The quarterfinals could be a toss-up in regards to whom Federer could face. Seventh seed Fernando Verdasco seems to be struggling, and will be pressed to up-hold his seeding. Ivo Karlovic is always a threat, but the lack of return-of-serve in his skill set will always be a hinder to him on grass. And the challenges of in-form Frank Dancevic or nineth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga may come into play.
All in all, Federer is here to win this tournament. There is no doubt. With his greatest challenge being himself, quite honestly. Similarly to Paris, England will bring forth another historic "first" for Federer, with the Swiss attempting to solely rule the podium of tennis greatness. If there is no French Open hangover (great movie by the way), Roger is poised to rack up slam No. 15.
At the very least, a semifinal berth is in order. What is it now, 20-straight semifinal appearances in major tournaments? Truly fantastic.
Time to get down to business for the Scot. There is no time like the present, and with a hobbled Nadal, and Federer fighting the pressures of greatness, this might just by Murray's year.
Andy did receive a favorable draw, with an opening contest against the hard-serving, but never a threat to seriously challenge, Robert Kendrick. Kendrick did have that two-sets-to-love lead against Nadal in 2006, but since has faded in the abyss of journeymen-level tennis. Kendrick will hold his own, but will be dusted by the variety of Murray.
The second round could bring forth the mighty struggles of Latvian Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis has had an out-of-sorts beginning to 2009. It appears as though no refuge is in sight. Still a great game to watch, one in which Murray will dispose of in routine fashion.
The third round has Murray facing the serving prowess of either unseeded American Taylor Dent, or 30th seed Viktor Troikci of Serbia. Both these men could challenge for a set, with Dent living and dying with his canon delivery. Great to see Dent back, as a qualifier no less, playing on his best surface.
The round of sixteen could bring forth good friend and 19th seed Stanislas Wawrinka. Stan has a great game as mentioned, but lacks that killer instinct to be a bonafide contender to the title. He could push Murray for a while, and even capture a set, but the "nice Stan" will shine through and allow Murray a quarterfinal place.
Marat Safin is also in this section, and may have some last-minute heroics for all those concerned the Russian's last dance. If that encounter took place, Murray would "Santoro" Safin, out of the England.
The final eight opponent for the British hopeful seems to be a crap-shoot at best. You have eighth seed Gilles Simon, who has been playing as well as a Cub Scout. Fernando Gonzalez up-ended Murray at the French Open. He can always cause a stir, but never finish the deal. And finally 33rd seed Nicolas Kiefer, who in all honestly should be happy that Nadal pulled out, granting him a seed.
All in all Murray could not have asked for a better quarter than this one. He will always have British pressure to deal with, but a cake-walk draw never hurts. With his Federer inspired cardigan, ready to rock, this Scot is primed and ready to showcase not only Perry's clothing, but also the chance to be known as the last home-country champion.
How nice it must be to live the Novak life. Money, cars, commercials, and all the damsels in distress a pro player could want. There is however one problem Mr. Djokoivc: you are expected to play deep in major championships, a little more often.
With four consecutive poor grand slam results for Novak, the lush grass of Wimbledon might just be the release-mechanism for a break-out Serbian resurgence.
Djokovic does have a tricky draw during the fortnight, and must make sure he has on the right pair of sneakers this time around.
Dangerous Frenchmen Julien Benneteau is first up for Djokovic. Under any circumstance, Benneteau is never an easy opponent. The craft and precision which Benneteau possesses, could give Novak an eye opener right from the get go.
The second round would slightly loosen the noose on Novak's progression, with two under-matched qualifiers on deck. A great opportunity to practice some serve and volley?
The third round could bring forth countrymen Janko Tipsarevic or 28th seed Mardy Fish. Mardy may have something to say about Djokvoic sticking around in London, with a tailer-ready grass game, to challenge all comers. Alas, Fish has just not shown the goods whenever Wimbledon is in the air.
The sixteen's could see Novak battle 18th seed Rainer Schuettler (last years semi-finalist), or 15th seeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo. Robredo is suspect on the grass, with Schuettler needing another monumental Cinderella run, to stand any chance of sticking around, let alone defeating Djokovic.
The quarterfinals could see Djokovic contest against the likes of 17th seed James Blake (who can bring the noise, but always seems to forget his siren at the majors), Sam Querrey, Ivan Ljubicic, 24th seed Tommy Haas or 11th seed Marin Cilic. A lot of fire-power resides in this those names.
Djokovic will have a mighty struggle against any of these players (especially on grass), where their prolific serves would do some serious damage. Haas or Blake seem to be the best bets for Novak's the final eight opponent.
All in all, Djokovic should cruise through his draw after the first round, with some caution to the wind being blown in the quarterfinals. However, Novak has had the tendency to throw in inexplicable losses to lower ranked players. Djokovic is due for a quality result—bring on the post match comments.
First round matches to watch for:
Andy Roddick vs. Jermey Chardy: Serve vs. serve, with French flair from an up-and-comer.
Juan Carlos Ferrer vs. Mikhail Youzhny: Wouldn't be surprised if they were seeded, not surprised that they aren't. If Youzhny plays his cards right (or racket against his head), then he just may walk away from Wimbledon with the most memorable video-clip.
Nicolas Kiefer vs. Fabrice Santoro: Attention, frustration and slices are headed Kiefer's way. Will Santoro's two-handed mayhem give the crowd in London one last show of brilliance? The Magician has plans on staying.
Sam Querrey vs. Ivan Ljubicic: Let's just call it 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-7, 20-18 and flip a coin? That would be fun to watch though.
Steve Darcis vs. Frank Dancevic: Two of the best shot-makers you may never hear of.
Robin Solderling vs. Gilles Muller: French Open surprise vs. Wimbledon surprise?
Nicolas Almagro vs. Juan Monaco: Could be a quarterfinal in Paris, that is, if Almagro remembers how to play tennis.
Feliciano Lopez vs. Marcos Baghdatis: The luck of the draw has two of the best grass-court players teeing off in round one.
Nicolas Mahut: Huge serve, not much else.
Girgor Dmitrov: Claims to be the next R-Fed... Good luck kid.
Sam Querrey: Has the game to excel on any surface; needs to check his contact lenses.
Andrei Pavel: Kidding.
Quarterfinals: Juan Martin del Potro vs. Andy Roddick; Andy Murray vs. Fernando Gonzalez; Novak Djokovic vs. James Blake; Roger Federer vs. Ivo Karlovic
Semifinals: Andy Roddick vs. Andy Murray; Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic
Finals: Andy Murray vs. Roger Federer
Champion: Roger Federer
Please check back as I will have daily reviews from the 2009 Wimbledon Championships.
You can catch Nima daily at:http://tennisconnected.com