Wimbledon Day 1 matches to watch: Djokovic, Williams sisters kick off play
LONDON – Wimbledon gets underway on Monday with the top half of both the men's and women's draw in action. Play begins at 7 a.m. ET on ESPN. The full television and broadcast schedule can be found here. Full order of play for Monday can be found here.
Matches and storylines to watch on Day 1:
Novak Djokovic returns to Centre Court with a tricky opener: As is Wimbledon tradition, the defending champion opens play on Centre Court on Monday. For Djokovic it will be his first competitive match since losing the French Open final three weeks ago to Stan Wawrinka, and he's up against the highest ranked player he could have possibly drawn in No. 33 Philipp Kohlschreiber. The German has won just one of their seven meetings, with that one winning coming back in 2009 on clay at the French Open. But he's always proven himself to be a tough out on grass. Two weeks ago he came within a few points of beating Roger Federer in Halle, losing 7–6(8), 3–6, 7–6(5).
Maria Sharapova gets the Centre Court nod over Serena Williams: This decision will raise a few eyebrows. Sharapova opens her tournament on Centre Court against Britain's Johanna Konta (second match), while No. 1 Serena Williams—and five-time Wimbledon champion—will open her tournament on No. 1 Court (first match) against No. 113 Margarita Gasparyan. The British connection should shield the All England Club from an overwhelming wave of criticism for now, but their court assignment for the women is always something to keep an eye on.
Serena should move through handily against the her Russian qualifier, but Sharapova should be on guard against Konta. The British wildcard had a confidence-boosting week in Eastbourne. She made the quarterfinals with wins over Zarina Diyas, Ekaterina Makarova and Garbine Muguruza, before losing in three sets to eventual champion Belinda Bencic.
Battle of the retirees: Lleyton Hewitt and Jarkko Nieminen are playing in their final Wimbledon. Both men will hang up their rackets at the end of the year. They face off in the second match on No. 2 Court for a chance to face Djokovic (if he wins) in the second round. Could this be Hewitt's last match at Wimbledon? The former No. 1 and 2002 Wimbledon champion went 0-2 in his grass court lead-ups. Nieminen also went winless in main draw matches but earned two wins in qualifying in Halle.
Venus Williams begins with an All-American match-up: Seeded No. 16, it's difficult to know where Venus' form is as she returns to play her 18th Wimbledon. After a great start to the season on hard courts she struggled through the clay and did not play any grass court lead-up events. But history has proven her ability to snap right back into her best game when she hits the grass in London. She opens against No. 36 Madison Brengle (fourth match, No. 3 Court). The 25-year-old American hasn't done much since January to back up her run to the Australian Open quarterfinals and lost her only grass court tune-up match, a straight-set loss to No. 81 Polona Hercog, in Eastbourne last week.
John Isner aiming for the best Wimbledon campaign of his career: The draw isn't horrible for Isner, who has never made it past the third round at Wimbledon. He opens against No. 90 Go Soeda (second match, Court 12) and then would play either Blaz Rola or Matt Ebden.
Upset alerts: Sloane Stephens is the most dangerous non-seeded player in the women's draw and she has a good chance of making the second week this year, especially after a strong run-up to the Eastbourne semifinals last week. She's competing better and is playing more aggressive on the grass. She should pull off the upset over No. 28 Barbora Strycova (court assignment to be announced). For the men, if Thanasi Kokkinakis can overcome this, he has more than a shot of knocking off No. 24 seed Leonardo Mayer (first match, Court 16). Another Aussie, Daria Gavrilova, is a good bet to beat No. 29 seed Irina-Camelia Begu (fourth match, Court 6) as well. That's assuming the abdominal injury that forced Gavrilova out of Eastbourne has healed.
Match of the day: Belinda Bencic vs. Tsvetana Pironkova (second match, Court 18). Let's face it, Bencic got hosed on the draw. The 18-year-old tore through the grass lead-ups, making the Birmingham final and then winning her first career title in Eastbourne on Saturday, bageling Agnieszka Radwanska in the third set. Now she has to turn around and play one of the trickiest players in the draw in grass-court specialist Pironkova.